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Excerpt from Chapter One of What Are Journalists For? "As Democracy Goes, So Goes the Press."

Essay in Columbia Journalism Review on the changing terms of authority in the press, brought on in part by the blog's individual--and interactive--style of journalism. It argues that, after Jayson Blair, authority is not the same at the New York Times, either.

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Audio: Have a Listen

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Five years later, Chris Lydon interviews Jay Rosen again on "the transformation." (March 2008, 71 minutes.)

Interview with host Brooke Gladstone on NPR's "On the Media." (Dec. 2003) Listen here.

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Video: Have A Look

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Recommended by PressThink:

Town square for press critics, industry observers, and participants in the news machine: Romenesko, published by the Poynter Institute.

Town square for weblogs: InstaPundit from Glenn Reynolds, who is an original. Very busy. Very good. To the Right, but not in all things. A good place to find voices in diaolgue with each other and the news.

Town square for the online Left. The Daily Kos. Huge traffic. The comments section can be highly informative. One of the most successful communities on the Net.

Rants, links, blog news, and breaking wisdom from Jeff Jarvis, former editor, magazine launcher, TV critic, now a J-professor at CUNY. Always on top of new media things. Prolific, fast, frequently dead on, and a pal of mine.

Eschaton by Atrios (pen name of Duncan B;ack) is one of the most well established political weblogs, with big traffic and very active comment threads. Left-liberal.

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If someone were to ask me, "what's the right way to do a weblog?" I would point them to Doc Searls, a tech writer and sage who has been doing it right for a long time.

Ed Cone writes one of the most useful weblogs by a journalist. He keeps track of the Internet's influence on politics, as well developments in his native North Carolina. Always on top of things.

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Chris Nolan's Spot On is political writing at a high level from Nolan and her band of left-to-right contributors. Her notion of blogger as a "stand alone journalist" is a key concept; and Nolan is an exemplar of it.

Barista of Bloomfield Avenue is journalist Debbie Galant's nifty experiment in hyper-local blogging in several New Jersey towns. Hers is one to watch if there's to be a future for the weblog as news medium.

The Editor's Log, by John Robinson, is the only real life honest-to-goodness weblog by a newspaper's top editor. Robinson is the blogging boss of the Greensboro News-Record and he knows what he's doing.

Fishbowl DC is about the world of Washington journalism. Gossip, controversies, rituals, personalities-- and criticism. Good way to keep track of the press tribe in DC

PJ Net Today is written by Leonard Witt and colleagues. It's the weblog of the Public Journalisn Network (I am a founding member of that group) and it follows developments in citizen-centered journalism.

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Novelist, columnist, NPR commentator, Iraq War vet, Colonel in the Army Reserve, with a PhD in literature. How many bloggers are there like that? One: Austin Bay.

Betsy Newmark's weblog she describes as "comments and Links from a history and civics teacher in Raleigh, NC." An intelligent and newsy guide to blogs on the Right side of the sphere. I go there to get links and comment, like the teacher said.

Rhetoric is language working to persuade. Professor Andrew Cline's Rhetorica shows what a good lens this is on politics and the press.

Davos Newbies is a "year-round Davos of the mind," written from London by Lance Knobel. He has a cosmopolitan sensibility and a sharp eye for things on the Web that are just... interesting. This is the hardest kind of weblog to do well. Knobel does it well.

Susan Crawford, a law professor, writes about democracy, technology, intellectual property and the law. She has an elegant weblog about those themes.

Kevin Roderick's LA Observed is everything a weblog about the local scene should be. And there's a lot to observe in Los Angeles.

Joe Gandelman's The Moderate Voice is by a political independent with an irrevant style and great journalistic instincts. A link-filled and consistently interesting group blog.

Ryan Sholin's Invisible Inkling is about the future of newspapers, online news and journalism education. He's the founder of and a self-taught Web developer and designer.

H20town by Lisa Williams is about the life and times of Watertown, Massachusetts, and it covers that town better than any local newspaper. Williams is funny, she has style, and she loves her town.

Dan Froomkin's White House Briefing at is a daily review of the best reporting and commentary on the presidency. Read it daily and you'll be extremely well informed.

Rebecca MacKinnon, former correspondent for CNN, has immersed herself in the world of new media and she's seen the light (great linker too.)

Micro Persuasion is Steve Rubel's weblog. It's about how blogs and participatory journalism are changing the business of persuasion. Rubel always has the latest study or article.

Susan Mernit's blog is "writing and news about digital media, ecommerce, social networks, blogs, search, online classifieds, publishing and pop culture from a consultant, writer, and sometime entrepeneur." Connected.

Group Blogs

CJR Daily is Columbia Journalism Review's weblog about the press and its problems, edited by Steve Lovelady, formerly of the Philadelpia Inquirer.

Lost Remote is a very newsy weblog about television and its future, founded by Cory Bergman, executive producer at KING-TV in Seattle. Truly on top of things, with many short posts a day that take an inside look at the industry.

Editors Weblog is from the World Editors Fourm, an international group of newspaper editors. It's about trends and challenges facing editors worldwide. keeps track of developments from the British side of the Atlantic. Very strong on online journalism.

Digests & Round-ups:

Memeorandum: Single best way I know of to keep track of both the news and the political blogosphere. Top news stories and posts that people are blogging about, automatically updated.

Daily Briefing: A categorized digest of press news from the Project on Excellence in Journalism.

Press Notes is a round-up of today's top press stories from the Society of Professional Journalists.

Richard Prince does a link-rich thrice-weekly digest called "Journalisms" (plural), sponsored by the Maynard Institute, which believes in pluralism in the press.

Newsblog is a daily digest from Online Journalism Review.

E-Media Tidbits from the Poynter Institute is group blog by some of the sharper writers about online journalism and publishing. A good way to keep up

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November 14, 2005

If I Didn't Build it, They Wouldn't Come: Citizen Journalism is Discovered (Alive) in Watertown, MA

Guest writer Lisa Williams: "H2otown is written in the third person by a nerdy, self-absorbed, high-tech-gizmo-loving narrator. Writing in this persona allowed me one big thing the local newspaper wasn't allowed: to be funny. And in Watertown, being funny is being truthful."

After Jay Rosen returned from the BlogHer conference in July—we both attended—he sent me this note:

No one’s written an article yet on the pleasures and satisfactions and meaningful moments citizen journalists derive from what they are doing. People are constantly trying to get a fix on our friend CJ by describing it as “newsroom lite,” by how much of the professional discipline or system is missing. But your evidence suggests that this activity is developing a different reward system, not comparable to the system of goodies among professional newsies.

Just as participating in an open source software project offers different satisfactions, when compared to the scene inside the software industry, so does “doing citizen journalism” offer its own pleasures, thrills and learning paths. These may be fundamentally different from what drives professionals to do the work they do. You’re in a position to write the definitive post about all this. So what are you waiting for?

Jay sent this to me, I think, as the equivalent of a sourdough starter, in hopes that I would add the grist to it to make something fully baked out of my many fragmentary comments on citizen journalism.

I think Jay’s starter would still be in a jar in my mental pantry if I hadn’t started getting calls and emails from people working at newspaper chains, who wanted to ask me questions. These were serious people, and I was a stay-at-home mother with a very eccentric side project—a hyper-local newsblog—that kept growing. I didn’t know quite what to make of it, but I was delighted and obsessed by it, too. I saw 2AM a lot, still awake and adding stories to H2otown, sitting in the dark in a futon chair in my living room with my notebook computer in my lap while the TiVo showed replays of Town Council meetings recorded earlier off local access cable. I worked while my husband and our two kids - age 4 and one and a half - slept in our upstairs apartment in a two family house in densely populated Watertown, a suburb sharing a border with Boston.

It was one thing to be up late transcribing quotes from town council members and combing local blogs for content, but it was another thing entirely when talking to Serious People at Real Newspapers about the hot buzzword of the day: citizen journalism. I felt my lack of credentials — hell, lack of any observable job — rather keenly. I produced H2otown in my spare time. My coverage wasn’t dependent on news judgment: it was dependent on babysitting.

If newspapers do die, I will never hear the end of it. Some of my earliest memories are of seeing my mother’s manicured nails and the top of her hairdo, the rest of her hidden by a newspaper. She has read the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald, front to back, including the classifieds, legal notices, and sports — even though she doesn’t care about sports — every day since she was a teenager. She frets about newsroom layoffs and knows more about Mike Barnicle than any human being should. Who knew if I could help a newspaper, but not trying was not going to fly at the weekly family dinner.

If I didn’t have credentials, I thought, I’d better have expertise; and the beginning of expertise is organization. Like a chef whose ability to make a perfect Hollendaise rests on her mise en place — the careful preparation and organization of ingredients prior to the start of cooking, placing everything that’s needed exactly at hand—I started to look at all the random ingredients I had in the pantry. And I grabbed Jay’s starter off the shelf.

The Death and Life of Great American Local Newspapers

Tuesday night after the polls closed I went to town hall and stared in befuddlement at the jumbled output of some Diebold voting machines. Election results were printed on several dozen long thin strips of paper like register tape, and scotch-taped to a concrete block wall in the basement next to the clerk’s office. Dan, the reporter for our local weekly, was also there. The paper wouldn’t hit the stands until Friday, but I would have results online by midnight Tuesday. I didn’t know things faster than Dan did, I just hit “Enter” faster. The next day I went to talk to a class of journalism students. I asked them, “Have we lived through a historical blip where a local newspaper could be operated as a successful commercial enterprise? What happens when the newspaper staff and pages are too thin to serve basic community functions? Will consolidation and cuts be enough to save the newspaper? Will online ventures save it? Will anything save it?”

“What happens the day after the local newspaper closes its doors?”

