BxB moves on

Block by Block: Community News Summit 2012 was the third and final conference. We’re keeping this site as an archive of resources for online community news publishers.

There’s more!

Independent publishers have formed their own group, LION Publishers. The membership group provides networking and shared expertise.

Michele McLellan, who started Block by Block, has developed Michele’s List, a searchable database of news sites that will help publishers find peers who are working on like goals and challenges.

And the Block by Block conversation continues on Facebook.

Onward local news!

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Defining your exit strategy to build a legacy

It felt odd to consider “exit strategy” at the recent Community Journalism Executive Training program (CJET), which brought nearly three dozen news organizations to Los Angeles for two days of intense, hands-on work developing specific business strategies and action plans.

Publishers confer at CJET training in Los Angeles. Photo credit: Jessica Plautz, INN

After all, the vast majority of publishers attending only opened their doors a few years ago.

CJET built on Block by Block’s Super Camp training for publishers. Funded by the Knight Foundation, The Patterson Foundation and the McCormick Foundation, hosted by the Knight Digital Media Center and organized by the Investigative News Network, CJET provided highly practical coaching with a sharp focus on the bottom line.

And that meant plotting exit strategy from the start.

“What, really, is your exit strategy?” asked Rusty Coats of Coats2Coats, at the first working session of CJET. “If you have no exit strategy, you have no ability to define success. If you don’t have your eye on where this is going, you don’t know where you are.”

Many publishers figured “exit strategy” meant calling it quits. I later asked people if they had thought about their exit strategy before beginning the business training.

“Besides turning off the site?” replied Jesus Sanchez, who covers several Los Angeles neighborhoods on his site, The Eastsider LA.

“Yeah, we give up,” said Trevor Aaronson, co-director of the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting.

“More of a disaster strategy. The cliff,” said Brent Gardner Smith of Aspen Journalism.

“No,” said 100 Reporters founder Diana Jean Schemo. “To me it means sort of like a DNR, do not resuscitate strategy. I came here seeking a survival strategy.”

But some CJET participants felt focusing on exit strategy was just plain wrong.

“I disagree profoundly that the notion of exit strategy is important,” said Lance Knobel, one of three founders of the independent California news site Berkeleyside.

Knobel brings a background in economics, strategy and management, as well as journalism, to the local news organization. He said thinking exit strategy may be fine for venture capitalists, but he believes it’s “exactly the wrong thing” to consider if you are an entrepreneur seeking to build a lasting institution. “I actually think is a big negative, a really dangerous thing,” Knobel said. “Energies and concentration needs to be on how do we get this to a really durable sustainable state?”

Read more of this story on the Journalism Accelerator. How does planning an exit strategy compare to creating a legacy? What opportunities arise when you consider the end? How do personal and organizational exit strategies differ? Among publishers at CJET, there is a wide range of opinion about this! Jump in the conversation with your plans, experience and views.

Want to see more of what CJET participants did? The JA has complied useful resources from CJET for all publishers to access. Check out insights and tips, download presentations and templates.

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Confused about Facebook Promoted Posts? You are not alone

 Some online community news sites aren’t feeling the love from Facebook’s new fee-based service dubbed “Promoted Posts.”  They’re feeling confusion.

By now community news sites posting to their Facebook pages will have noticed a drop down tagged “promote” on their posts. When using “promote” a page owner pays a fee to extend the reach of the post to more than 16% of its readers. To many sites, it’s news to learn that their posts are reaching only 16% of their facebook page readers.

Some bloggers have suggested that Facebook has been squeezing the pipeline of posts, limiting the number that would reach fans to create a greater demand  for the promoted posts service. Vadim Lavrusik, Journalism Program Manager at Facebook, said that nothing has changed.

“We’ve changed nothing about the way page posts are delivered to fans. The main point of confusion we’ve seen is that pages don’t realize that their posts were never reaching 100% of fans.”

Lavrusik offered that promoted posts is really a streamlining of the Facebook ads program. “All Promoted Page Posts does is offer an easy way for page admins to pay to promote a post using FB ads using functionality that already existed but is now in-line and easier to create an ad for a post,” he said.

That might be the case, but nevertheless, some community publishers aren’t seeing the value and are pulling out of Facebook advertising. Scott Brodbeck, publisher of ARLnow.com said on the BlockbyBlock Facebook Resource group:

 “Well, it’s costing Facebook money from me. Given the reduction in Facebook reach from our page we decided to pull our Facebook ad campaign. Now we’re exclusively doing paid promotion with Twitter, which lets our Tweets reach 100% of followers.”

Liz Heron, social media director for the Wall Street Journaltested her Edgerank in an experiment and found that her reach had diminished. She invited her friends to join her on Twitter.

Other journalists who deal with big brand media companies think posts are not showing up because of a lack of “space.”

Space feels right to me. It’s like a limiting spatial element is entering the Facebook newsfeed. A “promoted” post is placed “higher.” If I’ve only been seeing 16% of the posts in my feed, there is scarcity in the space on my feed. Those who want to engage with me will have to pay to access my feed if I am not drawn to engage with them. If I change my preferences so I see posts from my friends, and then some brands are paying for access to my feed, then “other” kinds of pages — including subscriber and news site pages — won’t be seen. They’ll have to pay more to get me to see them.

