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Buy the People and Force the People or By the People and for the People?
Here we are at the end of another year. For me, 2010 passed by like a closed rest step on the side of the highway when you really need a place to pull over and stretch your legs and contemplate the next part of your journey. There is good news, though, fellow journalists.
The front lines (and the guerrilla war behind enemy lines) are both going well as people begin to wrestle power from the corporate Overlords.....Wait. It’s the end of 2010. That stage is over. Good things are about to happen, however, as Cleveland Free Press starts up.
Websites as War Elephants
I’m done with playing angry young journalist, and I’ve been quietly working on solutions. The focus has been money for just over a year and the results have been pretty good. From toys to military photos to televisions to robots, it’s all about niche content.
Newspapers and other big media companies should be putting these out a lot more. Hire more writers. Hire more photographers. And so on. While the History of Televisions or Toys Timeline websites aren't ground-breaking journalism by any means, they do make profit with little investment.
There are some of us starting to plan the stages of hiring mercenaries - barbarians or merely content creators the “real” journalists call them. Although if you look at what AOL Patch is doing - they’re hiring (you can’t really call it that at the rates they pay) citizens to produce the “news.”
Quick story. I was dealing with the “press room” at Mitsubishi the other day about why they don’t think online journalists are worthy of their valuable information. I never got a real name from them. Just some sort of “desk” that I was emailing back and forth with. In the back of my mind, I could picture their laughter and mocking tone.
Instead of angry young journalist anger, I simply said, “Cool, the public will be okay without your information, I’m sure.”
I still don’t know what the problem was. I gave examples of “real” journalism. Just because I no longer dabble in print (at the moment), I’m no longer a genuine journalist? Who among you has taken a test or passed some sort of necessary certification? J-school?
Anyway, the point is that the future of media is looking bright. Even with AOL Patch trying to invade the Cleveland, Ohio area. In fact, that makes the next stage of my journey a little more exciting and important in a few ways.
As I head to Northern Ohio, I have already begun to gather allies that want to help save journalism - for the people. As the United States heads toward 2011, I am more excited than ever before about the prospects for grassroots journalism - for a better media in this country.
Grassroots Journalism in 2011
Throughout history, the best journalists have come from many different fields, bringing many different viewpoints and opinions to big J journalism. There I go again - big speeches with still very little to show. However, if you must know, I am perhaps keeping silent on purpose. I like to give updates here and there - notes for the book scattered on the web - but I've been quiet about the successes. And now here we are...
The year of Our Lord 2011 is almost here and things are continuing to improve. As I mentioned, the niche sites are taking off. This is with no overhead, no daily staff (yet), but raw determination and a ragtag band of new media rebels out there working the grind - ALL THE TIME. From toys to televisions to health to robots, I have spent time building up content online.
The equation for success? The Internet + Hard Work / Over Time = $ and of course the profit does not come easy or simple, but there is a very obvious model once you look. The thing I don’t understand is the waste at the large corporations. If I had a fraction of their resources, I can’t imagine what I would be able to do. Okay, maybe I do - perhaps even storming the gates of Rome herself to topple once and for all the old guard aka Big Media?
(Is Gannett Rome? Or is it the whole current system of media ownership?)
Don’t get me wrong. Journalism is still going to be important, but hopefully all the really talented journalists WILL BE WORKING FOR THEMSELVES. Massive amount of mini-collectives - working together. All it takes is one man to step forward and begin to put the pieces in place. The lean years of learning are just about over.
The plan of attack, the route over the Alps has been committed to memory and destroyed lest too much information is leaked to those in the Glass Towers reading spreadsheets and drinking coffee.
That’s not to say there aren’t great newspapers and media outlets still out there - big ones even - but the nation - the United States of America, I must sadly say, is chock full of mediocre, half-ass newspapers running on auto-pilot. The small and medium-sized print dailies are cash cows used to perpetuate the madness of the modern media machine. And don’t get me started on lame attempts like AOL Patch and why they are NOT shining beacons that are going to save journalism.