Their faces just fell. I felt surprised for a moment — and then like I had kicked a few dozen puppies. How many of these kids were going to get jobs in journalism? I paused for a minute and I said, “The web opens up entrepreneurial opportunities for journalists. It means you don’t have to work for someone else your whole life. It makes it much easier to start something-– no need to finance print runs, or dig up a few million for a radio or TV station.

I wanted to say to them, “If you really want to do this, don’t let a little thing like not getting a job stop you.”

I wanted to talk to them about ideas I thought might work – online, users didn’t seem to be willing to pay for content they didn’t yet have (subscriptions) but often gave generously to a blogger for what they had already gotten, donating to PayPal pledge drives. A few sites seemed to make money on Google ads, but the most successful ones I knew of didn’t depend on clickthrough-style ads but went directly to local businesses and asked for advertising rates that were comparable to a local newspaper’s, and were based on duration and space rather than clickthrough metrics.

It seemed to me that a successful newsblog might have a business model that looked more like public radio – periodic pledge drives and underwriters – than the subscription/advertising model that many news outlets were dragging into the online world. To make it work, they’d have to get over something I suspected they and many journalists had: hesitation about being directly involved with handling the money.

There are plenty of beats out there for them. It seems strange, in our day of multiple 24-7 news channels, the always-on Internet, and RSS to say that we don’t have enough news. But in most cities and towns that happen to be more than 500 feet outside a major media market, the local people suffer more from media anorexia than information overload. It’s hard to find good information about the place where you live.

The town I live in, Watertown, is a busy, densely populated city of four square miles with 32,000 residents and shares a border with Boston. Housing prices, while high, are significantly lower than most of the neighboring towns, yet it is still served by public transportation for people who work in Boston — skilled tradespeople, small business owners with clients downtown, and white collar workers at the area’s many universities, hospitals, and financial firms. It’s also close to the Route 128 technology corridor. Many people buying houses now see it as an alternative to a traditional suburb. In fact, Watertown is the kind of place Jane Jacobs envisioned: dense, walkable, with many locally-owned stores close to your house and adequate public transit.

It also has a weekly newspaper, the Watertown TAB, owned by Community News Company (CNC). CNC was created by mutual fund giant Fidelity, who bought many of suburban Boston’s local newspapers, at one time owning over 100 papers, mostly weeklies. They consolidated printing and editorial content; one Entertainment and classified section, for example, went in nearly all CNC papers.

By cutting costs on things like staff, office, and production costs, and combining this with one-stop shopping for advertisers in suburban Boston, they thought they’d turn a profit. CNC has never been public, so the company’s financial performance can only be guessed at. Today, CNC is owned by Herald Media, publisher of the Boston Herald.

The end result of this experiment for readers like me was a very thin newspaper. The main “news” section of our paper was usually 16 pages. I estimated that four pages of that were ads, and another two to three pages were event calendars and community bulletin board stuff. Very often, all the bylines on the front page were by one reporter. The remaining sections of the paper weren’t local in any true sense. If I picked up a copy of the Belmont Citizen, the last two thirds of the paper would be exactly the same as the Tab. Most didn’t have local offices in the towns they covered; instead, the papers were produced out of an office building in Needham. The company had stopped offering microfilm [UPDATE: Greg Reibman, Editor in Chief at CNC, contacted with additional info. See the After section below.] and expired their content off the site after a month. The “first rough draft of history” was getting stuffed down the memory hole.

I used to joke that the TAB was amazingly good considering it was all done with satellite photos and a small telescope on the roof of CNC’s headquarters in Needham. But I knew when I said it that the joke was unfair. In fact, I thought the reporter that almost singlehandedly produced all the content every week — a reporter named Dan Atkinson — was excellent. What he did with what he had amazed me. I just thought he didn’t have enough.

I knew it could be different, because I had grown up in Woburn, one of Boston’s northwestern suburbs. Woburn, with a population similar to Watertown’s at 35,000, had (and has) what I now recognize as an excellent daily newspaper, the Woburn Daily Times & Chronicle. (You’ll have to trust me on this one, as the Daily Times’ web presence is scant). While Watertown made do with 12 pages a week, Woburn had as many as thirty pages a day, six days a week. I started to feel that Watertown was a surprisingly closed community. It’s often said that the world is run by people who show up: but what if only three people know when the meeting is?

This year the Globe announced layoffs. The Herald announced layoffs (CNC and the Herald have the same corporate parent). Circulation figures nationwide dropped like a rock.

My original question, “What happens the day after the local newspaper closes its doors?” seemed more urgent than ever.

Escape Hatches

In 2003, all I had was a gripe and a big reading list of blogs. I still hadn’t started H2otown. Stumbling on a weekly bloggers’ group run by blogging pioneer Dave Winer opened my eyes to bloggers like Jeff Jarvis. Jay Rosen, and Susan Mernit started pointing to examples of citizen journalism sites. I was completely obsessed with Baristanet, a newsblog about three towns in Northern New Jersey. Baristanet was a constant stream of newsbits — but what was really a revelation was the writing: it was funny. Debbie Galant, who I later got to talk to, said, “We differ from the local newspaper in point of view: we have one.”

Around the same time, I discovered Universal Hub (which at the time was called Boston Common). Universal Hub collected snippets from a huge collection of Metro-Boston area blogs, providing one-stop shopping for the local blogosphere. Creator Adam Gaffin had an unfailingly good eye for the funniest pull quote out of every blog from every corner of the region.

In a way, Baristanet and Universal Hub were opposites: Nearly every post on Baristanet was written by Galant, in her persona of The Barista of Bloomfield Avenue. Gaffin, by contrast, rarely wrote in his own voice at Universal Hub. H2otown ultimately ended up being a hybrid of these two different approaches.

For more than a year, I read Baristanet, Universal Hub, and a growing number of other local news blogs, and griped about my local newspaper’s understaffing. “It’s easier to find out about what’s going on in Indonesia than the East End,” I quipped. But I still didn’t get off my butt and do anything.

Then one day I read a blog post by blogfriend Richard Eriksson about a startup called Bryght; he was working at with Roland Tanglao, whose blog I also read. Bryght was a hosting service for the open-source community management software Drupal. It was “Typepad for Drupal”— a hosting platform for people who wanted to start a community site but didn’t want the hassle of setting up and maintaining a web server, database, and content management application. They were having a special— the whole service was free until they got out of beta. I signed up right then and opened H2otown that day.

The Magical Mythical Self-Assembling News Source

When I read about citizen journalism, I often see people envisioning a magical, self-organizing newspaper that comes together through hundreds of contributed blog posts and phonecam snaps. Adam Smith’s invisible hand takes a turn as managing editor, whipping it all into a free-market perfection. Other articles then debunk this notion by pointing out that no such thing exists (and opining that if it did, it wouldn’t be any good).

Neither vision is accurate, I think. Even Wikipedia, the most commonly cited example of the Magically Self-Assembling Information Source, still requires a lot of work from a relatively small number of dedicated people to make it possible for more casual users to have something to contribute to. Hearing newspaper execs talk about having citizen contributors strikes me as similar to Tom Sawyer getting everybody else to whitewash the fence for him. My gut tells me that today, a successful citizen journalism outlet— commercial or noncommercial— still needs one or more people to push the rock uphill.

I worry that people who open a citizen journalism site and simply wait for people to populate it will end up with a thin selection of stories that are essentially random. I think this is true both for new startups and for existing newspapers who open up their website to allow contributions from “the people formerly known as the audience.” There’s no way to avoid the hard work of building these sites. They’ve got to have good content, unique content, and they have to have it frequently and regularly. (I listened to a podcast of a panel discussion with Ana Marie Cox, who said she was required to post to Wonkette 12 times a day. That’s very smart.) Also, there should be someone who’s both encouraging and moderating the conversation on particular stories, which means checking in several times a day.

I’d like to try to push beyond the numerous “citizen journalism, threat or menace?” articles; regular readers of Pressthink have heard all that already. Let’s talk about newsgathering practices at a local news weblog, how the form shapes attitudes towards corrections and accuracy, and how the finished results– covering the same story – differ for a newspaper and a newsblog.

H2otown: We Watch Local Access Cable So You Don’t Have To

Many of the things I put on H2otown would not make it into a newspaper where space is at a premium, and my newsgathering techniques (I TiVo local access cable of town meetings) would not pass muster. But in many cases, there’s no one else covering this stuff in any way, in person or otherwise.

I realize that my newsgathering techniques aren’t professional grade; in fact, some people might laugh at them. I’m willing to be humble and to be humbled about that. I’m also completely upfront with readers and anyone who asks about how I get material; jokes about my TiVo are standard fare at H2otown. Nonetheless, the site now gets 1,200 page views a day in a town where the local weekly newspaper’s circulation is around 4,300. My challenge was to put together something useful with my spare time, a pocket digital camera/digital videocam and a voice recorder from Best Buy, and a $40 a month account to rent community site/blogging software. Consider the following a recipe.

I have five basic newsgathering avenues:

  • Local access cable coverage of town meetings.
  • RSS. I have a collection of about 140 news feeds which bring me daily dispatches from local blogs, our local and regional newspapers, press releases, and even strange tasty tidbits from eBay and Craigslist. I’m a huge user of search driven RSS feeds.
  • Paper newsletters. Watertown has many civic and nonprofit organizations. One of my earliest tasks was to get on the mailing list for several dozen of these organizations.
  • Getting out of the house. I attend local events and meetings and interview people as my schedule allows. Even just biking around my neighborhood often turns up interesting items.
  • Tips and contributions. There are a growing number of people who have their own blogs on H2otown and contribute their own stories. The president of the Town Council has a blog on H2otown. Others who may not have the time or technological comfort level email or use the online tip form, or call me. Today I actually got a tip scrawled on a
    piece of paper and tucked under my car’s windshield wiper. (It was about a possible transmission tower site near our house).

