J-Lab RSS Feed http://www.j-lab.org J-Lab - Igniting News Ideas That Work <![CDATA[Tow Report Details the Power and Promise of Crowdsourcing]]> Posted To: Ideas & Innovation > Blogically Thinking

Posted To: Ideas & Innovation > Articles

First published Nov. 23, 2015 on Mediashift.org.

Jan Schaffer co-authored this report with Mimi Onuoha, a Fulbright-National Geographic fellow and data specialist, and Jeanne Pinder, founder of ClearHealthCosts.com, which crowdsources medical costs.



When CNN recently announced it was ending its longstanding iReport crowdsourcing efforts to, instead, source stories directly from social media streams, it was a notable marker signaling how news organizations are making different choices about audience growth and engagement.

It also affirmed the findings in our Guide to Crowdsourcing, released Nov. 20 by Columbia’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism.

As far as engagement around creating content, our team saw two paths clearly emerging: One involves news organizations investing major resources into inviting and organizing input from their audiences. The other involves culling non-solicited contributions from social media to help either create a story or identify story ideas.

The label “crowdsourcing” has been applied to both. Indeed, the term has become conflated with many things over the last decade. Some regard all story comments as crowdsourcing. Others apply it to any user-generated content, distributed reporting, collaborative journalism, networked journalism, participatory journalism and social journalism as well. To be sure, all of these share attributes.

Our task, we decided, was to zero in on journalism efforts that involve specific call-outs. Then, through interviews, a survey and case studies, we developed a new typology to spotlight how journalists are using crowdsourcing. The team included me, Mimi Onuoha, a Fulbright-National Geographic fellow and data specialist, and Jeanne Pinder, founder of ClearHealthCosts.com, which crowdsources medical costs.

Here’s our definition: Journalism crowdsourcing is the act of specifically inviting a group of people to participate in a reporting task- — such as newsgathering, data collection, or analysis — through a targeted, open call for input, personal experiences, documents, or other contributions.

Using that definition, we found that most crowdsourcing generally takes two forms:

  • An unstructured call-out, which is an open invitation to vote, email, call, or otherwise contact a journalist with information.
  • A structured call-out, which engages in targeted outreach to ask people to respond to a specific request. Responses can enter a newsroom via multiple channels, including email, SMS, a website, or Google form. Often, they are captured in a searchable database.

We assert that crowdsourcing requires a specific call-out rather than simply harvesting information available on the social web. We believe that the people engaging in crowdsourcing need to feel they have agency in contributing to a news story to be considered a “source.”

While crowdsourcing efforts don’t fit neatly into classifications, for this guide, we’ve organized our typologies by six different calls to action:

  1. Voting — prioritizing which stories reporters should tackle.
  2. Witnessing — sharing what you saw during a breaking news event or natural catastrophe.
  3. Sharing personal experiences — divulging what you know about your life experience. “Tell us something you know that we don’t know.”
  4. Tapping specialized expertise — contributing data or unique knowledge. “We know you know stuff. Tell us the specifics of what you know.”
  5. Completing a task — volunteering time or skills to help create a news story.
  6. Engaging audiences — joining in call-outs that range from informative to playful.


We found that crowdsourcing has produced some amazing journalism. Look at ProPublica’s efforts on Patient Safety, political ad spending, or Red Cross disaster assistance. Or check out The Guardian’s efforts to chronicle people killed by police in the U.S., or track expenditures from Members of Parliament. See what WNYC has done to map winter storm cleanup. Or look what stories listeners wanted CNN Digital’s John Sutter to do in its 2 Degrees project on climate change.

Crowdsourcing made all these stories possible.

It has also made journalism more iterative – turning it from a product into a process. It enables newsrooms to build audience entry points at every stage of the process — from story assigning, to pre-data collection, to data mining, to sharing specialized expertise, to collecting personal experiences and continuing post-story conversations on Facebook and elsewhere. Moreover, experienced practitioners are learning how to incrementally share input in ways that tease out more contributions.

We see how today’s crowdsourcing would not be possible without advances in web technologies that have made it easier for journalists to identify and cultivate communities; organize data; and follow real-time, breaking-news developments.

Journalistic Tensions

Still, crowdsourcing produces some tensions within the industry, Some journalists worry about giving the audience too much input into what their newsrooms cover. Others fear the accuracy of the contributions citizens make — a concern that long-time crowdsourcers dismiss. Many investigative reporters, in particular, recoil at telegraphing their intentions through an open call for contributions.

Others balk at committing the resources. Crowdsourcing can be a high-touch activity. Journalists must strategize about the type of call-out to make, the communities to target for outreach, the method for collecting responses, and the avenues for connecting and giving back to contributors to encourage more input. That is all before the contributions are even turned into journalism.

We found that, for all its potential, crowdsourcing is widespread and systemic at just a few big news organizations — ProPublica, WNYC, and The Guardian, for example. At other mainstream news organizations, only a handful of reporters and editors — and not the institutions themselves — are the standard bearers.

Crowdsourcing and Support for News

There are intriguing clues that there is a business case for crowdsourcing. Indeed, some crowdsourcing ventures, such as Hearken and Food52, are turning into bona fide businesses.

For digital-first startups, in particular, crowdsourcing provides a way to cultivate new audiences from scratch and produce unique journalism. Moreover, once communities of sources are built, they can be retained forever — if news organizations take care to maintain them with updates and ongoing conversation

Amanda Zamora, ProPublica’s senior engagement editor, credits their crowdsourcing initiatives with building pipelines directly to the people who are affected.

“We are creating lists of consumers interested in our stories,” she said in an interview.

She recently spearheaded the creation of the Crowd-Powered News Network, a venue for journalists to share ideas.

