The secret sauce for effective local indie online news easily boils down to choosing between two words: FOR vs. ABOUT.
“Reporters elsewhere write ABOUT our communities. We write FOR our communities,” said David Boraks, Publisher of DavidsonNews.net, at the close of the BlockbyBlock 2012 Community News Summit, held in Chicago Sept. 13-15.
The 125 local independent online news publishers in attendance applauded – vigorously. It wasn’t the first spontaneous outbreak. Similar enthusiasm had been expressed minutes earlier when in the Sept 15 closing session NYU Journalism professor Jay Rosen observed:
“If you are reporting about a place where you live and your life is rooted, THAT is a completely different journalistic act than reporting for a place that you just happen to be passing through. Those are different acts of journalism,” he said.
“What has always interested me about (the BxB) group, is that …. spiritual dimension. ‘This is news for the place where I am invested; where my kids go to school; where I own a home; where I plan to continue to live’.”
Rosen continued: ‘Should I quit my job and do this full time? ‘ That is also a spiritual kind of commitment because it is investing yourself even more in the welfare of the community which is why a lot of people got into journalism in the first place.”
In the end it was applause that united the publishers of the BxB network and carried them out the door to catch their planes on time. While surely the preceding hours were warp time filled with new tactics, new strategies and serious down time pondering very real challenges and limitations, they left with new friendships to keep the learning going as they strengthen their commitment to excellent local reporting and grass roots efforts that make them a partner — not an exploiter — in building strong communities at home.
As Dylan Smith, publisher of the Tucson Sentinel, said of the formation of a new association for local indie online news sites called LION Publishers
“We are getting back to the roots of what reporting was for so much of the 19th and 20th centuries. It was local publishers reporting local news for the community. It wasn’t these huge bureaucratic chains so removed from the communities. We really want to support what we think is the future of local news and make that better.”
Michele McLellan offered her halleluliah to that mission.
“I was the ombudsman at The Oregonian for a number of years and it totally changed my thinking about the newspaper and its community. After that I tried to make change there and I realized it wasn’t going to happen in that place, in that time, that culture.
“When I found you guys (local independent online news publishers) it was really big for me because I saw that community connection was alive and well and had the potential to really flourish in journalism.”
“That was inspiring. Thank you,” Mclellan said.
New tools from the Knight Innovation Lab
If I had one wish it would be that all the tools demonstrated by Rich Gordon Saturday afternoon of the summit could have been available in one WordPress suite for us to use as we reported on the BlockbyBlock 2012 Summit. Alas no such WP package was available. So here we are reporting on NU’s Knight innovation Lab the old fashioned way.
If we’d had the tools, we could have used a Google doc and Timeline JS to plot the summit’s Thursday, Friday and Saturday sessions and after hours events on a timeline. We could have then integrated bits of interviews from Soundcloud audio and Vimeo video as the weekend progressed using SoundCite. All of our bloggers could have posted on their own blogs and we could have used Local Circle to syndicate the posts, driving traffic among us rather than separately here on the BXB blog. Hashtagger would also have served us well by connecting all the reporting and commentary no matter where it resided on the Internets. As stories were posted, BxB could have created instant news layouts with PrintF . And finally we could have started the day by researching The Local Angle when we found ourselves scratch our heads at the national stories.
Read the report by Denise Cheng of the MIT Center for Civic Media.
Rusty Coats: The art of the business pivot
All BlockbyBlock publishers have faced critical points where things have changed. Coats calls them pivot points, because they are points where a publisher realizes that going the same direction either leads to a dead end or simply won’t get you to where you want to go. Publishers shared the good, bad and ugly about their personal pivot points, were honest about how messy it can be, and also shared how life looks on the other side of each pivot. Read the report and watch the video.
Eleanor Cippel: closing the deal and keeping it closed
If sales reps are working but results aren’t what you’d expect, Eleanor Cippel believes the problem can always be traced back to one of three things— confident, competence and belief — all of which are coachable. Explore how to reinforce this holy triad in this post and video.
Emily Lowery: business basics
No matter the size or business model of your online community news site, Emily Lowery knows you need to get your financial house in order if you want to be stable and grow. Learn what order looks like in this post and video.
Susan Mernit: using real metrics: grow your numbers
How do you report on your community and have the time to measure what you are doing. Susan Mernit has a weekly metrics solution for time-strapped online community news publishers. Why do it if you’re not measuring it? Susan asks in this report.
Katzgrau, Crepezzi:tech tools for community publishers
Kenny Katzgrau and John Crepezzi provided insight into how to help your site load fast! Explore the details in this post and
Ilfeld, Owens: revenue beyond advertising
Ben Ilfeld from Sacramento Press and Howard Owens from The Batavian offered some advice for publishers looking to try new approaches to revenue. Consider the work that goes into developing a new revenue steam. It might not be worth it. Make sure you are playing to your strengths. Gain some insight by reading the report.
Rusty Coats: the discipline to succeed
Don’t be your business, run it said, Rusty Coats, principal of Coats2Coats. A good place to start getting disciplined is to read. Books like “The Small Business Start-Up Kit: A Step-by-Step Legal Guide” by Peri H. Pakroo J.D. will help you draw the lines.
Emily Lowery: Building your team
Andy Crestodina: local journalism and search engines
Andy Crestodina, co-founder of Orbit Studios, doesn’t believe in compromising the integrity of the content but our writing needs to be found. He wrote about the writer’s dilemma for world poetry day:
But I don’t want to compromise.
My writing art is true.”
You keep your art, but I’ll be smart.
I’ll see you on page two.
Read a reportfrom his session.
Eleanor Cippel: Turning prospects into dollars
Whether you are managing an entire sales team for your site or if you’re the lone wolf selling advertising, a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system is essential, said Eleanor Cippel in her afternoon breakout. Watch the video and read the report from her session.
Gahran: the money in mobile
There’s money in mobile and locial indie online publishers and their advertisers need to go mobile to earn it, said Amy Gahran. Publishers can provide value by selling services to advertisers to navigate the transition. She also recommends publishers become a white-label reseller of mobile landing pages for early-adopting advertisers. Read a report from her session.
- BxB Recap: Is This the Future of Local News? (streetfightmag.com)
- Tweets for Keeps: September 9 – September 15, 2012 (journalismaccelerator.com)
- Neighborhood sites lead online news innovation (newstips.org)