One invaluable source that I don’t have is a townwide or neighborhood email lists. These are a great source of tips and participants. Watertown doesn’t have one with any significant user base, but in Arlington, Massachusetts, the thriving townwide email list helped give rise to Live From Arlington.

When people who are interested in the idea of citizen journalism look at H2otown, they point out that almost all of the content is written by me, and ask if I’m disappointed that more people haven’t contributed.

The answer is: No. I was, and am, perfectly happy to produce H2otown as a standalone venture. What I wanted to do was leave the doors open to people if they did come to contribute, in whatever number or shape they came in. The end result is that H2otown looks a little like a newspaper where the Letters to the Editor section has stormed out of the ghetto below the fold in Op-Ed and taken ground on the front page.

I knew that if I simply opened the site and waited for other people to populate it for me, I’d end up with a derelict site (See Tom Grubisch on this subject). There wasn’t a readymade audience for H2otown — if I didn’t build it, they wouldn’t come.

Early on, I realized H2otown looked and felt very different than the Watertown TAB, even when we were covering the same story, and not just because H2otown was a blog and not on paper. A good example was the story of how the town decided where to put the new police station. Debate on the topic became very bitter, and dominated Town Council meetings for months. Both the TAB and H2otown devoted significant coverage to the story.

At the TAB, a week’s news about the police station appeared as one big chunk. At H2otown, the same story was less a chunk than a stream of short items— long quotes, links to and pictures of public buildings by the architect bidding for the job, information about the cost of the project, and, occasionally, a post containing my own perspective on the story. In the TAB, all these items would be consolidated into a single story. My sense of what happened and what it meant – which would ordinarily be used as the framing elements or the lead graf for a newspaper story – were published as a separate post.

The end result was a journalistic product that looked significantly different than what I was used to reading in a newspaper. In a sense, I was giving the readers the raw material a journalist would usually use to compile and condense into a story; they were putting it together themselves.

I provide this example for reference, but it’s more common for H2otown to cover things that are not covered by the TAB, or by anyone. Stories about “important” issues like school performance appeared alongside bingo game notices and quips from local bloggers; every item got its chance to be A1, above the fold. There was a huge, subterranean life in the town, and H2otown was my drill rig. The life of the place is in its quirky startup businesses, the mix of lunchbucket hangouts with low-key hipster locales like the Town Diner. It’s about the cult of off-street parking, and the large — and largely self-contained — Armenian community that was so much of what made Watertown Watertown. But you wouldn’t “get” this by reading the paper. Unlike a newspaper, I had infinite space.

It’s one of the joys of doing this: H2otown allowed me to redefine what was “important enough to cover.”

The other big and obvious difference between the TAB and H2otown was voice. Cribbing from Baristanet, H2otown is written in the third person by a nerdy, self-absorbed, high-tech-gizmo-loving narrator. Writing in this persona allowed me one big thing the local newspaper wasn’t allowed: to be be funny. And in Watertown, being funny is being truthful.

Like most functional small cities and large towns, Watertown is a comic opera with real estate taxes. But a newspaper isn’t allowed to say so. In a small town, The Newspaper is an authority figure, and there’s a word for someone in a position of power who makes wisecracks about others: bully. Being “just a blogger” — and emphasizing my total lack of credentials or authority other than being a Watertown resident with a blog— meant that I could convey the fun and joy of where I lived without being mean.

Aside from a bad attitude, one of my other journalistic sins is my lack of objectivity. I live in Watertown. I love it, and I’m an unapologetic booster. I’m not in bed with the subject, but as it happens, my bed is in the subject. I’m not shy about my agenda, which is to make Watertown a better place to live (and I’m also not shy about what I think “better” means).

This Is What You Call Fun?

Jay’s original question, though, was about reward systems. Why is this fun? Why do I do it, essentially for free? And why haven’t I gotten bored and gone away?

A nerd is a person who can sustain attention in something long after a normal person has lapsed into a coma. Patiently, the nerd sits, until the object of its attention cracks and reveals its strange and fantastic inner life.

Small towns are boring – but only on the outside. Inside, they are gnarled and lively as any Russian village ever to grace the pages of Dostoyevsky. I confess that I used to find Watertown boring until I started to really pay attention. But then I had children and had to put away youthful fancies of taking off for San Francisco or the emerging Silicon Valley of India.

As others leave for work in the morning, or hop a plane to parts unknown, I must, for the moment, stay put. H2otown allows me to substitute traveling deeper for traveling farther. The effect is strangely like entering a child’s mind – like the time when my street was my entire universe, each segment of sidewalk a small and distinct republic.

I have the pleasure of sharing this with others who can now play along; the pleasure of being able to produce something from beginning to end, rare in our modern industrialized world where most of us are a small part of a large machine; the joy of craftsmanship that comes from being allowed to stick at something long enough to get better over time.

There aren’t any trees that can be planted where I live that can live 1,000 years, the way a giant sequoia can; if I am very, very lucky, enough people will find H2otown useful, and that might mean it is still going after I am long gone. H2otown is a ticket to the longevity lottery. You can’t win if you don’t play.

After Matter: Notes, reaction & links…

UPDATE: I spoke with Greg Reibman, Editor in Chief at CNC today. CNC stopped offering microfilm of its papers a few years ago, but Reibman had good news: the company had selected a vendor to offer a digital archiving product that would offer not only searchable full text but photos and advertisements; it may be ready as soon as December.

Jemima Kiss reports that the UK’s National Union of Journalists (NUJ) has drafted a code of conduct for citizen journalists:

A wider debate through many union branches and industry sectors has generated a draft code of practice for citizen journalists, based on both the NUJ and Press Complaints Commission codes of practice.

Uh oh, someone trying to tell bloggers what to do. That’s gonna go over well. Cue the Wonderchicken:

It is the rising current of feeling that weblogs aren’t a party (or aren’t journalism, or aren’t a floor wax, or aren’t a dessert topping), that they’re something important and serious, that is seriously harshing my buzz. “Let’s all take this more seriously”, is the message I get from far too many these days, “because then, well, what I do must be Serious Stuff, right? We’re all adults here, aren’t we?”

Stop it, you [bleeeeep].

Bloggers have developed a wide variety of blog policies, codes of conduct, and statements of ethics — but efforts to impose those on others have been singularly unsuccessful. See We’re Making The Rules Around Here: Blogger-Developed Blog Policies.

Just-released transcripts of a conversation with Dan Gillmor, Neil Chase, and Charles Lewis, on trust in the media (via PJ Net). Questions and framing by Jay Rosen. A snippet from Jay’s intro:

In the standard story that we hear, we find trust in the media declining…we go down our list of factors and one of the factors is the recent spate of scandals like Jayson Blair and Dan Rather and other high-profile screw-ups, which must have done something to trust…We talk about the loss of energy and initiative to bloggers, who are kind of nipping at the heels of the mass media.

What, no podcast of the session? No worries. Pressthink looks pretty good on a Sony Playstation Portable. A stunt? Well, maybe — until you look at the failure of newspapers to get younger readers and start thinking that Pogue’s Posts should be preloaded on every PSP. Sony and the makers of the XBox have already prepared the way: both platforms have RSS capability.

Paul Bass does just the right thing and writes in to remind us about his new venture, the New Haven Independent. I saw this when it first launched, and thought it looked great. Still does! Hey, Paul, do you cover the New Haven County Cutters baseball team? I’m a fan of another Can-Am league team here in Massachusetts called the North Shore Spirit.

Want to get a sense of local newsblogs? Here are a few to get started.

  • Gordon Joseloff runs Westport Now, covering Westport, Connecticut. Beautifully written and reported old-school news items, WN is a truly professional product. Look at this amazing sports photograph. I envy that.
  • New World Notes is hyperlocal journalism for a community that doesn’t — strictly speaking — exist. Wagner James Au describes himself as an “in-world embedded journalist” for the community that’s grown up around the massively multiplayer online role-playing game Second Life. Second Life has about 35,000 citizens — just about the same size as H2otown and the Half-Moon Bay, CA community that Barry Parr covers for Coastsider. What I envy about Coastsider? The sherriff’s log.
  • I love the Greensboro News & Record’s experiment of adding a comment section to each letter to the editor. BlufftonToday is a good example of the Letters to the Editor section storming the front page and establishing a merry and rowdy occupation.

Lists are pernicious, aren’t they? So arbitrary, so many left out. I hate that. Help me fix it: add a link to your site on the Delicious online bookmarking service, and write “localnewsblog” in the tag field. Then we’ll have something really good.

Guest writer Lisa Williams (her bio) is a resident of Watertown, MA— a citizen, even. She has a background in both journalism and software. See her editor’s blog called Behind the Scenes at H2otown. Her personal blog has been around since 2000 and is at She also writes OPML Fan, a blog about turbocharging RSS, search, and exchanging worldview-based lists with OPML.

H2otown’s Greatest Hits take in podcasts of town events, including audio of a debate on a property tax increase ballot question; The House That Almost Launched 1,000 Zoning Regulations. My Citizen Journalism: The Movie! and The H2otown Restaurant Guide are the two areas of the site with the most all-time hits. Also topping the all-time hits list is a very early item — pictures I took of an art exhibit responding to the Iraq war, displayed in a local storefront. Each piece was labeled with the name of a soldier who had died. This being the Internet, the parents of those soldiers found the posts via Google. Diana Boye, mother of Noah Boye, commenting on the piece named after her son; Jim Mizener, father of Jesse Mizener, does the same.

Mark Jurkowitz and Dan Kennedy are the preeminent Metro-Boston media hounds. Here’s Jurkowitz, writing at the Globe on the Herald’s layoffs:

Boston Herald publisher Patrick J. Purcell said yesterday that he wants to eliminate nearly one-quarter of the 145 union newsroom jobs to save $2 million at the financially troubled paper.