Jim Schachter, vice president for news at WNYC, said the engagement levels seen in crowdsourcing help the station get grants and bolster its outreach to donors.

Within the news industry, however, we think wider systemic adoption awaits more than enthusiasm from experienced practitioners and accolades from sources who welcome contact. Ways of measuring the impact of engaging in crowdsourcing initiatives and analyzing its value to a newsroom must be further developed.

We ask, for instance, whether crowdsourced stories have more real-world impact, such as prompting legislative change, than other types of journalism do?

To that end, we advocate for more research and evidence exploring whether crowdsourcing can foster increased support for journalism. That support might take the form of audience engagement, such as attention, loyalty, time spent on a site, repeat visits, or contributing personal stories. Or it might involve financial support from members or donors, from advertisers who want to be associated with the practice, or from funders who want to support it.

Blogically ThinkingArticles 2015-11-25T19:40:54+00:00
<![CDATA[When Engagement Really Worked]]> Posted To: Ideas & Innovation > Blogically Thinking

This article first appeared June 22, 2015 in Nieman Labs.

Nowadays, we often seek to measure media engagement by social media activity, web metrics or attention minutes.

But there was a time in the not-so-distant past – before the Internet and social media disrupted traditional media – when genuine engagement really worked.  A period when news organizations actually involved people in their communities so successfully it triggered impact.

With last week’s celebration of the tremendous journalism contributions of Ed Fouhy, the award-winning broadcast executive and founder of the Pew Center for Civic Journalism, it seemed like a good time to revisit what we already learned – but may have forgotten.

During the heyday of civic journalism, which spanned a decade starting in the early ‘90’s, the Pew Center funded 120 newsroom projects and rewarded scores more with the James K. Batten Awards. More than 600 CJ initiatives were counted and studied by U-Wisconsin researchers, who found a pattern of outcomes. Some 78 percent of the projects studied offered solutions, and more than half included solutions offered by citizens themselves.

I was on the frontlines of this activity. Fouhy hired me in 1994 to be his Pew Center deputy. A couple years later, I took his place at the helm.

I find it striking how many of these efforts foreshadowed what we now call interactive and participatory journalism.

Civic journalism began as a way to get political candidates to address the public’s agenda in running for office. News organizations soon adapted its techniques, starting with polls and town hall meetings, to difficult problems in their communities. Later on-ramps involved civic mapping, email, voice mail, cutting-edge video technologies, and eventually, of course, the Internet.

Key hallmarks of these civic journalism initiatives included:

  • Building specific ways to involve readers and viewers.
  • Deliberately positioning ordinary people as capable of some action.
  • Inviting the community to identify solutions.

Consider how some of these efforts played out:

Taking Back Our Neighborhoods: This seminal initiative, a finalist for a Pulitzer Public Service Award, set the bar high for CJ projects.  It evolved from the 1993 shooting of two Charlotte, N.C. police officers.

Determined to address the root cause of crime, The Charlotte Observer partnered with WSOC-TV to synchronize in-depth coverage and give people things they could do reclaim their communities.

Elements included data analysis, which identified patterns of crime and the most violent neighborhoods to spotlight. A poll asked residents how crime affected them, why crime was happening and what were possible solutions. Town hall meetings and neighborhood advisory panels in 10 targeted communities contributed very specific lists of neighborhood “needs” that were published with each community’s narrative.

Outcomes were impressive:  Some 700 volunteers stepped up to fulfill the needs on those lists – from opening new recreation centers to making uniforms for a fledgling drill team. Eighteen law firms filed pro bono nuisance suits to close crack houses. New community centers were built and neighborhoods were cleaned up. Eight years later, crime was still down and the quality of life had improved in eight of the 10 neighborhoods.

West Virginia After Coal: The Herald-Dispatch in Huntington, W.Va., and West Virginia Public Broadcasting joined forces in 2000-01 to examine one of the state’s biggest issues: Its future without coal.  

The partners developed a groundbreaking database that exposed how virtually none of the $18 million in coal severance taxes distributed to the state’s 55 counties and 234 municipalities were being used for economic development. Instead, the funds paid for such things as dog wardens or postage. The media partners used statewide polls and an interactive town hall involving audience input from 10 different sites via cutting-edge video conferencing technology. By the project’s end, the state was promising more job training and more revenue targeted to economic development.

Waterfront Renaissance: In 2001 The Herald of Everett, Wa. engaged the community in plans to remake its waterfront. It held a town hall meeting on development plans and created online clickable maps with moveable icons to give residents a virtual vote on what should be built along the Snohomish River and Port Gardner Bay. Some 1,200 people participated. The Herald tabulated the results of these maps and submitted their findings to city officials. A prevailing theme was that people wanted any development to give them access to their riverfront. Their wishes were ultimately included in city plans. The project today remains a prime example of how to involve citizens in surrogate “public hearings.”

Neighbor to Neighbor: In 2002, after the shooting of an unarmed teenager in Cincinnati sparked allegations of police misconduct and major rioting, The Cincinnati Enquirer embarked on an ambitious project. It held solutions-oriented conversations on how to improve race relations in every municipality and neighborhood in the regions – some 145 in all.  

Each group was asked to answer:

  • What three things can people do to ease racial tensions?
  • What three things would we like to see our community leaders do?
  • How can we make it happen?

Some 1,838 people participated; 300 people volunteered to host or facilitate the conversations. The project inspired much grassroots volunteerism and efforts among black and whites to interact. The project "started people talking together, going to dinner, meeting in their homes and going to school and churches together,” said then-managing editor Rosemary Goudreau at the time.

