WellCommons recognized in Knight-Batten Awards

Because he summarized it so well, here’s the post that LJWorld.com assistant director of media strategies Jonathan Kealing put on WellCommons, the local health site that we officially launched in April, a couple of days ago:

WellCommons was honored Monday as a “notable entry” in the annual Knight-Batten Awards competition.

Though WellCommons wasn’t among the top seven entrants, the site was among 30 others that were singled out for praise by the panel of judges.

Taking top honors was an effort by the Sunlight Foundation to add data and context to the coverage of a government event — coverage of the health reform summit — to make it more consumable for the audience.

ProPublica, 48HR Magazine, The Obameter from the St. Petersburg Times, Ushahidi Haiti, Publish2 News Exchange and The Takeaway took the next level of awards.

The Knight-Batten Awards reward news and information efforts that create opportunities to involve citizens in public issues and supply opportunities for participation.

Talkin’ about….WellCommons

For the last year, I’ve been head-down in development. My (poor neglected) blog, Facebook and Twitter accounts have seen few words, photos, graphs or video. However, now my head’s finally up, and it’s time to talk about what much of that last year has been about: WellCommons, the new local health site that we at the Lawrence Journal-World recently launched.

OMG! It doesn't look like a news web site!

It combines social media and journalism. We think it’s what journalism looks like in a social media world. It’s a little WordPress, a little Ning, a little Facebook, a little Twitter, all embedded in a safe place and a trusted source, which is what journalism is supposed to be for a community (in addition to the watchdog role). It’s unlike anything in the digital news arena, as far as we know. We launched it in beta at the end of February, it went “official” in April, and we are now continuing to nurture it and watch it grow.

Several aspects of WellCommons and Ellington Community are unique:

The site resolves the “signal to noise” complaint about the web. In other words, its architecture helps people assess the reliability of content.

One ingredient of WellCommons’ secret sauce is that it is built around groups that all function the same way, whether started by a reporter or a community member. The other is that all participants use their real names.

This is how WellCommons works: Anyone can start a group (as long as it’s related to health). If you start a group, you put your content into “news” and “resources”. People who join your group put their content into the “commons” section. Participants are able to judge the quality of the information, depending on if it’s in a group’s news or resources section (content posted by the group “owner”) or the commons section (where anybody can post), and by knowing who posted the information.

Anyone who contributes to the site — reporter or member of the community alike — does so in the same way, through a public-facing web-based interface. Participants can also follow and message each other within the site, repost, and send posts to Facebook and Twitter.

WellCommons’ approach to health reporting is community-based and solution-oriented. Most health sites focus on personal health — what individuals can do to improve their own or their families’ health. But at a local level, health is a community issue. For example, we’re all supposed to get regular checkups. But does everyone in a community have access to good health care? Our kids are supposed to eat healthy food, but do school lunch programs provide that? We’re all supposed to exercise, but does a community have enough safe places to walk, jog, bike and play outdoors?

The site provides a new advertising model. We believe businesses that provide health products and services are a vital part of the community, and should be included. Businesses can start their own group pages; they pay to do so. They have direct access to and conversations with members of the community. They can buy display ads, which, at the moment, look like traditional display ads. Eventually, those ads themselves will become social media-enabled, with content that the business can change.

We put the site together with continual input from the local health community. About 40 people — from nonprofits and the local hospital, physicians, health advocates, people who were uninsured, locavores, etc. — met regularly with the news organization’s working group, and still meet quarterly.

That’s enough for the moment. In subsequent posts, I’ll cover more of the thinking and development that went into Ellington Community and WellCommons, including comments from folks who are using it, and will answer the burning questions: Why did this happen at the Lawrence Journal-World? and…How does the Reynolds Journalism Institute fit in?

I’ll also look at the long list of changes and additions we have planned. That list is long: adding databases and resources, a goals app, allowing people to post photos from their computers (right now they have to post a Flickr url), adding topics pages (yes, Web shells!), quizzes, letting people sign on with their Facebook or Twitter accounts, etc. We’ll also be adding another jurno (we have one amazing one now — Karrey Britt), so that we have the bandwidth to do indepth and investigative stories.

10 things every jurno should know

John Thompson at Journalism.co.uk says jurnos need to know these 10 things. He’s hit it RIGHT on the head. The only two things I’d add:

Context — with links, resources, etc…..a matrix for your news/info….nothing stands alone. He gets close to that with point No. 3:

3. You are a curator. Like it or not, part of your role will eventually be to aggregate content (but not indiscriminately). You will need to gather, interpret and archive material from around the web using tools like Publish2, Delicious and StumbleUpon. As Publish2 puts it: “Help your readers get news from social media. More signal. Less noise.”

The other thing that jurnos should know is that they need to be solution-oriented — that doesn’t mean the jurno provides a solution to a problem, it means that the jurno doesn’t mention a problem without pointing out what’s being done about it, or how some other people in a different community solved it.