Dan Kennedy, writing on the Herald cuts at the Phoenix’s Media Log:

HOW MUCH IS $7 MILLION? I didn’t get a chance to tend to Media Log yesterday - so, naturally, a poster accused me of ignoring the “Boston media story of the year … $7 million in painful cuts at the Boston Herald.” Well, now. Where to begin?

In a change-up, Jurkowitz, who once did the media beat at alt-weekly Boston Phoenix, has returned from a stint as ombudsman at the Globe and has taken over Media Log, where Kennedy wrote the post above (Small world, Boston). Kennedy is now a professor at Northeastern University, and has a new blog, Media Nation.

Both Jurkowitz and Kennedy have written a number of times about the strange beast that is CNC. Here’s a timeline of CNC’s history.

Baristanet now has more writers. Debbie Galant and Liz George both write under the Barista persona.

Adam Gaffin, who runs Universal Hub, now has a column in the Globe called Blog Log. To my frustration, the column doesn’t have a static URL with archives, like, well, a blog. (Psst! Boston Globe! Give adam a URL! Okay? Okay.)

I subscribe to a large number of local newsblogs. You can see a live-updated selection of what I read here. I post a weekly roundup of best posts on the Localnewsapalooza list.

The class I visited was for journalism graduate students at Emerson College. It was being taught by Janet Kolodzy, formerly of CNN and the Cleveland Plain Dealer. She’s writing a book on convergence in media. Her co-teacher is Jerry Lanson, formerly of the San Jose Mercury News. Lanson has a blog.

The best thing? The TAB put Dan Atkinson’s election coverage on the paper’s website. On Wednesday. Before the paper came out. Excellent!

Posted by Lisa Williams at November 14, 2005 10:46 AM   Print


Thanx Lisa! That was great!

(yeah, I know that doesn't forward the discussion, but I really enjoyed reading your piece.) :)

Posted by: ami at November 14, 2005 11:46 AM | Permalink


Posted by: Jay Rosen at November 14, 2005 2:10 PM | Permalink

Thanks for putting all that into words. I just wrote a shorter braindump about being a citizen journalist for Nieman Reports, and after reading this I realized that there unplumbed depths to the psychology of this process.

I've given a lot of answers to the question of why I do what I do with Coastsider. I think your graf about nerdiness comes pretty close. I came away from reading our local weekly with the feeling that I didn't understand my community and my writing was an attempt to understand it better and to take my readers on that journey with me.

Along the way, I've derived other satisfactions (integration in the community, making a whole new group of friends, doing good, and more).

And, of course, the more I learn, the more I realize the depth of my ignorance.

What I do know is that publishing Coastsider has given me more satisfaction than anything else I've ever done. I'm very proud of the thing itself and the role that it plays in the community.

Posted by: Barry Parr at November 14, 2005 2:44 PM | Permalink

Barry, the community you cover has about the same population as Watertown. I have this crackpot theory that 30-50k is a sweet spot for a local newsblog. I suspect that the ratio of potential profit from such a small community vs. the investment of starting or maintaining a newspaper isn't that attractive. Yet it's small enough for one person to get their arms around, to know most of the local figures and hangouts.

Posted by: Lisa Williams at November 14, 2005 4:19 PM | Permalink

Hey Lisa -- I pop in here to read Jay from time to time, not on a regular basis, but for your essay I bolted over there. Nice work; I think what's appealing about the essay and H20Town, is the same thing that's appealing about your blog. You write in a personal, sometimes intimate, always authentic voice -- and newspapers both in hardcopy and on-line aren't able to do that save for the op-ed. You convey the human component of experience otherwise missing in news outlets.

Thinking more deeply about this: that's what's so appealing about blogs, period. They're not a sanitized, de-personalized, de-humanized observation of the world whether at short- or long-range, but thoroughly entwined in the human experience of news. It's why there is a symbiosis between official or corporate news outlets and bloggers; bloggers reinject humanity into what is otherwise stale, without flesh.

Great job, Lisa!

Posted by: Rayne at November 14, 2005 4:30 PM | Permalink

Great piece Lisa. I should hunker down and write something similar about my efforts. You make a good point about size. I had attempted, during Philly Future's earlier iteration (Dec. 1999- Sept. 2001) to do it as a group blog - with a small team of contributors - but it was far too much. Philadelphia is too large a town for something like that. The latest version of Philly Future has open membership where anyone can contribute and includes an aggregator to pull in news from the overall region. I use Civicspace/Drupal like you do as well.

Posted by: Karl at November 14, 2005 4:47 PM | Permalink

First, Lisa, thanks for all the nice things you said about us.

I love your description of traveling deep when you can't travel far, and how that's like being a kid.

From my viewpoint, the satisfaction comes when I walk down the street and have one person after another greet me -- people whom I didn't know 18 months ago. It comes when wives tell me this is the first time their commuting husbands ever knew anything about the life of the town. When big-time journalists blackberry me from the train to let me know that there's "suspicious activity" at the station and they wonder what's going on. When mayors from two of the towns we cover post comments. When a tiny item we run about a church bingo game generates a huge crowd the next week.

There's a sense of connectedness that most people don't get in bigtime journalism - even when there are lots of readers. You shake a tree and see fruit fall. It's fun.

It's different than blogging and different than journalism; your article describes it well.

Posted by: Debbie Galant at November 14, 2005 6:04 PM | Permalink

Here's a question I have for Lisa and other local bloggers -- what about libel and insurance.

Has this issue come up in regards to your homeowners policy?

When I was blogging regularly, AAA didn't want to insure me (until I assured them I was doing strictly a personal blog with no potentially libelous material) because of the libel exposure. They would sell me libel insurance, but that's expensive.

I wonder if other news bloggers have run into this issue and how they're handling it?

Posted by: Howard Owens at November 14, 2005 6:51 PM | Permalink


Well, first off because it was a good read. It had a very nice balance between temporal narrative, personal reflection, and "technical" details that made you want to keep reading it until the end. And The wordsmithing itself was nothing to sneeze other words

Lisa can write real good! :)

Secondly, it was thought provoking --- it raised a lot a questions that I wanted to ask about like "what happens next". Or "how reproducible is this? " (especially given Lisa's gifts as a writer -- IMHO, one of the most underestimated qualities of good blogs is good writing.)

But most of those questions are things that Lisa really can't answer...we'll just have to wait and see.

Although Lisa can maybe address two questions ..."What happens when you go on vacation?" and "What happens if something unexpected happens in your life and you can no longer blog? Have you made plans?"

Posted by: ami at November 14, 2005 6:51 PM | Permalink

Interesting with the libel insurance. Bloggers are chronically guilty of that. Defamation that is.

Posted by: Bill at November 14, 2005 7:51 PM | Permalink

I worry that people who open a citizen journalism site and simply wait for people to populate it will end up with a thin selection of stories that are essentially random. I think this is true both for new startups and for existing newspapers who open up their website to allow contributions from “the people formerly known as the audience.” There’s no way to avoid the hard work of building these sites. They’ve got to have good content, unique content, and they have to have it frequently and regularly.

Lisa -- after blogging for a year on Baristanet, I must say I agree with you. It will be interesting to see how start-ups (new ones everyday) plan to get around the concept of actually providing content. Will readers tune in and then tune out? We'll see. Meanwhile...great to read your post and learn more about the genesis of H20Town.

Posted by: Liz George at November 14, 2005 8:00 PM | Permalink

ami, What happens if I go on vacation, or things change and I can no longer blog? Have I made plans?

Well, my basic plan is to get lucky and stay lucky!

I'm surprised at how good my luck has already been, because I have been doing precisely the thing that everybody says that no one will do -- that is, regular reporting, regular updates, for little or no money. I think the thing people don't count on is that newsblogging is a damn fine hobby. New England is cold in the winter. Beats ice fishing.

The fact is, I already have gone on vacation. A surprising number of my news sources are portable. Reporting on local blogs and the local biz scene could be done from Hong Kong -- it's net and phone based. I do a lot of phone work, but I don't do very much in-person work. To be completely honest, I don't have the notebook skills. I rely very heavily on recording technology. I believe I actually cover the town council meetings better because I watch them on TV -- because I have instant replay. I can do verbatim quotes, and then just call everybody I saw on the screen the next day. I still beat the paper by two days.

I can do all these things, including council and school committee coverage, wherever I have a broadband connection. (I use a DVR that's internet-enabled). I couldn't do it forever, because a newsblog is like Anteus: if you take his feet off the earth, he has no power. I would lose the "feel" of the town, and that holds everything together.

If I got sick? Hit by a bus? *Shrug.* More than likely the site would die. The only defense against that is to build a really big community, one that has the desire and skill to take it over.

Posted by: Lisa Williams at November 14, 2005 10:41 PM | Permalink

Liz and Debbie, can you talk a little bit about the persona? I think one of you talked about how it might have been inspired by Miss Manners' use of the third person. You both write under the Barista persona. Who is she? Is she fun to write? Was it strange fitting other writers under her umbrella? You've had contributors who are men, do they also write as The Barista?

Posted by: Lisa Williams at November 14, 2005 10:43 PM | Permalink

Howard -- Amy Gahran of has done some good work on this researching where to get information about local law. The best place to inquire is the local press association.

Posted by: Lisa Williams at November 14, 2005 10:46 PM | Permalink

Debbie, I think what sites like Baristanet do is fight the encroaching "blackboxification" of our world -- the sense (and reality) that we don't and can't know what's going on in our community. Stuff just happens, we wonder what it was, and then we never hear about it again. Some people with a dark view of human nature think that people are comfortable living in ignorance, but the plain fact is that ignorance, particularly when it affects your ability to live your daily life, is just irritating.

We're curious, we want to know, we want to be In On It.

Being "in on it" is also one of the primary building blocks of community -- community boundaries are often about who knows -- about the lingo, the pecking order, the good stuff and how to get it.