There were scores of similar robust projects:

  • The Savannah Morning News involved a large citizen task force in discussions and visits to 15 U.S. schools to figure out how to improve local education.
  • A 1997 series on alcoholism, “Maine’s Deadliest Drug,” by The Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram led to citizen forming 29 study circles that concluded with an action plan to stem alcohol abuse.
  • We the People/Wisconsin, involving the Wisconsin State Journalism and the state’s public broadcaster, engaged in some of longest-running efforts to bring citizens face-to-face with candidates running for statewide office.

To be sure, journalism investigations often lead to widespread change. But, to me, so many of today’s journalism success stores seem pallid by comparison to what I saw during the period of civic journalism experimentation.

Simply put: civic journalism worked.  Readers and viewers got it.

We learned that if you deliberately build in simple ways for people to participate – in community problems or elections – many will engage.  Particularly if they feel they have something to contribute to the problem.

Nowadays, this is so much easier than it used to be. All that is needed is the creativity to make it happen.

Jan Schaffer is executive director of J-Lab, a successor to the Pew Center and an incubator for entrepreneurial news startups.

Blogically Thinking 2015-06-24T20:01:20+00:00
<![CDATA[Navigating Law for Media Startups]]> Posted To: Ideas & Innovation > Blogically Thinking

This was first published March 10, 2015 on Mediashift.

When I launched J-Lab in 2002, the best piece of advice I received was to have a lawyer draft a Memorandum of Understanding outlining the relationship between my center and its soon-to-be home, the University of Maryland.

The agreement detailed how I would support my startup, who owned the intellectual property, how much the university would charge for administering my incoming grants – and how I might spin the center into its own 50s(c)3 or affiliate with another fiscal agent in the future.

Thanks to that MOU, when U-MD changed its rules for grant-supported centers, I was able to seamlessly transition to American University. The MOU basically served as a pre-nup agreement.

I never really expected to need the MOU – until I did. So, too, are new media startups finding themselves in situations where they need to know about, and plan for, an array of legal issues.  Many of these issues particularly affect digital-first news sites.  

With this, and many more experiences under my belt, I approached Jeff Kosseff, a Washington, D.C., media lawyer and fellow A.U. adjunct, about co-authoring “Law for Media Startups.” We wanted to make it a user-friendly e-guide to what news entrepreneurs need to know and also help them identify when they needed professional help.

Next, I recruited CUNY’s Tow-Knight Center for Journalism Entrepreneurship to help support the project.  The result: our 12-chapter guide that we hope will be as helpful to educators teaching media law courses and it will be to startup founders themselves.  A downloadable PDF is coming soon.

Most journalists are used to working with legal counsel for such things as pre-publication review of important stories.  But legal issues for digital-first news startups extend far beyond such traditional First Amendment issues as defamation, privacy and open government.

“New media has not changed the law of libel at all,” said Richard Tofel, ProPublica’s president and its resident lawyer. “But it has changed the breadth of laws entrepreneurs need to know about.”

How should you respond when someone is demanding the IP address or the identity of a commenter on your sites. How should you flag sites that steal your content? How can your make sure, in a rush to add an image to an article, that you are not posting a copyrighted photo?  How to deal with a freelancer’s request to use for another assignment research gathered for a story you commissioned? When it is OK for someone to be a freelancer and when do they have a right to be an employee?

“The No. 1 question by far that we hear from our members is about freelancer contracts and rights,” said Kevin Davis, executive director of the Investigative News Network.

The IRS sets out very specific guidelines addressing who should be an employee and who can be an independent contractor.  As important, it requires all unpaid interns to meet six specific conditions.

All digital-first news startups are collecting some type of data on their users, and while most journalists advocate for openness and transparency, as an Internet-based business, you have a number of legal obligations to keep certain formation private. You also need to tell your users how you will use their data.

Certainly, one of the biggest misconceptions some online publishers have is that you websites will only have immunity if you take a hands-off approach, and don’t edit or moderate any comments. Indeed, according to the e-guide, “service providers have wide latitude to edit, delete, or even select user content without being held responsible for it.”

Again and again, I have reviewed applications for J-Lab funding that promised that the startup would get grants to support its work.  However, the applicant was neither a nonprofit nor affiliated with one and, therefore. was not eligible for the grants they wanted to support their business.  News entrepreneurs need to understand what being a nonprofit entails or pick another business structure.

As our guide notes, “journalism is not something the IRS recognizes as having a tax-exempt purpose.” So, if you embark on applying for 501(c)3 status, you need to flesh out how you will be different from a regular commercial publisher.

In the media startup space, legal needs can be surprising. Lorie Hearn, founder of inewsource.org, has partnered with a number of media outlets to amplify her investigative stories in the San Diego area.

But she says she has begun to feel the need to craft written distribution agreements to cover inewsource partnerships with other news outlets, especially pertaining to how they credit her material on their websites. Some “want their own correspondents to come in and interview our people and make like this is a joint investigation,” she said.

For that, she will likely seek out a lawyer who has worked closed with her site over the years.

To read about more issues, see the full guide here.

Blogically Thinking 2015-06-23T20:12:02+00:00
<![CDATA[Law for Media Startups – New Entrepreneurship Guide]]> Posted To: Press Releases
For immediate release
Noon, March. 4, 2015
Contact: Jan Schaffer


J-Lab partners with CUNY to create e-guide


Washington, D.C.“Law for Media Startups,” a new resource for entrepreneurs launching news ventures and educators teaching students how to do it, was published today by CUNY’s Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism.

The 12-chapter web guide was written by Jan Schaffer, J-Lab executive director, and Jeff Kosseff, media lawyer for Covington & Burling LLP law firm in Washington, D.C. The Tow-Knight Center supported the research, writing and production as part of its suite of entrepreneurial journalism resources.

