Another “Village Soup” site in Wareham, MA

I just added WarehamVillageSoup.com to the growing list of niche news sites and networks on Jurnos Wiki.

Anne Eisenmenger, founder and publisher of one of the affiliates of the Village Soup network, sends this info in a 7/12/10 email:

“The first out-of-Maine licensee of Village Soup, we have simultaneously worked to “reinvent” the community newspaper. We think we have done that with Wareham Week, a tight-and-bright professionally written, free local tab — with distribution that has grown from 4,000 in January to more than 7,000 today, just in the 8,600-household town of Wareham. (By contrast, the circulation of the paid GateHouse competitor is probably 3,000 and falling.)”

After six months, they’re “flirting” with a financial break-even point.

The list of web-only news sites is huge, and I’m sure not all are on the list. If you include all the sites that are part of the networks, which are at the bottom of the list, we’re approaching 5,000 sites. Most cover business, tech, sports and entertainment, but a significant growing number are health, environment, state government and politics, and geographic-based community sites.

Who sez journalism’s dying?

Advertisements

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.

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.

A Modest Proposal, Part Two (for the Jurnos on the Sidewalk)

The Rocky Mountain News published for the last time today. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer is next, with its last day likely to be sometime early in March. The Hearst Corporation is threatening closure of the San Francisco Chronicle if it can’t shrink that news organization to zombie status. rockymt(Definition of a zombie newspaper: a skeleton staff operating in an organization that provides them little support, no room to make a complete transition to the Web and holds a death-grip on the paper instead of modernizing it. There are a few out there already. Candidates, anyone?)

My previous post was a modest proposal for the Seattle Times. This one’s for the jurnos left standing on the sidewalk when a metro abruptly closes its doors.

Start your own geographic-based or topic-based Web organizations. Others have, and are making a living, or are closing in on that goal. Yesterday, David Westphal highlighted a few, including the Ann Arbor Chronicle, Baristanet, BlackWhiteRead’s group of community sites, Cornwall-on-Hudson, WestSeattleBlog, QuincyNews.org and New West. Around the country, a plethora of local ad-supported news annarbororganizations popping up. Journalists aren’t waiting; they’re keeping journalism alive in their communities and providing themselves a living.

Many folks have said that one small community news organization in a metropolitan area isn’t going to replace the heft of a large metropolitan daily, such as a San Francisco Chronicle or Seattle Times. That’s true. But many Web-centric news organizations in a regional network can and will. In the previous post, I used my puny artistic skills to produce a graphic of a mini-metro network. The network comprises two main parts: geographic-based sites and topic-based sites. Seattle’s growing both.

Besides WestSeattleBlog, there’s CapitolHillSeattle, run by Justin Carder, who’s part of a start-up that has spun off Ravenna Nation and The South Lake. There’s also MyBallard, myballardpart of Cory and Kate Bergman’s Next Door Media group that includes Fremont Universe, Queen Anne View, Magnolia Voice and Phinney Wood. I’m sure there are others that aren’t mentioned here, and I apologize for leaving you out.

Seattle also has ad-supported topic-based sites. There’s TechFlash (“Seattle’s technology news source”), co-founded by John Cook, a former Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter. TechFlash partnered up with the Puget Sound Business Journal, which publishes a weekly business paper, and is owned by American City Business techflashJournals, which owns business journals (print and Web) in 42 cities. (As a resource for other jurnos who want to start Web-based news organizations, we’ll be doing detailed case studies on these and others, similar to the case study about WestSeattleBlog.)

Although local sites can operate independently, they’ll have more clout and more money if they develop their own smart network. A smart network shares trusted information on the fly, pings reporters in one site with relevant information from other sites, and enables targeted advertising. The jurnos within the network maintain control of their own sites, and share advertising across the network.

The extra revenue could help with the nuts and bolts of running a business: liability insurance, health benefits,  income to hire local freelancers to do special projects or to spell reporters when they want to take a vacation or must deal with medical issues.

So, all this is to say that if the Seattle Times (or San Francisco Chronicle or Chicago Tribune or Philadelphia Inquirer or Denver Post) doesn’t agree with Modest Proposal #1, and becomes a zombie paper or closes, there’s an opportunity for the jurnos on the sidewalk.

In David Westphal’s blog post, there was this from Tracy Record, editor of WestSeattleBlog::

I am adamant about the ‘hyper-local’ space being a place for local independents. I am sick to death of these national VC-funded operations (Patch, American Towns, whoever else) trying to swoop in and say, ‘Hey! We’re your plug-and-play hyperlocal news!’ No, you are NOT. Nor is a voiceless aggregator. Let’s not let this precious new type of coverage be poisoned the way the ‘big corporate media’ world evolved from local, independently owned tv/newspapers/whatever … It may happen eventually but don’t smother this industry from birth!

Every community has different needs, and must be served by someone who tailors the service based on what they learn in interaction with their community. I WISH that the people throwing money around would share some with those of us who are bootstrapping, rather than yet ANOTHER aggregator, or sharing site, or whatever. THIS is where the action is happening and the future is being paved. But I can’t get a Whatever Grant to so much as give me the time of day. Just not considered sexy enough to be busting your butt uncovering and/or sharing information and news in real-time re: your community.