Posted by: Lisa Williams at November 14, 2005 10:51 PM | Permalink

Dang it Lisa, I sure wish you lived in my town.

Much of H2OTown's appeal is that you don't get all obnoxious and irritating the way some of us do. Nobody could read it and not like the author.

Howard Owens'
AAA didn't want to insure me... because of the libel exposure.
is creepy. Reminds me of something Josh Marshall said recently, about how, if you go investigating stuff where your snooping around is seriously unwelcome, it's a whole lot more comfortable if you have a large organization backing you up.

So Lisa, what do you like and not like about Bryght? any other Cit-J platform(s) that look appealing to you now?

One of the things I've thought might work in getting a cit-j endeavor going would be a community college/night course Intro to Journalism class, to round up, structure and train the talent.

as long as it didn't 'train' the freshness out of their voices...

Posted by: Anna Haynes at November 15, 2005 12:46 AM | Permalink

Fantastic work. This piece, Lisa, is why I'm not at all sure we need to put the term "citizen" before "journalism," except perhaps to distinguish it from what many daily newspapers have become. Your "five basic newsgathering avenues" are (or should be) the currency of a local reporter's daily life.

I can't wait to point to this article as a very important reminder that while we're witnessing the free-fall of mainstream, traditional journalism business models, the very real job of telling and talking about the news of our daily lives is alive and well. Thanks for the syllabus.

P.S. I'm happy to see my two hometown sites (New West and Coastsider) credited here for all their brilliance!

Posted by: Lisa Stone at November 15, 2005 6:04 AM | Permalink

A question for Lisa and others:

How do folks feel about and the comparison so many are making to Slashdot?

Some folks are exclaiming that it is heralding a new way to share news.

Our model, at PF, can be considered something like a Slashdot 1.5 - users submit stories to their PF journals - and we have an editorial volunteer team vet them for the home page - but in addition we have an aggregator that shows headlines from who we consider the best bloggers in the region unfiltered. So we're a hybrid - kinda like H2otown - but we don't keep the aggregator for just the editor's use - we expose it for the world to see.

If we were to adopt a Digg approach, then the users of the site would directly determine who gets stories on the home page.

Posted by: Karl at November 15, 2005 7:03 AM | Permalink

It's different than blogging and different than journalism...

I think this is true. What makes it different is the town. The town is a "player" because the writer's connection to it, and the readers' with all their connections make the site go. There's already a huge amount shared before the site does its magic.

Here's my letter published at Romenesko today:

From JAY ROSEN: Imaginary news story: "Facing a possible sale to a competitor, Knight Ridder, Inc. took the unprecedented step of soliciting buyout offers from local owners for each of the 32 newspapers it owns, and directed the staff at each paper to assist in the search for qualified buyers with a civic conscience."

Posted by: Jay Rosen at November 15, 2005 11:20 AM | Permalink

Boy, my question sure did stir a great discussion! :)

I would think that the contrast betweeen what a large community driven site like Digg - that has users vote for the best content on the home page, vs. a large community driven site like Slashdot - which has editors choose the best content on the home page - would be worthy of discussion. Maybe for another venue, another day.

I wish I had the time to devote to Philly Future to do just the things that are talked about here - my day job keeps me from that. It's so much more important than technology.

I'm a Philadelphian - but I don't know Philadelphia the way some of you know your hometowns. I hope I've been building a platform for others to do just that. We certainly aren't a ghost town. Our volunteers do all they can - they are terrific - but we have no one dedicated to convering the city indepth the way some of you folks cover yours. Hopefully we'll have that someday soon.

Posted by: Karl at November 15, 2005 4:09 PM | Permalink

Karl -- I haven't been involved in the great InDiggNation, although like most blogospheric regulars I'm aware of the Alexa horserace between the two sites.

I guess there are two questions here:
1 about Digg vs Dot
1 about community moderation

I was a big Slashdot head around 2000, right around the time I started blogging. Both Digg and Slashdot are really places to discuss news -- they're not citizen journalism, they're, well, citizen editing, in the sense of picking what stories are interesting. Now that's a very interesting topic, because a lot of things that we've been discussing about the pitfalls of citizen journalism aren't pitfalls of reporting but pitfalls of editing. Lots of people in the media business harp on the fact-checking aspect of editing as a potential pitfall for blog-based journalism, but I think the lack of an assignment desk is a much bigger handicap. At H2otown, I am both the assignment desk and the reporter. My relationship with my reader/contributors is informal-- I'm not their boss, there's no money involved, so I don't feel I have the right to demand anything. I'm in the process of developing more formal relationships with some potential contributors -- namely, turning the people who lost in last Tuesday's election into columnists. I've also had a few nibbles about internships from local j-schools, and obviously I'd want to have more responsibility for an intern. Not because I think they'd run amok, but because I'd want to assign them the right stories and tech challenges (setting up their own aggregator, learning to podcast) so that they got a valid educational experience in return for their volunteer labor.

Now, on community moderation. I'm on the same platform as you, Karl, so my moderation works exactly the same way yours does: people post things to their own personal blogs, which have a dedicated page on the site that's not the front page. I can see a list of all new posts, and by clicking a button I can promote them to the front page. Right now, I have no way to turn moderation over to the readers -- I can either moderate, or make it so all posts get promoted automatically. It would be interesting if Drupal had a Digg-like feature to enable easier user moderation.

Posted by: Lisa Williams at November 15, 2005 4:27 PM | Permalink

Oh -- BTW, I met the guys from last Thursday at the weekly Berkman Center blog-heads meetup in Cambridge, MA. Reddit is like Digg except that moderation is like the Roman Coliseum: thumbs up or thumbs down -- and users who submit popular stuff also accumulate karma. They're considering implementing "groups," so that a group of people could share links among themselves and consensus-rate them. This would be a great replacement for email lists that are mostly just sending links around. One thing I suggested to them is using the built-in OPML feature of Wordpress. The latest rev of Wordpress automatically puts out an OPML file of everything you've linked to -- if it could be automatically fed to Digg or Reddit, you could have a sort of automated "Hot or Not" for how good your linking is on your blog.

Posted by: Lisa Williams at November 15, 2005 4:45 PM | Permalink

You've given me lots to think about - I need to run for a few hours, and will comment more later (we share more than our platforms :)), but I did find a module for Drupal that permits Digg style voting on nodes that looks very interesting.

Posted by: Karl at November 15, 2005 5:19 PM | Permalink

Hi Lisa (and Jay), I was impressed with this description of how citizen journalism works, as much of the narrative matches up with my own experience. I don't know who was handling the after-matter, but I noticed the inclusion of New World Notes as an example from a community that "doesn't exist." Actually, on Wikipedia, which Lisa mentions, we have our own rather similar example, the Wikipedia Signpost, a newspaper where a virtual community does its own journalism. I started this nearly a year ago and it has been coming out on a weekly basis since. As Lisa notes, this particular aspect of the "Magically Self-Assembling Information Source" certainly does require considerable work from dedicated contributors. It's much appreciated by our readers, however.

Posted by: Michael Snow at November 15, 2005 7:03 PM | Permalink

From JAY ROSEN: Imaginary news story: "Facing a possible sale to a competitor, Knight Ridder, Inc. took the unprecedented step of soliciting buyout offers from local owners for each of the 32 newspapers it owns, and directed the staff at each paper to assist in the search for qualified buyers with a civic conscience."

Jay --
I guess this is the difference between an idealist and a cynic (who is, after all, only an idealist who has been fooled one time too many.)
But, as I see it, the problem with your suggestion is the premise itself: That there is in all (or any) of Knight Ridder's 32 communities "a qualified buyer with a civic conscious."
It might be true in a few of the smaller communites ... say, a Grand Forks, ND, or maybe even a Lexington, KY ... that you could find "a qualified buyer with a civic conscious."
But in most KR communities -- I'm thinking here Miami, San Jose, Kansas City, Fort Worth, Charlotte -- an individual buyer who could qualify financially (a formidable obstacle) would, by definition, be a member of the local power structure interested in buying the paper not out of his "civic conscious" but in order to push an agenda favorable to his own financial interests.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at November 15, 2005 9:20 PM | Permalink

Hi, Michael -- wow, that's cool. What do you think about Wikinews, Wikipedia's version of citizen journalism? Had you considered reporting on Wikipedia/Wikimedia/Wikinews on Wikinews itself?

And are you coming to Boston for Wikimania 2006?

Posted by: Lisa Williams at November 15, 2005 9:50 PM | Permalink

Lisa, Wikinews is very interesting and has potential, but people are still figuring out the structure. One issue is whether it will be more like a wire service or an aggregation of hyperlocal-type coverage, or whether it can successfully meld the two together. Since the project is very young, it is still expanding both its breadth and depth.

So at this point, there's some uncertainty about just how narrowly focused stories on Wikinews can be, and whether news about a virtual community belongs (just like there are debates about how narrow a topic is appropriate for a Wikipedia article). Also, because Wikinews aspires to being a general news site, I thought it would be better to avoid too much inward-focused news at the outset, so as not to skew how people perceive Wikinews. And probably the fundamental consideration, not surprisingly, is to take the news to your audience. Since the biggest portion of the community is still on Wikipedia, that's where it makes the most sense to have the newspaper.

I will hopefully be at Wikimania 2006, and I'm sure it will be a good opportunity to talk about community-generated content as applied to journalism and other forms. Oh, and I messed up the link to the Signpost last time, here it is: Wikipedia Signpost.

Posted by: Michael Snow at November 15, 2005 10:54 PM | Permalink

First thing I thought of when I came across this a article (refered to by Dan Gillmor) was that this sounds like Jason Kottke's micropatron model.