Some of the elephants (websites) I have with me may be lost trudging over the Alps, but the element of surprise is crucial to be able to effectively begin to dismantle the broken media outlets in this country. Perhaps not every journalist and person with a mission (or a passion) will work for themselves in the years to come, but many more are going to and they are going to need (or want) information from someone who has been in the trenches doing it for over half a decade.
I’m tired. Really. Exhausted. I work too much. My Oma worries about me, but I trudge forward, against the cold winds, knowing that crossing the Alps may be the only way.
The lessons learned in the medium sized markets in the Midwest will be very helpful moving into larger cities. The momentum is building. The networks are coming together and merging.
The clouds are forming, the storm is gathering, the people are typing and the words will always be there in one form or another.
AOL Patch in Cleveland? Hannibal on the Move?
If you haven’t heard by now, AOL Patch is trying to move into the Cleveland area in a big way. They have already started. To me, this is not good news or bad news really. It means there’s never been a better time maybe to return to my city, bringing the knowledge I’ve gained over the years.
AOL Patch - in my opinion - is BUY THE PEOPLE, FORCE THE PEOPLE rather than By the People and for the People. The two are close, of course, but the former is not going to be good for the people of the greater Cleveland area.
Cleveland.com (Plain Dealer, Sun News and others), AOL Patch, the Lakewood Observer and many, many others are in Cleveland now, some even doing really great things - the Lakewood Observer and the The Chubby Cook for example. In my mind, however, there’s never been a better time to join the fray and stake out my claim - for the people of the greater Cleveland, Ohio area.
While Anderson Free Press is still not where she should be at this time, I have decided to set my sights on a larger city to see if I can take the successful model I have in Indiana and transplant it to Cleveland, Ohio via Cleveland Free Press.
Is it a wise move? Wouldn’t Indianapolis, Indiana make more sense? After setting up Cleveland Free Press the weekend of 12/3/2010 and promoting it for a few weeks, the results are very positive. I have come into contact with friends old and new who are willing and able to help with Cleveland Free Press.
How does this differ from AOL Patch? For one, it’s bottom-up instead of top-down. The big media companies ARE the problem. There’s a solution that I’ll share in the years ahead, but for now know that big media ownership is why AOL Patch in Cleveland, Ohio and many other areas is going to fail - in a big way. (Akron anybody? McLean, VA? EveryBlock/MSNBC?)
Of course, some of the smaller players (like me) have failed in big and small ways over the last four or five years, but lessons are being learned. I still don’t claim to have all the answers, but I’ve learned that it is possible to create something online - a living, breathing community. And, maybe more importantly, multiple and sustainable revenue streams.
Once I can prove that my “model” for grassroots journalism can be transplanted from one location (two small cities in Indiana) to another (one large city in Ohio), things are really going to start moving more quickly.
So far, results have been very, very positive - even from a remote location. This will be a cash strapped attempt at starting something up in a large city, but I ask everyone out there to consider the resources AOL has when comparing their efforts with mine in 2011. By Q3 or Q4 2011, things should be really interesting.
For now, take a look at Cleveland Free Press - if you have friends, family, or even enemies in Northern Ohio, please pass on word about the site.
I’m going to try to contribute more to barilan-conflict.com in 2011.
Remember, the future is online and non-linear.
Until next time,
keep up the good fight,
K. Paul Mallasch - Publisher
From Media Transparent.
What’s missing from sites focused on a city? Community organizers. It’s the same leadership dilemma facing any organization, whether physical or virtual. Hyperlocal sites need to be driven and organized by hubs and influencers of the local community, and these hubs need to feel invested and committed to their “city site”.
Hyperlocal “news” sites like Outside.In and Topix automatically pull feeds from local publishers to re-create a local newspaper. Although there are sporadic comments to articles, there is little community engagement. CitySearch and Yahoo! Local serve as online Yellow Pages.
Engaging hyperlocal sites need “word of mouth”
In many cities, the best hyperlocal sites are developed by somebody, some company or group in the community. In Santa Barbara, Edhat.com, developed by a local software company, has distinguished itself in providing compelling local content.
Hyperlocal social networks a la Ning generally don’t gain traction (show me one that does) because it takes too long for anybody to invest the time to set up a complete profile. Twitter makes hyperlocal communication easy because it can serve as a proxy social network for a local community that “follows” each other. There’s no login/profile setup requirement, just tweet.