“This guide goes beyond traditional First Amendment law to address every-day issues news entrepreneurs confront,” Schaffer said. “From native advertising to labor law and fair use, it supplies what I found missing for my students.”

"Every day, innovators are developing new ways to deliver news and content to consumers," Kosseff said. "I hope this guide helps them identify the legal issues that they should be considering as they build their business models."

Small digital news startups are facing a range of legal issues as they set up their business operations, gather and report the news, protect their content, and market and support their news ventures. They need to know classic First Amendment law – and much more. This guide offers an introduction to many of those issues, from hiring freelancers and establishing organizational structures, to native advertising and marketing, to maintaining privacy policies and dealing with libel accusations. It seeks to help jumpstart the launch of news ventures and help entrepreneurs know when to seek professional legal help.

“The news ecosystem of the future will be made up of enterprises of many sizes, shapes, and forms, including journalistic startups that need help with their businesses and the law” said Jeff Jarvis, Director of the Tow-Knight Center. “Jan Schaffer and Jeff Kosseff provide an invaluable guide to help them recognize legal pitfalls. It complements other research from Tow-Knight on a variety of business practices.”

Jeff Kosseff is a communications and privacy attorney in Covington & Burling’s Washington, D.C. office, where he represents and advises media and technology companies. He is co-chair of the Media Law Resource Center’s legislative affairs committee. He clerked for Judge Milan D. Smith, Jr. of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and Judge Leonie M. Brinkema of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. He is an adjunct professor of communications law at American University, where he teaches in its MA in Media Entrepreneurship program. Before becoming a lawyer, Kosseff was a journalist for The Oregonian and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and recipient of the George Polk Award for national reporting.

Jan Schaffer is executive director of J-Lab, an incubator for news entrepreneurs and innovators, and Entrepreneur in Residence at American University’s School of Communication, where she also teaches in its MA in Media Entrepreneurship program. She launched J-Lab in 2002 to help newsrooms use digital technologies to engage people in public issues. It has funded 100 news startups and pilot collaboration projects and it has commissioned and developed a series of online journalism resources that include Launching a Nonprofit News Site, Top Ten Rules for Limited Legal Risk and The Journalist’s Guide to Open Government. As the federal court reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer, she was part of a team awarded the Pulitzer Gold Medal for Public Service for a series of stories that won freedom for a man wrongly convicted of five murders and led to the civil rights convictions of six Philadelphia homicide detectives.

The “Law for Media Startups” guide also invites media lawyers around the country to contribute information on state-specific laws that apply to news entrepreneurs, following the guide’s template for laws in Virginia.

J-Lab is a journalism catalyst that has provided funding and resources for news startups. It has funded 100 startups and pilot projects since 2005.

The Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism offers educational programs, supports research, and sponsors events to foster sustainable business models for quality journalism. It is part of the City University of New York's Graduate School of Journalism, and funded by The Tow Foundation and The Knight Foundation.

J-Lab Press Releases 2015-03-04T18:00:38+00:00
<![CDATA[Four Diverse Media Startups Win Encore Entrepreneur Funding]]> Posted To: Press Releases


For immediate release
Feb. 5, 2015
Contact: Jan Schaffer

Washington, D.C. – Four media startups proposed by entrepreneurs over 50 have been selected to receive $12,000 each in encore media entrepreneur funding, J-Lab announced today. The projects are a single-topic magazine on Medium.com, a Connecticut hyperlocal FM/streamed radio station, daily Internet radio newscasts and podcasts for a Pacific Northwest blog network, and an Hispanic crowd-sourced initiative on border-crossing deaths.

The four initiatives were among 82 applications received in J-Lab’s Masters Mediapreneurs initiative to help seed media startups launched by Baby Boomers, aged 50-plus. 

“We could easily have funded several more worthy projects,” said J-Lab director Jan Schaffer. “The ideas were creative, the energy striking, and the applicants’ eagerness was quite pronounced.”

“Many who applied tipped their hats to this opportunity to validate ideas from mature news creators and help them make them happen.”

The winners are: 

Midcentury/Modern, an online magazine “following Boomers into their Third Act,” launched in late December by hyperlocal news entrepreneur Debra Galant, the founder of Baristanet and now director of the NJ News Commons. Instead of creating a stand-alone website, the magazine is publishing on Medium, a social journalism blogging platform that allows people to recommend and share posts Twitter-like. It is one of the first publications receiving independent funding to launch on Medium, which is also offering technical and revenue support. “This online magazine explores how the definition of aging shifts when it happens to the cohort that defined itself by its youthfulness,” Galant said.

The LP-FM New-Media Newsroom, a new FM/web-streamed radio station for New Haven, CT, shepherded by New Haven Independent founder Paul Bass in partnership with La Voz Hispana, the local Spanish-language weekly. Daily four-hour news programs, to start, will be in English and Spanish and feature local African-American hosts. “We're excited about launching an FM/web-streamed community radio station in the fall,” Bass said. “We envision this as one model for not-for-profit, public-interest local news sites like ours to expand on the journalism we do and broaden our racial and ethnic makeup and outreach.”

SoKing Internet Radio, daily newcasts to feature content from South King Media company’s six community blogs covering South King County near Seattle. Scott Schaefer, founder of the B-Town Blog and South King Media is leading the project. “This will allow us to start up a truly innovative new program – daily hyperlocal newscasts that will live not only on our 24/7 streaming radio station, but also as podcasts posted to South King Media’s six local blogs and Facebook pages,” Schaefer said.

EncuentrosMortales.org, a Spanish-language website and database to collect public records and media reports of undocumented people killed during interactions with law enforcement officers along the southern border of the U.S. It is a project of D. Brian Burghart, who created an English version, FatalEncounters.org, and is editor and publisher of the Reno News & Review. “I’m very excited to be able to move forward with EncuentrosMortales.org.  Law-enforcement-involved homicides along the U.S. border is an important and underreported issue, and I hope we can bring together technology, languages and volunteers to get a much better idea of our government’s activities,” he said.