Another example of poor reporting

You know, I really try to focus on solutions, leaning forward into journalism’s transition, maybe even contributing to it a tiny bit. And then I see another example of poor reporting from a traditional media journalist covering emerging journalism. This week’s bad boy is Newsweek, which did another pat-the-poor-little-hyperlocal-blog-on-the-head-and-say-there-there article.

Check out this sentence, which appeared early in the article:Picture 5

Thousands of hyperlocal sites have now sprouted nationwide. But the model has yet to produce a seminal success story—and in fact there have been significant failures, including LoudonExtra, which shuttered last month.

And then several paragraphs later, this:

Web-news guru Jeff Jarvis, director of the interactive-journalism program at the City University of New York, has done an extensive study of hyper-local economics, and he’s optimistic. “The most startling and hopeful number I have found is this: some hyper-local bloggers, serving markets of about 50,000, are bringing in up to $200,000 a year in advertising,” he says.

Didja think to ask Jeff to identify the successful hyper-local bloggers?

And, one more thing while I’m on this rant, hyper-local is the most stupid term I’ve heard in a long time. I admit that I was guilty of using it for a while. Then, I put my thinking cap on and realized that journalists were using the term to describe people — often journalists — who were covering communities of 30,000 or 50,000. Ho. That’s a good-sized small town. Most of those small towns have honest-to-god newspapers. Do you call the reporters at those small dailies and weeklies hyper-local journalists? No, you call them journalists.

So, Johnnie L. Roberts and the folks at Newsweek who further poo-poohed the emergence of the new type of journalism by giving the headline PeytonPlace.com to the article, you blew it! You missed the real story! Check out WestSeattleBlog.com, QuincyNews.org, Baristanet.com, the new KansasCityKansan.com, and dozens of other local Web-based news organizations that are making it. And while you’re at it, check out the hundreds of topic-based niche news sites that are employing thousands of jurnos, and are raking in hundreds of millions of dollars.

Another entrepreneurial jurno

The Kansas City Star reports today that 24-year-old Nick Sloan bought the online version of the Kansas City Kansan from Gatehouse Media. Gatehouse closed the Kansas City Kansan print edition in January.

Sloan, 24, said he became the sole owner of http://www.kansascitykansan.com on Saturday after negotiating an unspecified payment based on royalties.

“Right now it’s just me,’ he said. ‘I have a few things lining up, but as of right now it’s me and I’m looking to cover everything I can in Wyandotte County. I’m excited about it. I’m originally from Wyandotte County, so I have some idea of what readers will like.”


So far, he’s doing great.
He’s taking a beat-blog approach, and has been posting since Sept. 16. Today, he did 11 posts. Count ’em. 11. According to the Star’s report, he’s kept a couple of advertisers who had been putting display ads on the site, and he’s got a couple more.
(Cross-posted on RJICollaboratory.org)

Sputters and Launches

While 24/7WallSt lists the top 10 newspapers that are likely to close or go entirely online, a newly laid-off journalist is a week into the launch of another niche site.

On Feb. 23, Greg Hernandez was laid off from the LA Daily News, where he’d been doing the Out in Hollywood blog. Seven days later, he launched Greg in Hollywood. greginhollyHe had help from some very talented friends, and they worked ’round the clock to do a technology makeover on him (new computer, iPhone, Twitter lessons…he had the blogging down) to get him up and running. Here’s the whole story, from his perspective. I just loved how they found their graphic designer via Twitter.

Then read searchmeister Danny Sullivan’s account from a tech and search perspective: Behind the Scenes from the Greg in Hollywood Launch. Fascinating.

Since the launch, Greg’s doing three to seven posts/day, and seems to be having a blast.

So far, he’s using Google ads, but is soliciting advertising on his site. I’ll check in with him in a few months to see how the new jurno’s doing.

To add to the case studies on ReJurno, I’m interviewing jurnos from a couple of other Web-based niche news organizations this week: John Cook at TechFlash and Justin Carder from CapitolHillSeattle. Quite a few geographic- and topic-based sites have been launched in Seattle….enough starter to get a network going?

Making a Living with QuincyNews.org

When Bob Gough lost his job as news director at a Quincy, IL, TV station in October 2007, he had a choice: Move tquincynewso another city or figure out another way to stay in the journalism biz in Quincy. He didn’t want to move — Quincy was his home. He had a wife with a successful career there, and three kids who weren’t keen on pulling up roots.

So, he figured out another way: He found a couple of local investors and, on April 28, 2008, launched a local Web-based news organization: QuincyNews.org.

The good news: he’s making a living….$1,000/week. He loves what he’s doing. The site is growing. And so far there isn’t any bad news.

Check out all the details, from soup to nuts, in ReJurno’s latest case study. And if there’s anything else you want to know, just ask and we’ll be glad to provide more info.