Breaking News City sites that aggregate local Twitter feeds across various categories are being developed in cities across the country by individuals, and groups like chambers of commerces, who are hubs of their communities. They invest their time to create a useful hyperlocal community site by providing local Twitterers a venue to gain exposure in the community. There’s energy in facilitating the community conversation that “national” sites like Topix and CitySearch don’t have.
Example Breaking News City sites:
TechCrunch Co-Editor Erick Schonfeld wrote a great article about video hosting service Syndicaster’s increased options for distributing local broadcast news.
…Syndicaster is adding one-click distribution options to the major video sites so that local TV affiliates or station groups can post their videos to AOL Money & Finance or their YouTube channel, and manage it all from one place. One feature that TV customers will appreciate is the ability to set embargo windows for each service, allowing a TV station to publish hot news immediately to its own site, then 24 or 36 hours later to video partner sites where it makes the most money, and then maybe finally to YouTube.
While the article focuses on Syndicaster’s business model and its potential to rejuvenate local broadcast news organizations, it does make short mention of the startup’s inability to generate a profit from consumers. Until they can turn a profit on user generated content, they wouldn’t be including features for it. And beside it being costly and unpredictable to manage, I’m not convinced that any national (media) company needs to enable user generated news.
That job belongs to the local news organizations. And the only way they can be successful is if they provide the one thing that national entities cannot produce: A strong, valuable relationship with a local community.
GroundReport just got a great opportunity through Talk To US: bring the voices and faces of global citizen journalists to national television program Worldfocus.
Every month we ask a question on news perspectives, and the most compelling video response is aired on TV for hundreds of thousands. It’s a big deal for us, but a bigger deal for citizen journalism— and a tall order. We need to find the best video from across the globe. This is why I would like to ask for your help.
Our first question is ‘What’s your advice for President Barack Obama?’
Please share this email with your networks of citizen journalists, activists, video producers and brilliant, engaged citizens. Or even better— post a video response yourself. This is an amazing way to bring attention to your cause, issue or mission. If you are part of a citizen journalism entity, we can feature your logo as well.
To respond, log in to http://GroundReport.com and upload your video of advice for Obama— all videos on GroundReport are automatically entered.
Or, if you’d prefer, visit the video page on YouTube, log in, and upload your video directly: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SlVSQ8zzHsE
The deadline is next week, so time is of the essence.
I’m coming up on four entire years out here on the front lines of the media revolution being waged across the nation, across the world. In that time, a lot of other similar sites (some with millions of dollars of cash injected into them) have fallen. A lot of other sites continue to thrive, though, all over.
Personally, my first site was Muncie Free Press. The launch was ok and I got the traffic up to around 20,000 visitors a month. A couple years after starting it, I also launched some other sites for nearby counties. One, Anderson Free Press, has, in less time, overtaken MFP - both in traffic and, more importantly, participation.
I’ve talked about AFP here before, I believe. Since then, though, I’ve made a lot more progress. It started last summer. I was able to put together (on my own, using photoshop and email) an 8-page tabloid prototype for the AFP website. I mailed to three zip codes - around 17,000 copies. I’ve never really been good at sales, so I hired someone (with a low, low salary and high commission) to sell ads for the next issue. Sales were … ok. I only had enough to pay him for 10 to 20 hours a week, which really isn’t enough.
The second issue came out, though. Then the third - mostly supported by the local political campaigns. The fourth issue I still lost money, but it was very, very close. With a little more effort - and a sales team or full time salesperson - I’m sure it can be done. The easy money dried up after the elections, so I stopped printing. The process taught me a lot, though. I took it all back to the drawing board. (The publisher of the Herald Bulletin called it a “rag,” but I’m not sure if he knew I know it was a term of endearment. Maybe. Heh.)
For one, I learned I’m not going to be able to do it all on my own. I need other people. So, I’m working with the local Small Business Administration to come up with a business plan to shop around for a local investor. That may never happen, but with even 1% of what some of the other community journalism start-ups have gotten, I’m sure I could get the ball rolling, in motion.