And speaking of vacations, incidentally as part of his professional duties Kottke has been inspecting Hong Kong, and will soon move to reporting on Bangkok (color me fanboy but I do think that Kottke's a cool enough reporter :p).

Posted by: Lemi4 aka fERDI:) at November 15, 2005 11:37 PM | Permalink

Jay --I guess this is the difference between an idealist and a cynic (who is, after all, only an idealist who has been fooled one time too many.)

Steve: There's definitely a difference, but I don't care for idealist vs. cynic as a sketch of it. Seems you are attributing to me a motive I didn't have in sending that to Romenesko. You think I'm making "suggestions," in a here's-what-they-oughta-do way. But I'm not.

My little made-up announcement wasn't called a "possible news story." I said it was an imaginary account. It wasn't supposed to reflect present conditions but to rebuke them. Not like an argment, with premises; more like a poem, with images. A news story saying: look at me, why am I so impossible?

Imaginary news story: "Facing a possible sale to a competitor, Knight Ridder, Inc. took the unprecedented step of soliciting buyout offers from local owners for each of the 32 newspapers it owns, and directed the staff at each paper to assist in the search for qualified buyers with a civic conscience."

I say this in an affectionate way, even though it doesn't sound so, but I haven't met a journalist yet who didn't try to out-realism me. No let me correct that: I haven't met a journalist from the Northeast corridor who didn't. (Fascinating thing to study, and entertaining to experience.) Thus your bold phrases: by definition, a member of the local power structure, not out of "civic conscience," favorable to his own financial interests, etc.

Okay some questions for you. They are just questions, not probability statements.

What's more realistic, running newspapers at a 8 to 10 percent margin, or the 20 to 30 percent demanded by Knight Ridder?

Couldn't we accurately call the 20 to 30 percent idealized?

Who's more likely to be satisified with 8 to 10 percent, local ownership with local money emotionally invested in the place, or a big chain, private equity firm with Wall Street money not invested in any particular place?

So really: where does realism lie?

Why are newspapers locally owned inevitably owned by corrupt people just out for themselves; isn't the memory of this abuse there to make sure it doesn't happen again?

Can you honestly say you know what would happen if 32 newspapers ran the banner headlines? First deck: Search for local owners declared open by Daily Bugle. Second deck: Here's how groups, individuals and institutions can qualify...

Why would you dismiss as possible "owners" non-profit institutions, the employees themselves, a consortium of people in town who want a good newspaper, a bunch of pretty rich people who happen to know what they're doing, or even a great publishing family emerging?

Posted by: Jay Rosen at November 15, 2005 11:42 PM | Permalink

Out-realism you? How do you mean?

This is an actual exchange I had today with a staffer from a Knight-Ridder newsroom whom I will not name. He read my letter too, Steve.

First e-mail: You are great. Are you gonna be at the Comic Strip anytime soon? (thanks for the laugh)

JR's reply: The key word was "imaginary." Cheers...

Second e-mail: I think before that happens we will see Tony Ridder wrestle a bear on the Fox network... which most employees WOULD tune in for...

JR's reply: True. But it's not a comment on what's likely to happen or doable at all within the realities as they stand Thus: imaginary news story. As I'm sure you know, imagination has many uses beyond predicting the future. Cheers.

Third e-mail: doesn't...I work for the [Daily Bugle]! No imagination allowed....

JR: did not reply.

Anyone who has been in a newsroom recognizes the type. Anyone who's been a manager of journalists knows it inside and out.

By all means, though, let the wikinews discussion go on. And I hope Karl returns with his response.

Recommended... PressThink regular Daniel Conover: "An online reading list for old and new media." (Guy says people should start their online reading day with PressThink.)

I want to offer the folks in my newsroom a really useful reading list on topics related to journalism, emerging media, etc. But rather than build it as a text document, I'm going to build it here.

Also, Tuesday, next week, I am doing the Washington Post live online chat, 11 am at It's as many questions as I can answer in an hour from readers. Kurtz and Milbank and Froomkin do it regularly, and they invite outsiders from time to time. Cheers.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at November 16, 2005 12:09 AM | Permalink

What is it about the workplace? Certainly I have worked in offices (though not in media companies), and I recognize the phenomenon that the anonymous KR staffer describes -- the sense that no imagination is allowed (I should be allowed to glue my poster/I should be allowed to think -- They Might Be Giants).

There are so many things that aren't allowed, aren't there? A reporter can't post directly to the website, can't release anything online before the print edition hits, can't blog, can't write in anything other than the stale, bland journalistic style that is "what's done" in most newspapers.

I remember a workplace where one of our deliverables was reports. We were supposed to put out 18 a year. One year I put out many more (no surprise to anyone who made it to the end of this essay, I can pump out the verbiage). The company's response was to limit me to 18 and throw the rest away. Why? Because clients might notice that other groups weren't producing as much and want more.

Eventually, I got the sense that if I wanted to do anything that everybody else wasn't doing, I had to ask permission, get a meeting, argue why it was better, why it wouldn't cause a problem. What evanescent idea can survive after having that ton of bricks dropped on it? As Langston Hughes said: "You stay stiller/when every time you move/something jangles."

Very often, what passes for "quality control" is controlling quality so that there's not too much of it. It's all control and no quality.

If only there were a tiny little airhole.

Posted by: Lisa Williams at November 16, 2005 1:36 AM | Permalink

Lisa - I love what you've written. Yesterday, I was on Blogher's site trying to learn about blog carnivals and saw the reference to this article there.

Very coincidentally, I have a meeting this morning with Steve Fitzgerald, who runs for a suburb just west of Cleveland, Ohio. I wanted to meet with him because I live in an east side suburb, Pepper Pike, which I believe would be a great town for something like H2o.

I also really relate to elements of your personal life and how you weave H2o into it - or vice versa sometimes I imagine.

I've printed out the piece, dissected and will also print out some of the comments and use them as fodder for my chat with Steve.

Thank you for such a well-written and specific narrative of how you did, what you did and why you did/do it. I know a lot of people hate being called inspirations, but, well, tough. You inspired me - further.

Regards - Jill

Posted by: Jill at November 16, 2005 8:19 AM | Permalink

Sorry for taking so long to get back, it looks like I missed some good conversation and I'm about to rewind it a bit, which stinks....

Lisa, like you I'm an assignment desk without real power to give assignments: I have a small team of non-paid volunteers, where I'm not their boss, and have no real power. We discuss ideas constantly however. Personally, I'm less of a reporter, and more of a host, since I know I am a writer of limited talent, and time is so stretched between Philly Future, my work, and my family. Note Philly Future is *not* connected to my day job. It is a labor of love. I've decided where I can make a difference is by providing tools and nudging folks in what I hope are good directions - so that is where I spend my free time mostly.

Beyond our volunteer team, we have a huge community of folks posting content to their blogs on Philly Future, that we look for the best of, and promote to the home page. I'm considering the community content voting module I mentioned, but I don't think one model - editor filtered (Slashdot, your site and mine) or community filtered (Digg), should hold sway - both have a place and I think a service that can combine both would be a valuable resource.

Most importantly, we have an even larger community of independent writers that we aggregate from across the region, and highlight them on our wire page. We look for the best here as well, and promote these to the home page.

The best content on PF, in my opinion, is when we get a good mix of all three participant groups on a topic. It would be a dream to have an assignment desk where citizen journalists would volunteer to write stories on important subjects in the community. I think Dan Gillmor might be experimenting with the concept. I'd love to have involvement of local journalism schools in the site as well. Who knows what the future will bring?

You made an great distinction - citizen editing vs. citizen journalism - that I think far too few make. Both are important parts of a larger picture. One of the motto's we keep is that we "editorialize our regional web" - my hope is to one day see a local citizen journalism site that combines citizen editing, citizen journalism and what I will call "citizen witnessing" in a useful, comprehensive way.

You thought Slashdot and Digg are both examples of citizen editting. Aren't Slashdot's longer pieces - book reviews, and interviews for example - examples of citizen journalism? These original content pieces are fewer and far between to be sure. But they are terrific resources.

Personally, I feel that Slashdot is isn't purely a citizen editing-style site - but its focus is on technology - not on place - excludes it from discussions in threads such as this.

Why is that? I don't know. Why is it that a site like - that covers Star Wars in depth - considered just a fan site - when another - utilizing the same exact methodologies and similar tools - launches with a focus on a town - and is considered 'citizen journalism'? How about Engadget? Does it qualify?

Jay said in his reply to you that the town is a "player" because "because the writer's connection to it, and the readers' with all their connections make the site go. There's already a huge amount shared before the site does its magic.". I feel that's just as true for vertical topics like politics, technology, gaming, or horror movies, as it is for geographic locations. If we look outside of our definition of what 'citizen journalism' is - will we see other sites in a new light - that examples have abounded on the web since almost its inception?

Am I suggesting that there is nothing new under the sun? Maybe. Maybe all that is occurring here is that tools and knowledge have spread far enough that barriers have fallen - now more and more are able to focus locally - which is the most difficult of niches. The closer you are to a subject, the more you know about it. The more responsibility you have to it. Especially if your subject matter lives down the block from you. There is certainly something to be said for this. I'm not sure there is anything more courageous in media than a reporter with local focus.

I agree that Digg is a prime example of "citizen editing", as are most (but by far not all as I mentioned) of Slashdot's front page posts. I don't think I've seen a post on Digg - mind you - I'm just a user - that has gotten popular there - that is longer than a few sentences. I hope "citizen editing" is a phrase that gains traction. I love it.

Posted by: Karl at November 16, 2005 9:49 AM | Permalink

Jay, to Daniel Conover's list, must add sites are, for business:

Two of the only folks I know who have figured out the revenue puzzle - or atleast appear to be on their way to doing so.

Posted by: Karl at November 16, 2005 9:55 AM | Permalink

Calacanis has a great model: Start a bunch of blogs, sell out to AOL for $25 million :-).

