News Leadership 3.0

November 09, 2009

Good ideas from J-Lab’s New Media Women Entrepreneurs summit

Dozens of women gather in DC to hear ideas and best practices from women who have started community news Web sites and are learning how to make them thrive

I’m at J-Lab‘s New Media Women Entrepreneurs 2009 Summit in Washington, D.C., where women who have started community news Web sites are talking about what they’ve learned and what works. It’s a packed room packed with great ideas. Here are some that I’ve heard so far:

* The way to get people to cover community events is to let them know that an event they want covered won’t be covered unless they do it. Several speakers emphasized this, including and
* Edit them so they don’t need to feel self conscious about coming off as bragging about their kid or an activity they’re involved in., edits all stories, often asking for revisions, and then copy edits them.
* At the beginning, people are suspicious when someone from a new community news site shows up to cover a meeting or event. Later, if someone from the news site doesn’t show up, people ask where they were. This is the case at
* Founders are often most concerned about opening up community debate in small towns where the power structure is fairly closed. say this was a primary factor in their starting up. also sought to open political discourse and participation.
* These sites often are all or mostly volunteer, a mix of non-profits and sites that sell advertising. Those who sell ads say they have to educate those who use print advertising about how interactive online advertising will work for them. One site, made $50,000 the first year
* Prospective citizen journalists do not have time for deep journalism training. At minimum, train citizens who want to report in basic journalistic principles of fairness, accuracy and transparency. If they want more, offer training in constructing and writing stories. also offers training in opinion writing for those who want to write blogs. training includes how to cover government, how to do podcasts.
* Training for citizen journalists is as much about bettering civic discourse as it is about recruiting contributors for the site at Training that focuses on doing works better than training that focuses on learning.
* Transparency is important with citizen reporters. They often will want to write about something they know a lot about. Make sure their connection to what they are writing about is disclosed.
* In larger communities such as Madison and Twin Cities, community sites aggregate and republish in addition to creating their own content. aggregates and curates content tries to feature good blogs and nonprofit reports on the front page of the site with permission.
* Unedited reader contributions are labeled as such. puts these contributions in a “Free Speech Zone” with a disclaimer.

(Please excuse mislinks. Terriible wifi here so I’m not checking them before posting.)

November 03, 2009

Western Citizen: News site seeks to connect and engage

This bootstrapped site in the Rocky Mountains wants to bring more citizens into discussions about politics, environment, health and economic issues

Here’s an ambitious formula for a new kind of news site: “Combine investigative reporting with online tools to empower citizens to discover their own opportunities for direct action and to publicly deliberate on finding solutions to community problems.”

That’s Wendy Norris talking about her just-launched Western Citizen news site that will cover culture, politics, the environment, health care and economic issues across the Rocky Mountain States.

Her motivation: She just got tired of watching television broadcasts or reading newspaper stories that didn’t give her any way to take action on issues she cared about. “I would watch on TV and all I could do was throw a sock at the television set. They never said what else I could do. I want to bridge that gap.”

Norris agenda is simple:
- Tell the truth
- Promote action, context and relevancy
- Demand transparency

Norris sees a role for her site in the Rockies, where many of the issues she’s covering interconnect across the states and many solutions come from interstate discussions and compacts at state and local levels that play out well below the radar of the average citizen. Norris wants to give more citizens access to that information via the Web and, down the road, mobile.

“In the West, the land mass is so enormous. It’s hard to get people together.” Norris also hopes to develop tools that enable citizens to interact around information and engage in debate in more meaningful ways than throwing a sock at the TV.

Right now, the site features a news feed aggregating stories from around the region (Norris notes that many dailies and weeklies in the Rockies do not have Web sites, only PDF e-editions) and a blog by Norris highlighting important stories. She has incorporated Apture into the site to offer users context and “help them explore the breadth of an issue.”

She’s working on a hybrid business model: News gathering will be non-profit and she will seek grants and donations to pay for beats. She’ll form a separate business to create applications for citizen engagement and find other commercial revenue. In addition to offering news content, she hopes to develop resources to teach citizens how to blog, crowdsource and otherwise make their voices heard.

She is bootstrapping her site and has spent only a few hundred dollars incorporating her business and building the (she did her own coding) while supporting herself with freelance assignments for national publications.

I met Norris in May, Norris when she was a fellow at Knight Digital Media Center’s News Entrepreneur Boot Camp, funded by the Knight Foundation. Now, as a fellow at the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the Missouri School of Journalism, I’m eager to see how she develops the civic engagement aspects of her site.