In Facebook’s move to operate more like a search engine that “ranks” posts, those pages whose posts are not liked or shared could get bumped out of the stream, basically be treated like spam. It’s similar  to getting bumped off the “first page” or top of Google search results. One thing that’s different is that if this were Google you could still scroll a few pages down and see the post. It’s not the case here.

Lavrusik pointed to Facebook’s webinar explaining the dynamics of the promote feature. You can check that out.

Facebook has been pruning feeds, constantly monitoring the stream of likes, comments and hides in a news feed, said Philip Zigoris, a Facebook ads engineer, in a  blog post last week.  Natural selection is at work in Facebook’s algorithm, he said. You might want to give him a read too.

About 20 minutes into the video below from 2012 BlockbyBlock Community News Summit, Rich Gordon discusses the importance of Facebook as a distribution channel for independent online community news publishers.

“Social media is enormous and is especially enormous among small sites,” says Gordon.  “Having a regularly updated good engaging Facebook page is probably as important as having a regularly updated good homepage.”

That’s been the mantra for small business as well. But could that change as Facebook changes its algorithm and it becomes harder for a small site or business to reach its audience?  At this time, the bottom line appears to be that as the definition of engagement on Facebook becomes further refined in its algorithm, news sites will have to adjust to become more engaging.

That could mean spending more time asking your audience to click, Like, comment and share items. Also some journalists have observed these dynamics at work:

  • Facebook appears to be weighting how many people actually click on your link more highly. So your readers can’t just Like the post, they have to click through.
  • A post has to stand on its own as being engaging. A dud of a post is a dud of a post even if other  previous posts that day were engaging. It’s the post not the page that counts.
  • Image posts aren’t performing as well – so consider asking one or two text only questions a day.

You might want to keep those tips in focus as well. And then, wait, because just like the weather, the Facebook Feed is sure to change again.

Please share your thoughts and insights on this post and what you are doing with your social media strategy.

Sally Duros is a social journalist working toward the next generation of successful, credible online newsrooms. Connect with her on Google+ and on twitter at saduros.

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#NJSandy minimized scramble of Hurricane Sandy statewide coverage

Debbie Galant had decided to experiment with a live-blogging tool called ScribbleLive she’d encountered at the ONA gathering in San Francisco. ScribbleLive claimed to simplify curation and aggregation from social networks so reporting could be delivered in a live blog. In her role running the N.J. News Commons  at Montclair State University, Galant had planned to give ScribbleLive a spin crowd-sourcing coverage of the presidential debates.

“I wasn’t quite understanding it,” she said, so her trial account got back-burnered during the debate.  But shortly after, Paul Janzen – a sales rep with ScribbleLive offered to demo the tool. That was Oct. 26, just in time for Hurricane Sandy.  Together they set up a live #NJSandy “event” on ScribbleLive. 

NJ News Commons, based at Montclair State, monitors the coming hurricane and pulls together information from multiple news sources across the state.

“I did not have  a website yet to embed it,” Galant said Tuesday Oct. 30, the day after Sandy had landed in New Jersey.  Happily Galant still had electricity and  the  100 year old oaks in her neighborhood are still standing.

Galant had been was working with the ScribbleLive free trial version – good for 30 days. But because she had not built her own site yet, Scribblelive hosted #NJSandy for her,  giving her live blog much of the functionality of the white label sites used by major media players like Reuters. Unlike other live  live blogging tools —  like CoveritLive — which snatch the SEO fuel as their own, ScribbleLive leaves the keyword strength resident with the publisher.

Once she committed to coordinating statewide coverage of the storm, Galant spent the weekend populating the page and getting people interested in contributing and embedding it as a coverage tool on their sites.

While her husband drove, Galant spent the four hours to and from Clinton, N.Y. — where their son attends college— tethered to her  cell phone and laptop inviting and finalizing contributors.

“We had a very short visit with my son,”  she said, laughing.

“Before the storm hit, I had ten sites participating in one way or another to the #NJSandy event,” she said.

ScribbleLive is a Toronto-based company launched in 2008. Last year it had a staff of ten; this year it has 60 employees, said Paul Janzen, sales rep for Scribble. He describes ScribbleLive as a live content management system (CMS) .

“You can easily grab in tweets, blogs and take all that information and create what we call a live article,” he said.

The ScribbleLive free trial allows you to add only three Twitter accounts. Galant was selective, adding Jersey Shore Hurricane News — a service run by Justin Auciello, a concerned citizen who Galant discovered when she started managing new media initiatives with Montclair State University.

Auciello’s talent is collecting information and he is very careful about vetting and fact checking. “He even has this service called ‘Rumor Control,'”she said.  Her other “must follow” tweeters  were the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management and Bob Ingel, Senior Political Columnist for Gannett New Jersey

In total, her “reporting bureau” consisted of these three twitter accounts and 4 or 5 people who were actively filing.  In addition, she was actively moderating comments and seeking out additional good reporting, video and photographs from the Internet.