The Masters Mediapreneurs progam is funded with grants from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism and the Nicholas B. Ottaway Foundations.

Participating in the judging the applications were Ju-Don Roberts, Director of the Center for Cooperative Media, Montclair State University; Tiffany Shackelford, Executive Director, Association for Alternative News Weeklies; Jody Brannon, Digital Media Strategist and former National Director News 21, and Jan Schaffer, Executive Director, J-Lab.

J-Lab, founded in 2002, is a journalism catalyst. It funds new approaches to news and information, researches what works and shares practical insights with traditional and entrepreneurial news organizations. Jan Schaffer is also Entrepreneur in Residence at American University.

J-Lab Press Releases 2015-02-05T14:12:01+00:00
<![CDATA[The Story Behind the Geezer Grants]]> Posted To: Ideas & Innovation > Blogically Thinking

Masters Mediapreneurs and the J-Lab were featured in three MediaShift articles: J-Lab’s Jan Schaffer Reflects Back on 20 Years of Journalism InnovationJ-Lab Launches Journalism Grant Program for Baby Boomers; and Reimagining Journalism School as a ‘Gateway Degree’ to Anything

Last week we announced an awards project to help Baby Boomers launch news startups. This week, we chuckle at our new nickname and shine a spotlight on the history that gave the project momentum.

"Geezer grants" is the term some wags have applied to the $12,000 startup funding open to people age 50-plus who want to launch a news project. Bring it on. Fourteen applications have been submitted for the four awards in the first week. The deadline is Dec. 15.

The funding will come as an award, not a grant. That means individuals are eligible; you don't have to be a nonprofit organization. You can preview the application here and fill one out here.

When J-Lab started raising money for the Encore Media Entrepreneurs project, I already knew this cohort group was keenly interested in responsible news and information, were digitally savvy, and had an appetite for launching news startups.

At least 17 of the start-ups J-Lab has funded since 2005 were the vision of adults aged 53 to 70. And they rank among our most enduring projects. They have been winners of seed funding from J-Lab's New Voices program and from our New Media Women Entrepreneurs program. 

They are people like former magazine publisher Ken Martin, who launched The Austin Bulldog in Texas in 2009 at age 70. He has since pugnaciously covered local government, filing 156 FOIA requests just since January 2011.  
His stories have led to more open meetings and open records, including a requirement that Austin City Council members must use city email accounts, not personal emails, to conduct city business.

Meet some others:

  • Professor Chris Harper, at 57, launched PhiladelphiaNeighborhoods.com in 2009 and it has since become part of the capstone for Temple University's journalism program.
  • Non-profit executive Sharon Litwin, 69, launched NolaVie.com with journalist Renee Peck, 56, in 2010 in New Orleans. The arts and culture news site has since forged a content partnership with WWNO, the city's public radio station.
  • Environmental journalist Dave Poulson, at 53, launched Great LakesEcho in 2009 to cover environmental issues and his portfolio continues to grow. It is a spinoff from the 2006 Great Lake Wiki.
  • Former San Jose Mercury News journalist Janice Rombeck, at 59, started NeighborWebSJ in 2010 to cover neighborhood issues San Jose, CA.
  • Former Oregonian art critic Barry Johnson launched Oregon Arts Watch in Portland in 2010 at age 59.
  • One-time Yahoo exec Susan Mernit, at 53, launched Oakland Local to focus on social justice issues in Oakland, CA. in 2009.
  • Professor Lew Friedland was 54 when he launched Madison Commons community news site in Wisconsin in 2005.


J-Lab's list doesn't stop there, nor does the variety.

Take a look at what Laura Fraser, Peggy Northrop and Rachel Greenfield are doing with Shebooks.net.  What Jeanne Pinder is doing with ClearHealthCosts.com. What Michele Kayal, Bonny Wolf, Carol Guensburg and Domenica Marchetti are doing with AmericanFoodRoots.com, which just won two 2014 awards from the Association of Food Journalists: best food blog and best non-newspaper food feature. The possibilities are stimulating.

All of these projects launched with micro funding of between $12,000 and $25,000.

Here's an observation from Maureen Mann, who was a retired school teacher when she won J-Lab funding to start The Forum in Deerfield, N.H. in 2005 at age 59: "One thing to point out is that people over 50 are used to having access to good media, want good media and have the time to make it happen – often for a lot less money (or in some cases no money but a desire for a good source of news)."


'The Forum has since expanded coverage to three other New Hampshire communities and Mann has been a mentor to former PTA volunteer Christine Yeres as she started NewCastleNOW.org to cover Chappaqua, N.Y.

Of note, our media entrepreneurs seem to align with Kauffman Foundation research that finds adults in the 55-64 age group have a high rate of entrepreneurial activity, comprising 23.4 percent of all us entrepreneurs in the U.S. – up from 18.7 percent in 2003.

A MetLife Foundation survey found that two out of three want to have local or regional, not national, impact. Two out of three potential encore entrepreneurs said they'd find their business worthwhile if they made less than $60,000 a year.  About the same percentage said they need $50,000 or less to get started, and many expect to tap personal savings. Those are realistic numbers for local news startups.

More information on the Encore Media Entrepreneur Awards

Four $12,000 awards are available to those Baby Boomers who have a vision for a news venture and a plan to continue it after initial funding is spent. Funding can be used for web sites, mobile apps or other news ideas. The deadline for proposals is Dec. 15, 2014. See guidelines here. Apply online here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/EncoreEntrepreneurs.