Mass. High Tech recently interviewed somebody who claims to be profitable with blogs about really nichey things like single-serve coffee machines and poker chips.

Posted by: adamg at November 16, 2005 3:17 PM | Permalink

Hi Adam :) From what I understand he was raking in major advertiser dollars before he did so. Many web services are launched "built to flip", but I don't think Weblogs Inc was. It just became a juicy target for AOL. Now Yahoo! is licensing Gawker Media content - kinda like they do KR content.

I hope I didn't offend with my comments and would love to hear what folks think.

BTW - I just thought of a suggestion that can help citizen journalism - an open freedom of information act portal where folks who make requests - donate the results to. Locally and nationally.

Posted by: Karl at November 16, 2005 10:42 PM | Permalink

OK, I'll be the turd in the punch bowl.

Lisa, I thought your post was stupefyingly boring, more boring than any daily newspaper I've ever read.

I've worked at small papers that published what was called "country correspondence," essentially lists by local people of who visited whom and who said what to whom. I had to pick through this stuff looking for misspellings and other possible mistakes. It contained absolutely nothing of general interest, and was as enjoyable as gargling barbed wire. People scanned this stuff to see if their names were mentioned, but it wasn't mistaken for anything important.

What you do sounds similar. I'm glad you enjoy it, but it sounds more like stenography than reporting/journalism -- the equivalent of watching C-Span for hours at a time. I love C-Span, but it isn't an efficent way of learning the news of the day.

I'm becoming convinced as daily newspapers decline and "citizen journalism" becomes more prominent (if it does), it's going to be much harder, and take much more time, to find out what's really going on. It's not a future I look forward to with relish.

Posted by: Dexter Westbrook at November 17, 2005 1:29 PM | Permalink

Dexter, that's trolling if I've ever seen it. One of the most important parts of all this is the personal voice folks like Lisa and Adam and others use in their effort. It's an important distinguishing factor. Not boring like CSpan at all - if you live in their neighborhood of course. Because it's relevant there moreso than anyplace else.

Posted by: Karl at November 17, 2005 3:27 PM | Permalink

Hi, Dexter. I've seen you around the blogosphere in various comment sections, and you're a sharp guy. What would you write in this space? I'm not taking a shot at you, I really would like to know.

I actually agree with you about the central role of newspapers in getting information; the problem is that the market isn't rewarding that view.

And as far as stenography, perhaps the emphasis on local access cable gave you the impression that I'm just providing transcripts, but that's not what I'm doing. If someone attended the same Senate hearing you were watching on C-Span, and then wrote a capsule of what was said and done, would you consider that journalism? What about if they watched tapes, or saw the proceedings on closed-circuit TV, as is the case in many controversial trials where the room can't accommodate all the reporters who wish to view the proceedings?

I agree that being there in person is preferable.

It's funny, we could end up with this: if a reporter does too much summing up, they're often accused of inserting bias, because summing up inevitably reflects what the reporter thinks is important about what they've seen; if they refrain from this and just report what was said and done, it's called stenography.

Unimportant and boring? *Shrug.* Keep on truckin'.

Posted by: Lisa Williams at November 17, 2005 6:07 PM | Permalink

Woah. You answered Dexter's trolling - but not my questions?

Sometimes I feel like Rodney Dangerfield.

Posted by: Karl at November 17, 2005 7:42 PM | Permalink

Apparently Dexter doesn't know that small is the new big. Surprising for someone so savvy.

Karl, you raise a good point about communities anchored in a place vs. communities of interest. You're right too that in both cases a pool of shared knowledge makes possible the content-rich interaction. I think you could say--it would be accurate, as well as apt--that Slashdot ("news for nerds") is citizen journalism, with citizen editing, for the dispersed community of tech heads. It's probably the most successful example we have of citizen journalism in action-- continuous action, as it were. There is no reason in the world not to talk about it in those terms.

Of course Lisa made a good point when she said that she sleeps in Watertown (because that's where her bed is)-- not in any of the other communites to which she really and truly belongs. This is one reason we treat the local community as a special case, and grant the journalism "of" it a special importance. Slashdot may be important to the people who populate it, and even identity-forming. But no one lays me down to sleep there.

The H20town kind of community--a human settlement on earthly soil--is also the second oldest we have, after the wandering tribe. So a lot of meaning is built up around it, even though we are investing more and more of ourselves in our other memberships, including cyber ones.

The man who wakes ups and doesn't know what city he's in--"if it's Tuesday this must be Belgium..."--is an international symbol of disorientation. Why?

Following on my exchange with Steve Lovelady and Mr. Realistic from Knight-Ridder, the business columnist at Editor and Publisher did a column on the subject: Re-Thinking Knight Ridder's Future.

The embattled chain hired Goldman Sachs to "explore strategic alternatives," Wall Street-ese for "make us an offer." But how about exploring real alternatives?

He interviewed me, and wrote about my imaginary news item.

Finally, here's the announcement of the Live Chat I'm doing at the Washington Post site Tuesday.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at November 17, 2005 8:48 PM | Permalink

Thanks Jay, that clarifies things a lot for me. It gives me another way of distinguishing sites like ours - communities anchored in a place vs. communities of interest.

I rarely see Slashdot, or other communities of intertest mentioned, when discussions about citizen journalism arise, but after hearing you say that - I feel better about believing we can learn much from them.

At the same time, I definately get what you and Lisa are saying about being a community anchored in a place - part of "a human settlement on earthly soil" (I wish I was a better writer).

It's these efforts - that focus locally - that get me going. Connecting people across the globe by interest is terrific - but connecting people from around the corner is just as - if not more - important. And the web can be a terrific place for it to happen.

That interview was great - lets hope those ideas get spread.

Adam - I see plenty of bloggers like that - there are more and more folks practicing blogging to extend awareness of their business online. Many are kinda like self-produced infomercials. Others are pretty good. It's real hard to distinguish sometimes though. Makes determining what blogs to include in Philly Future highly subjective.

Posted by: Karl at November 18, 2005 7:04 AM | Permalink

This seems appropriate to the "communities of interest/place" electronic discussion areas and Jay's upcoming Live Chat at WaPo.

A Leaky Post Newsroom

Posted by: Sisyphus at November 18, 2005 7:58 AM | Permalink

Karl, I think one of the reasons communities like Slashdot get left out is that when they were first really popular, what everybody focused on was the voting -- moderation, which formed a sort of group editing process that was pretty novel to most readers, including me. Also, the discussions centered on articles (in a publication or just web resources) that had already been written, for the most part. And blogs like Engadget are rarely considered to be competition to, say, Portable Computing or PC Week -- and they're probably better off for not having to go through the cyclical "But is it journalism!?" discussion. Engadget and Gizmodo has the things I used to find in the front section of those magazines, or in Wired's "gadget lust" feature are Gizmodo's stock-in-trade. (In a way, they take the place of the decimated Computer Shopper, a giant, phone-book sized publication that was basically all advertisements, but the pleasure was in flipping through and looking at the new stuff).

Before I knew about local newsblogs, I was fascinated with stuff like GeoURL and Localfeeds, which showed a dynamically updated page of blog posts from a geographical area, scrolling by in reverse chronological order. (Things like your own Philly Wire and Greensboro 101's Newswire do this, with the difference being that feeds are added to those sites manually, either by users or administrators adding them; Localfeeds was a bit more automated, in that it crawled GeoURL's database and then discovered the feeds associated with sites.

Now, what would be cool is PhillyFuture and Greensboro101 *with* the voting features of digg, Slashdot, or maybe the simple up-or-down voting of, which I like a lot. Then maybe people could also tag items, so that they could go back to a page that showed all the posts they had tagged for "XYZ Elementary School." People do this through search now, but the resulting list can be kind of unsatisfactory (I often find within-site search to be frustrating or even useless, and I know search on my site has some weird lapses where I know a certain piece of text, like someone's name, has been written about but doesn't show up in search results).

You and I both use Drupal; so it's possible there could be (maybe already is) a module (Drupal's term for plugin) that would turn the aggregator page into a page that's community-moderated.

The success of services like digg, Slashdot, and depend in part on scale -- lots of articles and lots of voters. It might work better in a major metro area, where a lot of the local blogs are mostly performing a filtering service -- trying to sort out what news to look at -- rather than newsgathering, which happens more in smaller communities (because there isn't a lot to point to, or to filter).

Hey, it turns out that Rodney Dangerfield coined that one liner about going to a fight and having a hockey game break out.

Posted by: Lisa Williams at November 18, 2005 9:20 AM | Permalink

Hi Lisa, I agree with everything you said here past your first paragraph. That first one I feel a need to reply to.

I can understand the confusion about Slashdot. Much early discussion - much current discussion - is focussed on Slashdot's user community and how it is the strength of the site.

Slashdot is not digg, nor reedit. Slashdot has a small community of editors that vet posts for the home page - like your site and mine. Almost exactly. And like yours and mine, or any editorially driven effort for that matter, they aren't without criticism. I'm a participant at Slashdot. Just had a story rejected. These stories never reach their user community.

Slashdot's larger community comments on these editorially approved stories, and rates those comments to improve the level of discourse and to expand and further vet the story.

Digg and reedit have their community of users influence what goes on the home page directly. It's a different model, however similar. But the importance is crucial I think.

Wired, way back in August of 99, has wrote a good article - but missed this point -

You are a journalist with a digital news service.

You have a 46-inch TV running CNBC with the sound off. You've got wire feeds, a phone with a headset, about 35 email-list subscriptions, a T1, and a chat client.

You can spot trends in the constant jet wash of Internet hype. You can see the ripples that will create absurd wealth for some and throw others out on the street.

Now it is the middle of 1999, and you are watching one particular swirl developing in the storm that may eventually make your job obsolete.