Galant’s strategy of inviting writers made sense for a one person bureau under pressure during a crisis when information is moving fast.  She invited writers she trusted so the stream would be trusted, not needing too much moderation.  But Janzen said a publisher doesn’t have to do it that way. Instead they can leave the  system open so anyone can post as a guest.

So how’d it go?

“I am a little bit worn out by trying to coordinate hurricane coverage for the whole state but you know when you are called you must serve,” Ganat said.

“In the end I thought it went really well,” she said. “Last night [Monday], we had more than 100,000 page views,” she said. “It really flew.” And, she added, during the storm “I had 1000 people on it at one time.”

One of the powers of the white label ScribbleLive — as in other private label live blogging systems — is Google juice. Google sees the continuous stream of live content and likes it.  “Because you are driving people to our sites. … the stickiness is huge,” Janzen said. He said statistically, it’s been found that the audience spends 47% more time on a ScribbleLive blog.

Galant points out that Jersey Shore Hurricane News started the weekend with 60,000 likes on its Facebook page and today after the #NJSandy live event — on the ground and on line — it has more than 120,000 likes.

Sites could participate by either contributing or by embedding the code for the site in their sites.  Partners included several publishers in the Block by Block network, including Denise Civiletti of RiverheadLocal, Gerard DeMarco of  Cliffviewpilot of ElizabethInsideOut as well as Baristanet, Morristown Green, The Boken, Hoboken 411, My VeronaNJSpotlight. Both New Jersey Public Radio and Patch embedded the code

Janzen said that creating a syndication marketplace is another way to add power to ScribbleLive and that a publisher’s advertising populates the white label sites. He said the backend shows views, viewers and very soon will include engagement, which will show the number of minutes an audience member is on the site.  In addition, ScribbleLive has SMS, email and phone-in capabilities.

At $1750 per month, the cost of a Scribble enterprise system is probably too rich for your average independent news site. But Janzen said Scribble would be happy to discuss setting up a special price point — say $350 per site—  for publishers like those in the Block by Block network or the newly formed LION Publishers association.

ScribbleLive has event-based pricing as well. The biggest issue there for a community news site would be to achieve scale  but it might work for a group of news sites covering a national event — such as the presidential election. _________________________________


The free versions of both Coveritlive and Scribblelive are embedded iframes. This is similar to embedding a video, ad or other live-blog solution on a site and while it does not add search-engine visible content, it also does not redirect search traffic elsewhere, said Ben Schneider of DemandMedia, which owns Coveritlive. ScribbleLive’s Paul Janzen confirmed that only ScribbleLive’s white-label offering offers additional SEO value to customer sites. These white label sites are  similar to CoveritLive’s  ChannelPages, Schneider said. Coveritlive does not do anything to detract SEO traffic from  customer’s sites and in fact, has a number of features that enhance SEO, Schneider said. 

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How Knight Lab’s Local Circle could lead to ad revenue

Rich Gordon, Knight News Innovation lab

United we stand, divided we fall? Indie news publishers continue to explore what ad sharing could look like. NU’s Knight Innovation Lab’s Rich Gordon discusses an idea called Local Circle that could be relevant. Continue reading

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Support Us: How to ask your news audience for money


Indie online news sites can ask their audiences for money by stating very simply: “Support Us.”

”I believe there is value in what we do and readers should pay for it,’ said David Boraks of DavidsonNews.Net and Corneliusnews.net. In lieu of a paywall, “the next best thing is to ASK  for voluntary payment.”

Boraks, Kelly Gilfillan of BrentwoodHomePage.com and FranklinHomePage.com, and Tracey Taylor of Berkeleyside.com shared their thoughts about how to ask Continue reading

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Eleanor Cippel’s tough love on sales for community news publishers at BxB12

Eleanor Cippel. EW Scripps

At BlockbyBlock Community News Summit 2012, Eleanor Cippel of E.W. Scripps gave the 125 indie publishers in attendance tough love on sales and tightly framed Continue reading

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BxB publishers united in reporting FOR vs ABOUT their communities

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 Continue reading

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Site criteria, lessons learned, LION discussed in BxB12 closing session

Jay Rosen









In a wide ranging conversation Jay Rosen, journalism professor from New York University, and Michele Mclellan, founder of the BlockbyBlock Community News Summit,  discussed the summit’s origin, and the lessons learned about sustaining effective community news during the past three years

Mclellan discussed a list that she had developed of local independent online news sites Continue reading

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The future of Block by Block

With the Block by Block summit behind us, I want to share next steps and activities for the Block by Block network.

I am excited to report that the BxB network will continue to serve independent publishers and innovators in local news, primarily by providing more training and by fostering ongoing connections.

On Saturday, Janet and Rusty Coats and Vikki Porter of Knight Digital Media Center and I had an exciting conversation about virtual resources we can create based on the curriculum of Block by Block Super Camp.

We envision on-demand online learning modules and virtual instructor-led classes aimed Continue reading

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