The awards are supported with funding from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation and the Nicholas B. Ottaway Foundation.

Blogically Thinking 2014-11-13T18:57:58+00:00
<![CDATA[Twenty Years on the Front Lines of Journalism Innovation]]> Posted To: Ideas & Innovation > Blogically Thinking

J-Lab director Jan Schaffer is wrapping up 20 years of raising money to give it away to fund news startups, innovations and pilot projects. She is pivoting J-Lab to do more writing, custom training and discrete projects.

After two decades of work at the forefront of journalism innovations, interactive journalism and news startups, she weighs in with some observations and lessons learned. This post addresses journalism innovations.

Little did I expect when I left The Philadelphia Inquirer to come to Washington, D.C., 20 years ago, that I would end up on the frontlines of journalism innovation, participatory journalism and news startups ­– just as the journalism industry was on the precipice of profound disruption.

I quickly took on a leadership role in what was to become one of the nation's most controversial attempts to reform journalism: the civic journalism movement. Castigated by the cardinals of the profession for its outreach to readers and viewers (there weren't many "users" then), civic journalism was an effort to experiment with new ways to engage audiences and stimulate citizen involvement in elections, local issues and problem solving. Its critics found abhorrent any idea that citizens might have input into how journalists did their jobs.

I can look back now with some amusement. But I gotta say: Civic journalism really worked. (More on this in another blog post.) It makes most of today's audience engagement initiatives look a mile wide and an inch deep.

I now see the degree to which civic journalism was a precursor to today's participatory and interactive journalism and the rise of citizen journalists. And I am heartened when I see so many entrepreneurial news startups openly embrace civic aspirations. Consider Jim Brady's BillyPenn.com, for one.

When a decade of the Pew Charitable Trusts' generous support for civic journalism ended, I spun our efforts into J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism. Informed by early clickable maps that served as surrogate public hearings (kudos to the Everett Herald's Waterfront Renaissance project) and by the gaming instincts of the first state tax calculators and budget balancers (hat tips to New Hampshire and Minnesota Public Radio), I wanted to move in a more digital direction. It was 2002, and we soon found ourselves in the vanguard of an onslaught of activities. We rewarded innovations with theKnight-Batten Awards, seeded startups with theNew Voices projects and Women Entrepreneur awards, built digital capacity and created new kinds of knowledge.

J-Lab became a catalyst for news ideas that work. The center and its advisory boards funded 100 news startups and pilot projects. They included community news startups, women media entrepreneur initiatives, networked journalism initiatives and enterprise reporting awards.

In the process of monitoring these projects, J-Lab learned a lot. And we shared it in 11 publications and five websites that have been used as resources in newsrooms and classrooms. J-Lab was the first to chronicle the emergence of citizen-ledcommunity news sites. It was the first to capture the extent of nonprofit funding for news projects with a 2009 database of grant-funded news projects accompanied by video case studies. We tapped Mark Briggs to write "Journalism 2.0," and it was such a popular early guide to digital literacy, it was downloaded some 200,000 times.

As I pivot to embrace some new projects, I offer this roundup of some lessons learned:

  • Innovations awards work - if they recognize more than multimedia bells and whistles. Audience engagement and impact are the most useful barometers of excellence.
  • Micro-grants for startups work - when the founders are genuinely committed to leveraging a proof of concept into an ongoing project.
  • News entrepreneurs see new jobs to be done in today's media space ­– but far too many are leaving traditional newsrooms to do them.
  • You can change behaviors by incentivizing change - if you set out short-term and long-term expectations.


Our funding for news startups ranged from $10,000 to $25,000 per project, and our pilot-projects ventures received $5,000 to $50,000. The demand for micro start-up awards is enormous and the success rate is notable, especially when applicants must lay out plans for sustainability.

We received 2,011 applications for 22 awards in our McCormick New Media Women Entrepreneur initiative, launched in 2008; 73 percent of those projects are still active. Across the board, the applicants were deeply accomplished, with many Pulitzer, Peabody and Fulbright winners in the mix. The vast majority of the proposals expressed a passion for purpose-driven news and information projects addressing such things as sustainability, social justice or equity. These themes have started to become more pronounced in recent years. Look at The Marshall Project as a case in point.

The vast majority of our women entrepreneurs were also refugees from traditional newsrooms. What a shame their ideas could not find the oxygen to be developed in-house.

Our New Voices grants for community news startups attracted 1,433 proposals for 55 projects that turned into 57 websites. However, 44 percent of the projects were launched by journalism schools and half of these could not figure out how to continue after the initial funding was spent. Kudos, though, to some notable exceptions: Chicago Talks, Great Lakes Echo,Philadelphia Neighborhoods, Madison Commons and Intersections South LA.

I am particularly proud that our award winners represented a broad cross-section of applicants who won on the merits of their ideas and not because they had past relationships or grant-writing abilities.


J-Lab's shared its learning in dozens of high-touch training programs for both journalism practitioners and educators at national journalism gatherings and at our own interactive summits and workshops. For more than 10 years J-Lab programmed lunches for journalism educators at AEJMC. For eight years, we produced sold-out pre-convention workshops for the Online News Association. We convened the first summit of university-based news sites and two women media entrepreneur summits. When you give people practical, accessible tools and information, they will use them.

Our Knight Community News Network suite of consultants engaged partners to provide learning modules on how to become a nonprofit 501(c)3, avoid legal risks, use social media and engage audiences. Our J-Learning site offers tutorials in using publishing software and hardware.

Innovations Awards

For nine years, J-Lab and its advisory board rewarded first-mover innovations via the Knight-Batten Awards for Innovations in Journalism. We honored 56 winners and showcased 196 notable entries, good ideas even if they didn't win. Again and again, our awards were an early scout for innovations that later turned into Knight News Challenge winners or Knight grantees. Many of the ideas also were replicated by other news organizations.