That's because a three-person Web site called gets the scoop faster than you can -- along with about 600,000 news-hungry eyeballs a day.

"In a lot of ways, journalists have decided that journalism is something journalists do," said editor Rob Malda in an email. "That's sort of elitist, but I won't piss on their parade and really contest that: We're just not journalists."

"That said, many traditional journalists think that something like Slashdot might put them out of work," he said.

Slashdot represents what might be the beginning of the age of open-source journalism. It relies on the eyes and ears of the thousands of its readers to create what amounts to a collaborative newswire that tracks a specialized area of interest: "News for Nerds."

It works like this: a Slashdot reader points Malda to something of interest -- a fragment on a Web page, or a press release, or a newspaper story. Anything, really. If the tidbit appeals, he posts it to the site as the first message in a discussion thread.

The conversation that follows is part expert commentary, part peer review, and part cocktail-party banter, as credible sources and experts weigh in alongside crackpots in a rapid peer-review process.

The thing is - that thread will not make it to the home page if the editors find it lacking. As I mentioned, they will reject it. The editors exercise ultimate control.

Maybe if I shared some the longer works on Slashdot it might convince you of the similarities?

Or take a look at one of their more storied contributors - Jon Katz:

Engadget is far newer, but covering just as small a niche, is following Slashdot's lead:

It's these longer pieces that have pulled it ahead of Gizmodo in readership I think.

blogs like Engadget are rarely considered to be competition to, say, Portable Computing or PC Week

By who? By what definition? If it's advertisers, those advertisers are flocking to the web. If it's readers, we have done so as well.

I understand the distinction between communities of interest - like Slashdot, and communities anchored in place - like H2Otown. But other than that - the have a lot in common. Slashdot now has thirteen editors instead of three (they call them authors - but they act as editors) who approve posts. That's it. Not thousands. It's the thousands who help fact check, and expand the story via discussion, after a story goes live. Agreed that is where a smaller site might have difficulty - but Slashdot isn't just a filter like Digg or reedit - where no original content is *ever* posted - it's something far more - and it kinda foretold the place where we are today. We still have a lot to learn from it.

I do think there is a worthy discussion about the differences of a pure community driven site - like Digg versus an editorially filted one - like Slashdot - but I guess that can hold for a later day :) In essence, however, I agree with you, you need a mass of users to make community driven work.

Sorry - I know I'm coming off a little ummm... passionate... :)

Posted by: Karl at November 18, 2005 1:58 PM | Permalink

Good post, Lisa. Lots of interesting stuff I didn't know about.

However, I will have to amend my opinion that the PressThink community consists of just crazed newshounds. The PressThink community is crazed newshounds plus political junkies.

But no matter, you've given us lots of information about "news" Lisa, and I thank you for that.

Posted by: kilgore trout at November 18, 2005 2:16 PM | Permalink

Karl: Maybe one of the answers is: "communities" formed and forming on the Net have more of the Net in them from the start. They're likely to show both strengths and weaknesses because of being born and raised online.

Under strengths: The people who know how to make the Web work for the individual user and the good of the whole are in developments like Slashdot, which gets better at what it's doing over time.

If the geeks at News for Nurds know how to be really effective online, then the good people in Watertown might want to know how to be effective online, too. After all, it might make for a better Watertown.

Who can reach Watertown with the knowledge at Slashdot? (How to be effective for the greater good on the Web.) Well, Lisa herself does; H20town mediates between the community of neighbors in the town and the nerds getting together on the Web.

Meanwhile, CBS, a multi-zillion dollar corporation, debuts its blog Public Eye without realizing it needed to have RSS.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at November 18, 2005 2:26 PM | Permalink

Absolutely Jay :) I think those are some of the reasons that the local focus got my attention so long ago.

Lisa - I hope you understand that I feel it's a compliment for me to call H2Otown "the Slashdot of Watertown" :)

Posted by: Karl at November 18, 2005 4:19 PM | Permalink

I believe this item is wholly on point:

from: E-Media Tidbits
Posted by Steffen Fjaervik 11:15:46 AM

Blogger Gets the Top Spot: Last week, Norwegian news website featured a blog post as its main story. Blogger Vidar Hodnekvam's feature about life as a pro gamer in South Korea hit the top spot on's news front page.

Hodnekvam is blogging through's open-source blog system, a system inspired by Slashdot. retains editorial control, and will use his stuff on its main pages if editors want to. And last week, they did.

Says managing editor Helge Øgrim: "We work actively to merge the best of the blogosphere with the best of Web journalism. The fact that an amateur blogger gets the top story really illustrates that point. Some call this citizen journalism. We gradually get to know our bloggers, so it's quite possible that we'll do this more often in the future. Of course, outsourcing the content like this can be risky, and a headless practice could dilute our brand. On the other hand, closing out the voices and the knowledge from outside the newsroom is also a risk. Maneuvering in this field is very inspiring."

I like his double-sided notion of risk: "closing out the voices and the knowledge from outside the newsroom is also a risk."

Posted by: Jay Rosen at November 18, 2005 5:13 PM | Permalink

Karl -- you're right; I was conflating the moderation that happened within the threads with the vetting of stories (in fact, I remember grumbling about Cmdr Taco's story choices sometimes).

Also, when I say that people don't consider Gizmodo and Engaget competition to the trades, I think they're probably wrong -- it's just that there's no handwringing about blogs vs. journalists in that segment. My theory? The people in it feel tech is expanding, there's enough for everybody, and it gets bigger every day. Not so in news, and this casts a pall over conversations about the future.

This makes me wonder why I drifted away from Slashdot. It may be that I find it hard to read in an aggregator. I have the same problem with Daily Kos -- there's just so much volume, that the site is kind of a world unto itself, and you have to "go there" -- visit the site directly, rather than read it in an aggregator -- in order to really experience it.

Just recently I started listening to Slashdot Review, a ten minute roundup of items that appear on Slashdot. Slashdot's content is licensed under Creative Commons, so Slashdot Review podcaster Andy McCaskey is free to do this. It's one of my favorites, and it's become popular enough that it is now distributed with BitTorrent rather than just straight enclosure download.

Posted by: Lisa Williams at November 18, 2005 11:38 PM | Permalink

Thanks, Kilgore. For one more little nugget of newness, have you seen It's a curious little multisearch engine that can be used on the web, or, you can take the results as an opml file from 15 or so different sources and be constantly updated about what's popping up on everything from eBay to newsfeeds about a particular issue.

Posted by: Lisa Williams at November 18, 2005 11:41 PM | Permalink

That's an interesting comment from Dagbladet's editor.

Risk. I read a story in the Economist about a study of peoples' transit habits after a terrorist attack. Now, people could have the same risk as before, just by riding a little bit less over the year, because attacks are rare; but nobody did that. People had two reactions: they either stopped riding the bus altogether, or they got on the bus the next morning and did exactly what they did the day before the bombing. Not surprisingly, the two groups had very differing ideas about the risk: the off-the-bus contingent emphasized the danger, while the on-the-bus contingent tended to say things like "it'll never happen to me."

I think bloggers are often puzzled by nonbloggers' emphasis on the riskiness of blogging. Bloggers are on the bus already; they've taken the plunge, and so they see it from that point of view. People (in this case media companies) who are still deciding whether to get on see it as much, much more risky than the people already doing it.

This makes me think it's a terrible idea to have a corporate "blog strategy," or some sort of big plan for reader participation. If the company is still in the risk mindset, the result might end up crabbed and stilted, myopically not linking to the outside world, not having comments. Why not start small and learn by doing? Let a reporter who wants to start a blog about their beat. A blog here. A blog there. Learning about blogging (for me) has been accretive -- first, how to do it, what software is available and what's any good, second, how to listen for the bigger conversation, find people linking to the stuff I link to and finding out what they say; developing skill at moderating comments; starting to use and understand an RSS reader, podcasting, videoblogging; not to mention the conventions and what I guess could be called linking and quoting etiquette. That's a lot to take in all at once and get it right with a huge effort the first time around.

Maybe that's part of the perceived risk too: huge efforts cost serious money, particularly if a company is hiring web programmers to integrate a paper's existing web property with a new blogs/community venture. If a first try at blogging for a company is expensive, I think that's a danger sign.

Posted by: Lisa Williams at November 18, 2005 11:57 PM | Permalink

One quick note about Drupal: You could relatively easily set up a digg-like system with existing modules (moderation and aggregator2, to be exact). The problem, as Karl noted, is that it really needs a critical mass of people voting (and even then, you could run into problems - see Kuro5hin).

Posted by: adamg at November 19, 2005 11:01 PM | Permalink

This makes me think it's a terrible idea to have a corporate "blog strategy," or some sort of big plan for reader participation. If the company is still in the risk mindset, the result might end up crabbed and stilted, myopically not linking to the outside world, not having comments. Why not start small and learn by doing? Let a reporter who wants to start a blog about their beat. A blog here. A blog there.

Absolutely Linda. That's how a few of our local papers are going about it. In addition, I think organizations need a sandbox to play in to experiement with larger projects, so that they can invite the public in. This might be at the heart of the question - how do newspapers survive? It requires a culture shift to recognize that you can't always use predictive project development - especially in building online services. Google gets this 200% (note their use of the word 'beta' on everything). Online, you need to take an adaptive approach - if you have your audience help shape your product via feedback - you are on your way - the audience not only feels collective ownership - and becomes participants - but you build a far better service.

On the voting method to select content - in addition to thinking you need a large community of users, I have a sneaking suspicion that any community ran solely via voting can be highjacked. My ideal service contains elements of three different content selection process: editor selected (Slashdot, Philly Future, H2OTown, any newspaper site), community selected (voting - Digg), algorithm selected (Memeorandum - check it out folks - it's like the Google News of blogs).

Posted by: Karl at November 21, 2005 6:46 AM | Permalink

From the Intro