Even if I don’t get funding, there are other ways I’m looking at to get at least a quarterly or bi-monthly printed edition out. Even if they don’t pan out, though, the website is what it’s really about. In fact, a few have privately told me to forget about print and concentrate more on the website.
Doing the printed edition, though, I saw my traffic quadruple. Not only that, people started to sign-up and participate. By this time, the user started “Scanner News” thread had become one of the most popular features on the site. The local journalists at the CNHI owned The Herald Bulletin may look down their noses at it, declaring it “non-journalism,” but you know what? It’s information. It’s pure and raw and unedited mostly (at this time!), but it’s information.
Anderson Free Press has become known as the website to go to first to see what’s breaking, what’s happening. The Herald Bulletin lumbers along hours later usually to do the full story, but people know AFP is where to get it first - most of the time. There was a fire New Year’s Eve that came over the scanner. Within minutes, dispatchers, EMTs, and everyday citizens were contributing whatever information they had. Hours later, the next day, The Herald Bulletin rolled into action and covered the story “properly.” A couple weeks later (during the day), we hit our front pages with the news about the same time. AFP even had an amateur photographer go out and get shots of the fire, though.
An interesting thing that was pointed out by members of AFP is that since the Scanner News thread is so popular and so talked about, The Herald Bulletin has started running little mini-stories - “Just heard on the scanner…” types of things. They’re getting better at closing the gap and are more frequently beating AFP to the punch with at least an acknowledgment that something is happening. They are watching AFP and trying to adapt, but being a Stegasaurus, they’re too slow and they just don’t “get” online, imho.
For example, in December, they decided to close down their public forums. Yup, you heard that right. Their editor said it was an ethical responsibility, but the word on their forums and AFP was that it was either because they were afraid of being sued, or were too lazy to moderate their forums. Whatever the reason, I couldn’t believe my ears. After it happened, I emailed the HB publisher and thanked him, telling him that closing their forums was the best Christmas present I’d gotten that year. I told him my offer for a lunch meeting was still open. He replied with a simple Thanks. (You see now why I hit the ceiling early in my corporate career? Smile.) This was the third great wave of new users on the site.
Oh, I’ve matured a lot out here in the front lines of the struggle, but it’s still fun, still about more than just the money. If you have time, check out this video. In it, Anderson Mayor Kris Ockomon takes The Herald Bulletin to task for an editorial they wrote about his administration. Before AFP, he might not have had a voice to respond. Earlier in the video, I ask him about a local landfill battle going on. I received an email thanking me for asking the question other local media wasn’t asking because it was a county issue rather than a city issue. To me, these are wonderful things that make me want to keep going.
Hopefully hammering out (finally) a real business plan and getting a little more organized, I can really take this to the next level. I invite you, though, to stop by Anderson Free Press. Either to just look around at all the activity or better yet, sign-up and engage the community, asking them what they think about AFP.
Anderson Free Press still has a long way to go, but all the numbers continue to rise - little by little. I just wanted to send a little “note in a bottle” to the intrawebs (thanks, David) to let others know that it’s working, that the media landscape is changing in America. We still have a long way to go, but it’s happening. (The spot.us idea is really cool, btw ;)
If you’ve ever been so tired of your local media that you wanted to start your own, now’s the time. It’s a hard, long road, but as more and more of us early pioneers (some have been at it longer than me), as we learn how to make it work, the knowledge will filter down and a thousand or more grassroots journalism efforts will bloom across this nation. That’s when things will really start to get interesting.
As I mentioned, I’d love you to stop by Anderson Free Press and let me (and the local community if you want) know what you think about what we’re building here in the Midwest.
Ever the dreamer,
K. Paul Mallasch - Publisher
Apple’s iPhone is so much of a game changer on the news reporting front that even local media organizations are rushing to accommodate support for both users and reporters.
Knoxville, Tennessee based KnoxNews released their own iPhone application last month allowing users to upload their own reports to a profile hosted via im.knoxnews.com. Each report can be accompanied by a photo and categorized by subject and search tags, which are also chosen by the user.
Please note: this is not a simple news reader for people to check the latest headlines wherever they are. This is an application that is best served as a tool for reporters — citizens and professionals alike.