While we may not know exactly where we are going in the future, sometimes, it's helpful to look back. I am struck by how, if you track past Knight-Batten winners, you really capture the arc of journalism's reinvention over the last decade. The awards were among the first to validate and honor:

  • News games with Minnesota Public Radio's state Budget Balancer (2003).
  • Participatory journalism with KQED's "You Decide" exercise tool and early crowdsourcing with USAToday giving readers the chance to pick their winners in West Virginia's NewSong Festival for songwriters (2004).
  • Database journalism with the Grand Prize going to ChicagoCrime.com, a searchable database of local crime that later became EveryBlock. Minnesota Public Radio was honored for Public Insight Journalism participatory journalism efforts that have since been adopted around the country (2005).
  • Blogs , with the still-robust Global Voices winning for curating and translating international blogs. Our first social media award went to the Bakersfield Californian. The theme of journalistic transparency emerged with webcast news meetings of the Spokane's Spokesman-Review (2006).
  • Non-traditional journalism winners: the Personal Democracy Forum for its techpresident.com initiative and the Council on Foreign Relations for its Crisis Guides. It was time to acknowledge how new players were entering the news and information space. Our first citizen media award went to The Forum, the nine-year-old citizen-run hyperlocal site for Deerfield, N.H. (2007)
  • Fact-checking was the theme with Wired.com's Wikiscanner winning for developing a way to truth-squad entries on Wikipedia. PolitiFact won for fact-checking public officials and candidates. Ushahidi showed us how mobile phone crowdsourcing could help with crisis information (2008).
  • Innovations in mainstream media had the New York Times sweeping the awards with aportfolio of innovative entries. The rise of nonprofit journalism channeled honors to the Center for Public Integrity (2009).
  • Transparency was the theme of Grand Prize winner The Sunlight Foundation's Sunlight Live coverage of the health care summit with an innovative blending of data, liveblogging, streaming video and social media. An award to ProPublica's distributed reporting corps paid tribute to the theme of collaboration (2010).
  • Social media was the hallmark of the final year of the awards, 2011, which honored Storify's social media story builder and NPR's Andy Carvin for his Twitter coverage of the Arab Spring.

The Knight-Batten Awards were unique in their focus on innovations that "spurred non-traditional interactions," demonstrably engaged audiences, "employed new definitions of news" and "created news ways of imparting useful information." Again and again, they proved to be remarkably prescient about innovations that would have real staying power.

My thanks to our supporters, who had the courage and creativity to fund these activities, including The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Knight, McCormick, Ethics and Excellence, Ford, Wyncote, William Penn, Gannett and Ottaway Foundations and to American University, our home.

Blogically Thinking 2014-10-31T16:30:10+00:00
<![CDATA[Journalism Education: It’s Time to Craft the Gateway Degree]]> Posted To: Ideas & Innovation > Blogically Thinking

J-Lab director Jan Schaffer is wrapping up 20 years of raising money to give it away to fund news startups, innovations and pilot projects. She is pivoting J-Lab to do more consulting, custom training and discrete projects.

After two decades of work at the forefront of journalism innovations, interactive journalism and news startups, she weighs in with some observations and lessons learned.  This post addresses journalism education.

If I were to lead a journalism school today, I'd want its mission to be: We make the media we need for the world we want. 

Not: We are an assembly line for journalism wannabes.

The media we need could encompass investigative journalism, restorative narratives , soft-advocacy journalism , knowledge-based journalism,artisanal journalism, solutions journalism, civic journalism, entrepreneurial journalism, explanatory journalism, and maybe a little activist journalism to boot. That's in addition to the what-happened-today and accountability journalism.

Journalism is changing all around us. It's no longer the one-size-fits-all conventions and rules I grew up with.  Not what I was taught at Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism. Not what I practiced for 20 years at The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Yet, as someone who consumes a lot of media, I find I like journalism that has some transparent civic impulses, some sensibilities about possible solutions, and some acknowledged aspirations toward the public good. Even though I realize that might make some traditional journalists squirm.

And I'd assert that – if the journalism industry really wants to engage its audiences and woo new ones, and if the academy wants its journalism schools to flourish – it's time for journalism schools to embrace a larger mission and to construct a different narrative about the merits of a journalism education.

It's time for journalism schools to embrace a larger mission and to construct a different narrative about the merits of a journalism education.

There is some urgency here. Colleges and universities are cascading toward the disruptive chaos that has upended legacy news outlets.  Many, like newspapers, will likely shut their doors in the next decade or two, victims of skyrocketing tuitions, unmanageable debt, unimaginative responses and questionable usefulness.

Adding to the urgency are indications that some J-school enrollments have declined in the last few years, according to the University of Georgia's latest enrollment survey, released in July. Industry retrenchment is partly blamed for making prospective students and their parents nervous about future jobs.

How do you quell that nervousness?  One way is to articulate a new value proposition for journalism education; next, of course, is to implement it. 

It's time to think about trumpeting a journalism degree as the ultimate Gateway Degree, one that can get you a job just about anywhere, except perhaps the International Space Station.

It's time to think about trumpeting a journalism degree as the ultimate Gateway Degree, one that can get you a job just about anywhere, except perhaps the International Space Station.

Sure, you might land at your local news outlet. But, armed with a journalism degree, infused with liberal arts courses and overlaid with digital media skills, you are also attractive to information startups, nonprofits, the diplomatic corps, commercial enterprises, the political arena and tech giants seeking to build out journalism portfolios, among others.

