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Case Studies

J-Lab has observed scores of community news sites start from a simple idea and flourish into a healthy news outlet for their communities. These mini case studies give you quick insight into how they did it.

The Forum – Deerfield, NH

(Published Sept. 2010 in New Voices: What Works)

In the 2005 town elections for Deerfield, a small town in southeastern New Hampshire, of the 22 positions on the ballot only 14 had candidates and only two were contested. “The same people were controlling the towns over and over again. If there were [new] candidates, there was no way to find out what they thought, what their opinions were,” said former schoolteacher Maureen Mann. “We sat around and said: ‘We need a newspaper.’ ” Read more…

Oakland Local – Oakland, CA

(Published Sept. 2010 in New Voices: What Works)

Oakland Local is a case study in a New Era for Community News Sites – namely how future sites will use social media to ramp up, spark buzz, and build an instant brand. Key to its going live in October 2009 was an orchestrated time line of outreach. At 3 a.m. the day before launch, founder Susan Mernit and her partners wrote emails to 800 people, urging them to look at the site and tweet or blog about it the next day. That compressed timeline, she said, was essential: It resulted in more than 1,800 visitors on launch day, and the Twitter activity prompted stories in three trade publications. Read more…

Great Lakes Echo – East Lansing, MI

(Published Sept. 2010 in New Voices: What Works)

Is there such a thing as a news shed that is congruent with a watershed? “We define our community, the Great Lakes watershed, like hydrologists or geologists,” says Dave Poulson, founder of Great Lakes Echo. It covers eight states, two provinces and two nations, including Canada, of course. Poulson, who is also associate director of the Knight Center for Environmental Journalism, initially used New Voices funding to launch Not happy with the community engagement on that site, he spun it into Great Lakes Echo. Read more…

Twin Cities Daily Planet – Minneapolis, MN

(Published Sept. 2010 in New Voices: What Works)

Of all the New Voices grantees, TC Daily Planet has raised the most money ($760,000) and has shown the greatest resilience in adapting to community needs and building a corps of contributors. The site aggregates news from more than 100 community partners; citizen journalists now make up about 40 percent of its content. The site is a model for recruiting, mentoring and sustaining a corps of contributors. One of the chief ways it does that is with a multiple entry points. Read more…

Greater Fulton News – Richmond, VA

(Published Sept. 2010 in New Voices: What Works) was birthed in 2007 by professors at Virginia Commonwealth University in partnership with Fulton’s Neighborhood Resource Center (NRC). Now, it has been entirely handed off to the community, and it’s a model for having the community sustain a site. The news blog focuses on micro-local activities and events for the heavily African-American neighborhoods of Fulton, Fulton Hill, and Montrose Heights in Richmond, Va., and on larger events with direct impact on the community. Read more…

Voice of San Diego – San Diego, CA

(Published June 2009 in New Media Makers Toolkit)

By 2004, Buzz Woolley’s concerns about the kinds of news and information San Diego residents were getting had reached a critical point. So the philanthropist and venture capitalist decided to do something about it. He talked to professional journalists, researched the possibilities and made a personal investment: He launched an investigative news Web site, the Voice of San Diego. Since its start-up, the site has been making a name for itself not only in the city, but also in the vanguard of online journalism. “People really didn’t have very good information and I think some very bad decisions were made because of that,” Woolley said. Read more… – Philadelphia, PA

(Published June 2009 in New Media Makers Toolkit)

In Philadelphia, issues of planning and development can evoke high passion and deep emotion. Concerns can pit hot-tempered stevedores against high-minded historic preservationists and opportunistic developers of waterfront casinos. What happens, then, if there is little or no coverage of these powerful forces – even in a two-newspaper town? One community funder, The William Penn Foundation, paved the way for a new kind of niche newsgathering to shine a spotlight on these planning and development issues as part of an overall city visioning process. Read more…

New Castle NOW – Chappaqua, NY

(Published June 2009 in New Media Makers Toolkit)

Thirty-five miles north of New York, in the well-heeled hamlet of Chappaqua, three stay-at-home moms were struck, again and again, by how their community seemed to come to issues late in the game. Community concerns about whether to build a new middle school or about how a development would alter local traffic patterns registered as late-breaking crises with residents, who’d express disbelief once they learned what was about to happen, said longtime community volunteer Christine Yeres. Yeres and two of her fellow activists decided to do something to alert people earlier to town happenings. Emboldened by the start-up of a hyperlocal news site in Deerfield, N.H., the three women figured they could do the same thing for their town of New Castle, population 17,000, which governs the hamlets of Chappaqua and Millwood, N.Y. The town, at best, gets only occasional coverage in The New York Times and a regional newspaper. Read more…

New Haven Independent – New Haven, CT

(Published June 2009 in New Media Makers Toolkit)

In its fourth year of operation, the New Haven Independent has a staff of three full-time and two part-time journalists, as well as stringers. The site attracts about 16,000 unique users per week, and its audience grows about 25 percent every six months, said site founder and editor Paul Bass. Users can drill into 40 topic areas plus sections on 24 neighborhoods, be they home to blue-collar workers or Yale University faculty. Read more…

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