Only two other applications offer functionality similar to the KnoxNews’ app: the CBS eyeMobile and FOX’s uReport. Of course the case can be made that the Facebook application also allows for instant updates of news, but its not directly affiliated with a news organization.
What’s interesting about the KnoxNews app is how the developers have managed to surpass the large broadcast stations in terms of functionality. Both applications from CBS and FOX are limiting to users wishing to conduct a report due to the components required for submission.
“The FOX application won’t even let you begin the report until you take a picture,” says Senior Software Engineer Ben Henderson of Firefly Logic, whose company was commissioned to do the KnoxNews app.
Henderson and Firefly Logic partner Chris McPherson explained to me in an interview that they wanted to allow the users to decide how to best use the features rather than forcing them into snapping a photo as is the case with the applications from the broadcast media companies.
“What we did was basically take KnoxNews’ content management [system] and extended the functionality to the iPhone,” McPherson says.
Cell Journalist, the company behind KnoxNews’ Content Management system, have commissioned a similar iPhone application for their other clients as well.
If you understood the title written above, skip down to the link, install the script and enjoy your FCC violation-free twitter feed that is safe to broadcast over live television. However, if the headline made no sense to you what-so-ever, then don’t worry. It’s still not that difficult. I can explain how to do it pretty quickly actually:
Rather than explain what each part is, I’ll just cut to the chase. First you should be using the Firefox browser (it won’t work unless you use Firefox). The next thing you need to do is download a Firefox add-on called “Greasemonkey,” [https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/748]. After that you need to download/install (meaning click a button) a greasemonkey script that adds two new fields under the menu sidebar. These are filters for you to Black-list and white-list certain words or users…all you do is type the word in, then hit enter and that word disappears from your feed temporarily.
Want to remove the filter? Just delete the text in the field and hit enter again or reload the page. It’s great for broadcasting a visual of the feed without the fear of cursewords popping up.
It’s seriously that simple. I just tried it out and it works flawlessly. Here’s the link to that particular greasemonkey script:
(Just remember to stay hypersensitive to all updates and version changes…like when Firefox has an update, just check to make sure the scripts from greasemonkey are still functional…small price to pay in my opinion)
Arguably the country’s most respected newspaper, the New York Times, along with non-profit site Propublica, have applied for a joint $1 mil grant for their “Document Cloud” entry in in the 2008 Knight News Challenge, according to a Nieman Journalism Lab article. For those not familiar with the aforementioned contest, it has three
core requirements, which you can read about on the official site.
My immediate reaction to the entry was of confusion. Why would a well-known media organization need to apply for a grant that funds good ideas? If you have resources, influence and reach then wouldn’t you already be paid to produce good ideas that would have a positive impact on journalism? barilan-conflict.com founder/director Jay Rosen, who shared the article on his twitter feed wondered why the Times was asking for donating a million dollars instead of donating it.
Derek Willis, who works for the NYT, pointed out (via twitter ) that the company is well within the bounds of the contest rules, which do not prevent large organizations from applying. And while he and everyone involved in the Propublica/NYT entry are certainly among the forward thinkers of our profession, as a large company they risk altering the news challenge. I think it’s necessary to point out the differences of a large organization applying for the same grant money as a virtually unknown individual.
So if the Times were to win funding, a fifth of the total dollars allotted would be given to a company who has yet to produce anything innovative enough to lead its industry. Instead it’s the technology companies that have paved the way for better tools. What I don’t understand about the NYT/Propublica entry is that if this was such a good idea, why didn’t the company get behind it in the first place? Also, why wouldn’t they push thru the idea because it will help reporting even if it wouldn’t make money? And if the technology is already built and about to be released as open source, what is the $1 mil in funding for? (I realize this would actually be fleshed out in the second round of the challenge).
To give some contrast to the situation, I asked for $75,000 in funding for my idea with the understanding that the open-source community would be essential in helping achieve the goal of my project. But even if I had requested a million to hire out an entire team of developers, I doubt it would be half as good. The community has to will it into existence along with the vision to improve something — (quality of journalism, life, the world). If I needed additional funding for my project, it’s going to be much more difficult to find it. However, the Times cannot necessarily say the same.