We already know that a journalism education – leavened with liberal arts courses and sharpened with interviewing, research, writing, and digital production/social media competencies– is an excellent gateway to law school or an MBA.  And we already know that journalism education has moved away from primarily teaching students how to be journalists; indeed, seven out of 10 journalism and mass communications students are studying advertising and public relations, according to the UGA study.

In particular, schools that offer students hands-on experience running real newsrooms, a piece of the "teaching hospital" model of journalism education, pave the road to richer, more varied futures.

Refining the Gateway Degree, however, means embracing different types of journalism and showcasing different definitions of success achieved by alums, not just highlighting those who work in news organizations.

Journalism education as a Gateway Degree is a good business proposition – both for the journalism schools and for the industry. We need journalism schools to teach more than inverted-pyramid stories and video and digital production, in part because the industry is awash in entrepreneurial startups that are practicing excellent journalism but are increasingly mission-driven. They are driving strong coverage of public schools, public health, diverse communities and sustainable cities. Moreover, the news startup space is increasingly populated by nonprofit, regional investigative news sites.

For many startup founders, it's not enough to afflict the comfortable or speak truth to power.  They want their journalism to solve problems, improve lives and help make things better. These startups want measureable impact...

For many of these startup founders, it's not enough to afflict the comfortable or speak truth to power.  They want their journalism to solve problems, improve lives and help make things better. These startups want measureable impact beyond winning a journalism prize or changing legislation. This is a mindset, however, not a skill set, and one not often addressed in a standard journalism curriculum.

Instead, journalism schools in recent years have been hyper-focused on skill sets – convergence in the last decade, and coding and data skills in this one.

Media entrepreneurship courses especially can help pave the way for embracing a broader mission and cultivating different mindsets. Courses in entrepreneurial journalism train students to spot what disruption guru Clay Christensen calls "jobs [that need] to be done" and rethink how to engage audiences in those challenges. Students do competitive scans  (a good exercise for solutions reporting); they construct business plans (a useful reality exercise); and they build wireframes, proof-of-concept sites or apps (an introduction to the maker culture).

These activities also help channel those students who come to journalism school thinking they are going to produce works of art – the "I like to write" students – into more grounded activities.

Equally important, though, is the role that journalism education can play in the aspirations and social mindsets of Millennials, who are now wearing two hats: as news consumers and news creators. "One of the characteristics of Millennials, besides the fact that they are masters of digital communication, is that they are primed to do well by doing good. Almost 70 percent say that giving back and being civically engaged are their highest priorities," Leigh Buchanon writes in Meet the Millennials.

There is more work to be done in rendering how responsible journalism meshes with responsible aspirations to advance the public good.  But the ripple effect of engaging audiences in issues people care about can be enormous if news organizations master the onramps.

So I'd say it's time to be creative in leveraging current abilities and new mindsets to design a robust Gateway Degree that can imagine and deliver upon the media we need for the future.

Blogically Thinking 2014-10-31T16:19:31+00:00
<![CDATA[Encore Media Entrepreneurs Invited to Apply for Four $12,000 Startup Grants]]> Posted To: Press Releases

Washington, D.C.  -  Encore media entrepreneurs, age 50+, are invited to apply for seed funding to help them launch news projects in 2015 as part of a new initiative launched today by J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism.

Four $12,000 awards are available to those Baby Boomers who have a vision for a news venture and a plan to continue it after initial funding is spent. The awards are supported with funding from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation and the Nicholas B. Ottaway Foundation.

Funding is available for web sites, mobile apps or other news ideas. The deadline for proposals is Dec. 15, 2014. See guidelines here. Apply online here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/EncoreEntrepreneurs.

"We are seeking to create replicable models for engaging older adults in digital leadership roles in democratic society – roles that can help watchdog local officials, foster doable solutions to community problems, and build models for civic participation through the media, not just the voting booth," said J-Lab Director Jan Schaffer.

"This cohort group, raised in the journalism of the Watergate-era, seem eager to participate in their communities in new digital ways," she said.

J-Lab has provided seed funding to 100 start-ups and collaborative pilot projects since 2005. "At least 17 of the 100 start-ups we have funded so far were the vision of adults aged 53 to 70. They have been among our most enduring projects," Schaffer said.  See some of those projects here: http://www.j-lab.org/projects/masters-mediapreneurs-initiative/

These site founders were familiar with new digital tools, Schaffer said. Often, they were empty nesters who had been involved in their community. Some were journalists who took left newsrooms in the downsizings that have swept the news industry since 2007. Others are embracing an encore career – or just an encore hobby.

Here's an observation from Maureen Mann, a retired school teacher who founded The Forum in Deerfield, N.H. in 2005 at age 59: "One thing to point out is that people over 50 are used to having access to good media, want good media and have the time to make it happen – often for a lot less money (or in some cases no money but a desire for a good source of news)."

Encore media entrepreneurs align with research from the MetLife Foundation that finds adults in the 55-64 age group have the highest rate of entrepreneurial activity in the U.S. Two out of three:

  • Want to have local or regional, not national, impact.
  • Say they'd find their business worthwhile if they made less than $60,000 a year, which is in line with sustainable models for media start-ups.
  • Say they need less that $50,000 to get started.  Nearly one-half expect to tap personal savings to launch ventures.

J-Lab, founded in 2002, is a journalism catalyst. It funds new approaches to news and information, researches what works and shares practical insights with traditional and entrepreneurial news organizations. Jan Schaffer is Entrepreneur in Residence at American University.

J-Lab Press Releases 2014-10-29T20:07:01+00:00
<![CDATA[2014 J-Lab/AEJMC Breakfast]]> Posted To: Workshops & Training > Summits

Event Date: Aug. 7, 2014

AEJMC 2014

Summits 2014-08-07T13:29:25+00:00