I agree with Tracy. News, local or otherwise, has to be reported by someone who really knows their community…BEFORE they start reporting for it. A newcomer to doing news the Web way surprised me by understanding that instantly. Mallory Perryman, one of the Missouri School of Journalism students who’s part of a group that’s developing a local health site, was presenting the storyboard, or information architecture, for her section– affordable mental health. She’s spent the last couple of weeks mapping the mental health community in Boone County — identifying the communities, people and organizations that are involved or affected. In her storyboard, she included the basics — the beatblog, resources, data, etc. But there wasn’t a spot for traditional indepth storytelling. When I asked her about that, she said, “I’m not ready to do something big like that. Maybe after three years or so, after I get to really know the beat.”

The New Metros

Dollars to donuts, sometime in the next 12 months, residents of a metropolitan area will wake up one day, go to their doorsteps, and wonder why they don’t see their newspaper. They’ll check the metro’s Web site, and it won’t be there. Or, there might be one that’s so pared down that only tatters remain: entertainment, some sports and a small continuous news desk operation.

The shut-down will come with only a day or two of warning.

It’s not very healthy for communities large or small to operate without a reliable journalistic presence. (Even Google thinks so.) The basic reasons are that, even with the amazing and overwhelming amount of information available on the Web, communities need a reliable and trusted source to aggregate and investigate, if necessary, what’s going on that affects the health of the community. That includes economic health, physical health, educational health, environmental health, mental health, spiritual health, etc.

So, what’s to take the place of that one large metro news organization?

Many small ones. Mini-metros. Nichification on steroids.

Here’s how I think it’ll play out:

A large metro area comprises several communities, each made up of several neighborhoods. These communities may be municipalities within a county — or perhaps a part of a city represented on the city council. A small — two- to four-person — news organization covers each community in a collaborative, serial method, 24/7, along the lines of WestSeattleBlog.com. At first, these news organizations are financially supported by advertising from the local businesses who couldn’t afford the high ante to get into the metro news organizations’ publications.

Those community-based operations can cover their local schools, roads, health, events, etc., extraordinarily well, and will bring the community’s voices to bear on local public policy. But they won’t have the resources and depth to cover regional issues, such as education, transportation, the environment or growth. Issues in those areas are usually resolved at a regional or state public policy level. In a metropolitan area, these topic-based news organizations might be supported by those who sell products and services related to that topic. I’m going to try it here in Columbia, MO, with a local health site.

These sites won’t look like the traditional news organizations’ sites. The jurnos will do serial reporting — what Jay Rosen calls beat-blogging. That means jurnos, instead of doing the traditional standalone been-there-done-that story, they follow an issue throughout a day, a week, a month, a year, investigating as they go along, in some cases.  The reporting is solution-oriented —  jurnos don’t tell their communities what to do….they provide their communities with accurate information all the way to their goals — with a LOT of input from the community. So that makes it serial, solution-oriented, collaborative reporting. (The WestSeattleBlog folks estimate 30 percent of their content comes from community members.)

In fact, the community will be the visual and functional engine. The daily conversation and the community’s collaborations will be embedded in a contextual Web shell of information that the community uses — databases, backgrounders, wikis, aggregations of local blogs, forums, and — yes — news and information from those in the community who sell products and services. These sites will be the go-to place, the starting point, for most of the people in the community.

But these enterprises won’t operate as the metros have in the past — standalone operations in competition with every other news organization. They’ll be part of a network in which they can exchange information and help each other cover stories (check out an early start to this approach in Washington State where reporters used Twitter and Publish2 to share the best information about a regional storm) horizontally, across the communities, as well as vertically, with the organizations that focus on regional topics. That network can also be used to distribute information from people in a community who want to sell products and services across several communities.

The era of entrepreneurial journalists — jurnos — is upon us. At last week’s RJI Collaboratory Talkfest, we launched the RJI Collaboratory network, to bring in experts in advertising, technology, entrepreneurship, community organizing, social networking, and — yes — journalism, to help spawn the hundreds, if not thousands, of jurno enterprises needed to step in to the vacuums that are being, and will be left when metros shrink or close. We also want to help jurnos in suburban and rural communities that need journalists, and we want to help jurnos within traditional news organizations that are financially and structurally flexible enough to make the transition.

Through this network, we want to build assessment tools, to help jurnos figure out how large a community must be and how many businesses that sell products and services must exist to support a small news organization. For example, we don’t know what the optimum population and economic base should be to support a two-person operation. And, if the population exists, but it’s an economically depressed community, perhaps that’s the place that needs a couple of years of foundation funding to get a journalism organization in place that helps catalyze economic enterprise so that the enterprise can be locally supported. (Yes, jurnos do that!)

We want to help create a “cookbook” that jurnos can use to start their organizations, and a roadmap to help them over the entrepreneurial and technological humps as they grow. For example, display ads may be a good way to start, but when a site starts growing and hits 1 million page views a month, what’s the next step? Is it the Marketplace approach that LJWorld.com has put into place?

There are some folks who think that this network can be put in place as a structure designed before the network nodes are in place. I don’t think so. We’re in Webworld — solutions here come from the network as it grows organically.