The chances that a good idea to improve local journalism will come from a single person is rare. But a good idea to improve local journalism from a large organization is really just about as likely. The key difference is that while the large organization has plenty of opportunities to get their own idea off the ground, a single individual can blog about it until their fingers fall off from typing too much and still not get nearly the same benefits as winning the KNC. Individuals NEED the news challenge funding and I’m not yet convinced the same is true for newspaper companies.
As individual I have laughable level of clout in comparison to the Times. This is somewhat obvious but, considering that I would have to approach several leaders of local media outlets with an idea to advance
journalism, it’s significant. If the Times approaches local media with an idea (any idea), they will almost certainly jump on board because they are the New York Times and it would be an honor to partner with a paper like that on anything at all. On the other hand, if I tried a similar measure without winning the KNC, I’d (probably) get laughed at and shown the door.
I’m not saying that the good folks working on the Document Cloud project for the Times are not capable of producing something that would actually help journalism move forward. It’s ridiculous to even consider that a posibility because (I assume) most of them are tech geeks in addition to being dedicated journalists (and vise versa) . Ultimately, I think they’d be more effective as individuals with lots of contacts through their day jobs than they are as a large organization because they’d get the best of both worlds. What we need out of this contest is more applied ideas, not necessarily more people involved in producing each idea.
Dear OffTheBus members,
Back in July 2007 I showed up at HuffPost’s Manhattan office with a suitcase packed with enough clothes to get me through the month while I looked for an apartment and started OffTheBus. Even before our official launch many of you were peppering my inbox with emails, wanting to know what you could do to help. Among that initial circle of my newfound friends and acquaintances were Mayhill Fowler — who later rocked the campaigns and campaign journalism with what we now know as “Bittergate”; Beverly Davis — a veteran reporter who provided invaluable insight into the role that citizen journalists could play on the trail; Richard Riehl — the editor of the much loved Roadkill, that tasty, daily collection of candidate gaffes; and Ethan Hova — a Shakespearean actor from Los Angeles who co-wrote our first big story, “Romney Buys Conservatives.”
Sixteen months later and our network has grown by the thousands. The staff also grew, as I was joined by Marc Cooper, Neil Nagraj, John Tomasic, and Hanna Ingber Win and intern Gabriel Beltrone. Mayhill, Beverly, Richard, and Ethan have been joined by a remarkable cast of home-makers, retired journalists, aspiring journalists, lawyers and doctors, actors and actresses, some curmudgeons and, yes, a few professional journalists. New friends are now old friends, and old friends are friends forever.
Together we have been credited with creating the genre of citizen journalism (New York Magazine). You have broken some of the election cycle’s biggest scoops. You have also been described - by none other than the New York Times - as a “force in journalism.”
We — Marc, John, Hanna, Neil, Gabriel, Amanda — couldn’t be more proud of what we have all achieved together.
For just this once we are not going to ask you to write or report anything. Celebrate! Break out that champagne, beer, or wine (or for those young enough or so inclined, a coffee or chocolate cake) and make a toast! Or two. Or three.
Journalism isn’t and never has been a monolithic craft. The profession has a rich and varied history that often gets lost in defensive justifications of the status quo. In this election cycle journalism as we know it evolved tremendously, and you played no small role in it. A unique breed of citizen journalists — at OffTheBus and elsewhere — opened up public access to information that conventional reporters attached to the Washington echo chamber cannot.
If that toast turns you tipsy and you’re inclined to express yourself in print, make your way to this comment thread instead of submitting a piece (we want to celebrate, too! ;)).
Here’s to you!
OffTheBus — Amanda, Marc, John, Hanna, Neil, and Gabriel
Denise Lockwood is like thousands of U.S. daily newspaper reporters — she fell victim to staff reductions. But she’s not giving up reporting — she’s pursuing her passion onlline.
Lockwood, an award-winning education and general-assignment reporter, is looking for advice on how to start a non-profit online news and community site for southeastern Wisconsin. She wants to focus on providing the context and background that dailies are being forced by economics to abandon.
One idea Lockwood is pursuing — what do we mean by “participatory democracy?” She worries that it isn’t enough to just vote anymore, that citizens “need to show up” at public meetings.