Norris’ wasn’t the only site that launched Tuesday. There’s a lot to like about the just-launched non-profit Texas Tribune news Web site, which also has Knight Foundation support. I suggest you check out the site and this post on Nieman Journalism Lab for an overview.

I want to focus on one feature, TribWire, which you will find on the right hand column of the home page. This is an aggregation feed of important stories from other publications and sources, selected by the staff of the Tribune. If you don’t have a feature like this on your news site, you are missing a chance to provide a great service to readers and help establish your site as a place to get all the important news on your franchise topics.



October 27, 2009

Five tips for training citizen journalists

In a guest post, the editor of the Twin Cities Daily Planet discusses how to train non-professionals to gather news and information.

By Mary Turck

Training for citizen journalists is a real-world exercise. They work on real stories, not on lessons or exercises. The plan is to publish their stories, not to certify them as having completed a course. Usually (though not always) their work goes up on line as part of the Twin Cities Daily Planet. Based on our successes and failures and continuing work-in-progress, I offer these guidelines for training citizen journalists:

1) Begin with the basics,  No matter how smart someone is, and how well plugged in to their community, they may forget basics - such as the 5Ws or the importance of spelling someone’s name correctly, or just spelling correctly.

We have created twenty very short lessons on topics ranging from focusing a story to transparency to best practices for quotations and paraphrases. We use these in regular writers’ groups and also as resources for writers who need to work on a specific issue.  Our Resources for Citizen Journalists page lists other places that writers can go to find help, including the Knight Citizen News Network and Poynter Online.

2) Show, don’t tell.
The writing workshop is the best tool for citizen journalist training. At the Twin Cities Daily Planet, we offer a wide variety of classes, but the Monday writers’ groups are the best because they include time to workshop articles-in-progress.

Current and prospective writers are invited to come, whether or not they have an article to bring. Pens in hand, the group reads through and marks up one story, and then talks about it. After discussion, all of the marked-up copies go back to the writer, and we launch into the next article.

With four or five or six people intently analyzing each article, the lucky writer gets feedback on everything from commas to content. Participants often disagree with one another and with me about what works best. The end result: lots of affirmation, and lots of suggestions for additions and changes, some of which will make the story stronger and the next effort easier.

3) Power of positive feedback
. Whether in the writers’ group or in emails or in one-to-one discussions of articles, starting with a little sugar makes the medicine go down a lot easier. I try to:
* talk about the interesting story idea before pointing out the lack of organization;
* point out the really good quote before launching into the punctuation lesson;
* praise the writer’s familiarity with the subject matter or neighborhood politics before pruning the excess verbiage.

4) Rewards and reinforcement
. Fifteen dollars is not much money, but it motivated our citizen journalists to attend a two-hour training session.  The payment said we valued their time and, despite our small-to-nonexistent training budget, wanted them to know it.
Other rewards:
* Reporters’ notebooks—the long, narrow, spiral-bound kind that are relatively expensive as notebooks, but really make you feel like a reporter. Print up a page or two of stickers with your publication or project name and logo, and slap one on the front of each notebook.
* A writer’s web page, with a photo, a short bio and links to published stories. Our writers and interns love these!
* Business cards, with generic identification of your publication or project. When a cop or a video store owner asks, suspiciously, who the writer is and why they want answers to questions, a business card provides instant, if limited, credibility.
* Press credentials serve a similar purpose. This can be as simple as a printed card with information on your publication or project, the writer’s name and identifying information (“freelance reporter, citizen journalist, education reporter”). Check the rules and customs about press credentials in your area. 

5) Constant contact
. Every phone call, every email, every text message is important. Sometimes all I can say is, “I’m sorry, but I have been so swamped with work that I haven’t had a chance to read your article yet. I promise that I will get to it tomorrow (or over the weekend or first thing Monday morning.)”

What’s important here is responding to every contact. That’s a basic way to show respect.

At the Twin Cities Daily Planet, I work with citizen journalists every day. Some of them have journalism training, some have none; some have written for other publications, some have not; some write extraordinarily well, some need help.

In training citizen journalists, there’s often a fairly big gap between what I know and what I do. I run out of time, run out of energy, forget what I should be doing. So writing this blog is more than giving advice to somebody else - it’s also a way of reminding myself what I know I should be doing. 

(Note: Jeremy Iggers, director of the Twin Cities Media Alliance which operates the Twin Cities Daily Planet, participated in KDMC’s News Entrepreneur Boot Camp, funded by the Knight Foundation.)

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Exploring innovation, transformation and leadership in a new ecosystem of news, by journalist and change advocate Michele McLellan.

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