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December 28, 2004

Zack Rosen: My Advice for the News & Record

"Look to Kos. He has a real community. 10,000+ active particpants regularly participate in his space. They converse, peer-moderate, scheme, and organize day in and day out on his site. They come up with incredible ideas, rally their fellow 'kossacks' around them, and galvanize them into action..."

In 2003 my philosopher-geek nephew Zack Rosen took a vacation from college to do open source software development for the Howard Dean campaign.

After that he founded Civic Space Labs in San Francisco— a “continuation of the DeanSpace project. We are veterans of the Dean campaign web-effort and are now building the tool-set of our dreams. We are busily completing work on CivicSpace, a grassroots organizing platform that empowers collective action inside communities and cohesively connects remote groups of supporters.”

I asked him for his ideas on what the Greensboro News & Record should do (background is here and here.) This what he wrote. It’s also up at, his blog.

Special to PressThink

My advice for the News & Record

By Zack Rosen

My Uncle Jay gave me a writing assignment last Thursday:

I want 400 words from you on what you think the News & Record and the bloggers of Greensboro should do…

I’ve been enjoying my nearly two year school work hiatus but there was no getting out of this one.

The News & Record

A pretty normal seeming Greensboro North Carolina newspaper, the News & Record, is taking a plunge into the world of blogging and web-community.

We have been planning major upgrades to our online capability for some time but haven’t been able to make them due to software limitations. We have addressed those limitations and are preparing a major relaunch of and several other of our websites. With the new online publishing system, readers should be able to comment on any story, view photos that made it into the paper and those that haven’t, participate in forums and blogs, etc. The new system is light-years ahead of where we stand currently and we look forward to debuting it to the public. I won’t fall into the trap of promising a launch date, but please stay tuned. It’s coming. (continued)

Cheers to them. That is one hell of a leap.

But the catch is they don’t really know what they are doing…..

I believe the newspaper’s web presence should be open and inclusive, should include lots of voices and commentary and news, should feature so many blogs on so many topics that everyone wants to be a part of the community and, better yet, everyone wants to visit here, should generate revenue that we can plow into the site to make it better, should be dynamic so that it takes its lead from the market, and should engender the civic-oriented discussion of ideas that makes Greensboro such an interesting place.

I just haven’t figured out how to do it. Yet. (continued)

So they asked us. Which means (to me) that they know exactly what they are doing.

So here is my advice:

You are already following my best piece of advice.

I was going to tell you to “be human.” But you already are. You’re striking the perfect tenor on your blog; open, fun, conversational. If you are going to throw open your doors to whomever shows up you might as well throw a party when they do. Keep asking them for help and advice. Reward them for participating. Kos is your exemplar. He does a better job of this than anyone else I’ve seen. He has little tricks— he puts up a couple open threads a night that he is known to participate in. He is constantly pulling up and responding to users’ personal diary entries. He is the conductor of his community. Watch how he does it.

You are building a web-community not just a web-log.

A web-log can make you famous but it takes a web-community to create an institution.

Again look to Kos. He has a real community. 10,000+ active particpants regularly participate in his space. They converse, peer-moderate, scheme, and organize day in and day out on his site. They come up with incredible ideas, rally their fellow “kossacks” around them, and galvanize them into action. Countless numbers of bloggers started off as lurkers on his site and quickly worked their way up the food chain from commentors, to diary owners, to full-blown bloggers before spinning off to form their own spaces.

On a geeky level: MT or other straight up blogging software simply won’t cut it. It sounds like you’ve already chosen your toolset— but I would take a long look at tools like Scoop or Drupal (which is what CivicSpace is built on top of). Both platforms go well beyond simple blogging in terms of what they empower community members to do.

You are all alone but not without a map

Check out what Lawrence Journal-World in Kansas is doing.

And of course you should spend due time looking in South Korea’s citizen-journalism looking glass OhMyNews. They have been doing what we’ve dreamed about for years. And it worked.

All this stuff is in its infancy

None of us really knows what is going to happen. The ‘blog-osphere’ is operating at nowhere near full capacity for change. Help us figure it out. The onus is not on you to do the hard work. All you have to do is be willing to innovate and empower your community do the hard work. (End.)

UPDATE, Dec. 28. Dave Winer, boss of Scripting News, writes in from a truckstop in Santa Rosa, NM:

Zack proposes a centralized system, had Jay asked me I would advise as decentralized a system as possible. Think of the newspaper’s job as facilitating the flow of information among the citizens of Greensboro. The more they try to organize, the more the citizens will look to them for direction. It should go the other way around if it were to work. This is the model I’ve used for Scripting News with great success. We’ve started so many weblogs, and they in turn have started so many, although many of them have no idea how the virus that got them going got its start. That’s how the new newspaper and political movements will work, in my opinion.

He also pointed me to a 2001 piece from Dave Net: “Get a lot of people writing for your site, nurture them, teach them, find the best, and grow grow grow. Editorial people become talent scouts. Instead of employing writers, employ facilitators and teachers.” And:

So if the vendors won’t come, what’s to stop the users from becoming vendors? Further, if journalists won’t write from a users’ perspective, what’s to stop the users from becoming journalists?

See comments for more…

After Matter: Notes, reactions & links.

See PressThink’s Top Ten Ideas of ‘04: Open Source Journalism, Or “My Readers Know More Than I Do.” (Dec. 28)

Ed Cone: “Meanwhile, TheShu raises a question we’re already on the verge of dealing with here: what happens when there is too much local online content to read on a regular basis? My answer goes back to the various portals I see arising, which will filter content into a manageable torrent. The N&R might be one such hub, along with general and targeted local aggregators and central sites that will continue to emerge, and (as I guessed in my first N&R column about blogging way back in 2002) popular blogs themselves will be portals into the web.”

Jim Capo, Greensboro blogger: “I understand the desire of the N&R to maintain its position as the organ of record. But I suspect the more principled of our local alternative media will remain independent and take a pass on any N&R blog schematic being laid out.”

Philly Future: A very interesting local aggregator:

Philly Future is a compendium of all online writers, narrators, blogs, and commentators in the greater Philadelphia area.

Think of this as Philadelphia’s very own Slashdot, or Metafilter, except with blog headlines from around our local web flowing thru.

Essentially, Philly Future aspires to be glue that pulls together our local blogging community. (Link.)

Where’s the love? Steve Yelvington at New Media Tidbits: Who’s Measuring Love of Newspapers? On Craigslist costing newspapers big money in ad dollars because it has developed a more loyal following.

Just for Fun: 2004 Year-End Google Zeitgeist. “Search patterns, trends, and surprise.”

Susan Sontag dies at 71. She was a big influence on me— her books were, that is. I recommend the Steve Wasserman obit from the LA Times, which includes this from Sontag: “In my view, the only intelligence worth defending is critical, dialectical, skeptical, desimplifying.” Note that unusual adjective, “desimplifying”— something good journalism often has to be.

Posted by Jay Rosen at December 28, 2004 1:03 PM