News Leadership 3.0

Posts tagged with: Entrepreneur

November 11, 2009

Six trends in community journalism

American University and J-Lab produce a study about how the movement to create entrepreneurial community Web sites may changing the rules of engagement with news.

American University just completed a mini-study of women news consumers and women who have created news Web sites. The research, by Assistant Professor Maria Ivancin in partnership with J-Lab, offers an intriguing glimpse of changes under way as a new ecosystem of news forms online.

Ivancin described these findings (based on focus groups and interviews):

1. Community journalism is evolving as an exercise in participation, not merely observation. “It’s not just covering community, it’s actually being the community,” Ivancin said this week at J-Lab’s New Media Women Entrepreneurs summit.

2. The traditional emphasis on objectivity is giving way to a focus on broader definitions of news and the inclusion of different voices. New media site founders often felt “objectivity really is not truthful. Top down objectivity you really don’t have an understanding of what’s happening in your community. They felt objectivity can come in a different way, from participation,” she said.

3. Building community rather than simply covering community is the impetus for launching community news sites. “It’s not just looking at what’s happening. It’s doing things to change that community, help that community.”

4. Community news sites rise to fill gaps in news coverage. “There is an unfulfilled need. Whether the local paper was not covering it, or no longer covered it….  The need can be geographic, the need can be audience based or interest based,” Ivancin said. One news site creator called it a need for “a community water cooler.”

5. New media entrepreneurs are motivated by a frustration with old media’s pace of innovation and change. “New media creators saw the changes as opportunities whereas they thought traditional media saw them as threats,” Ivancin. “The competition did not look kindly at these” news startups, including one outlet that r an editorial attaching the new site.

6. News site creators and consumers express excitement and regret over changes confronting established media. People said they “miss the pleasure of reading the newspaper,” and worry that the ability to select news will mean people don’t get the fuller picture provided in the newspaper, Ivancin said.  Also, it’s more difficult to to judge credibility. New media creators are concerned about losing investigative reporting. Benefits include speed and convenience, more voices and perspectives, selectivity and ability to get depth on topics of most interest, she said.

It will be interesting and important to see whether these trends hold true as traditional media outlets shrink and new experiments come onto the field. Certainly developments in community media are important to established news organizations. The start ups change the playing field of media in many communities and they may be harbingers of new attitudes and practices that traditional journalists and news outlets will want to adopt to stay relevant and fulfill the role of town forum.

May 18, 2010

Robert Niles: The News Publisher as Community Organizer

Web entrepreneur introduces journalist-entrepreneurs at KDMC boot camp to a new role: organizing around helping solve community problems

On Tuesday, Robert Niles of Online Journalism Review walked the campers at KDMC’s News Entrepreneur Boot Camp through a process that positions the news start up as community problem solver. This is a very smart approach, and one that any news provider should study and adopt.

Here’s a quick recap of his six steps:

1. Assessing the community (watching and listening).
Ask yourself: What are three problems facing your community?
“Problem solving is the benefit” a community publisher can offer audience and customers, Niles said. “If you’re not addressing the pain that they have, its easy for them to overlook you.” Example of a problem cited by one boot camper: Resistance to change undermines economic development.

2. Creating an action team
(relationship building). 
What are three resources you can utilize to solve one or more of these problems?
Examples: A local advisory committee, a local non profit.

3. Developing an action plan.

What are three tools or methods you can use to connect those resources to your community?
Examples: Invite to write posts for the site, stage face to face meet ups, use tech tools, advertising

4. Mobilizing to action.
What are three ways of getting the community to notice what you’re doing?
Examples: Use social media (needs to be more specific)

5. Implementing the action.
What are three ways to get participation in your solution?
Examples: Make it about them, offer them something, appeal to their desire to be heard, ask them what they think.
“You have to create a way that encourages positive, constructive contributions to the conversation. (That is) how you distinguish yourself” from sites where the comments are cesspools, Niles said.

6. Evaluating what you’ve done, and applying those stages to community news publishing.
What are three ways to evaluate your success or failure?
Examples: Google Analytics, coverage in other media, user surveys

7. Repeat.

“You’re always repeating this process,” Niles said.

It’s interesting how far this conversation takes us from the strict definition of the journalist as an impartial information provider and I saw a few squirms in the room at boot camp. But It’s essential that journalists re-imagine their roles in the dynamic digital environment. (The ability to constantly re-imagine her role, by the way, is now a key skill that a journalist must develop.)

When I advise community news start ups as part of my work for the Knight Foundation, we frequently discuss the qualities and skills they want in a project manager. Community organizing experience (not journalism, I am sorry to say) is usually at the top of my list.

Niles says the community that a news entrepreneur gathers is, effectively, replacing the employer news organization as the main source of support.

“When the music stops, always have a char. Always have a fall back, always have an option, always have a place to sit.”

The community is now the chair .

Related - Susan Mernit: Product development basics pay off at Oakland Local

October 01, 2010

J-Lab report: What local looks like (so far)

Probably no one has been in the field with online local news start ups longer than J-Lab and its New Voices program. So J-Lab’s new report “New Voices: What Works”  tells us a lot about the emerging community news landscape. It also marks a moment to reflect on how much has changed in five years - and how much is still changing. One key finding: “Rarely did (new sites) replace coverage that had vanished from legacy news outlets - or even aspire to. Instead, they very much added news and information where there was none before.”

I am glad J-Lab emphasized that point and I hope the replaceniks among us take note. J-Lab examined the work of 46 projects that were launched with New Voices funding. (In all the program has awarded 55 small start up grants from a pool of 1,433 applicants since 2005.)

This program was designed to foster experimentation and innovation by funding pioneers heading across an online news frontier. New Voices projects do news, but they have community at the core.

For example, NewCastleNow started as a way to shed light and provoke debate about actions of the local school board that did not seem to be in the best interest of the community. Appalachian Independent sought to provide alternative voices in a community dominated by a conservative newspaper.  Green Jobs Philly created an action-oriented site aimed at helping people connect with resources and opportunities in a green environment. Oakland Local sees itself as a capacity-builder in the community as well as a news provider.

The report notes some hard-learned lessons from the field: Notably, the high churn of citizen content contributors and the woeful lack of revenue models for most of these sites. It also says that a two-year, $25,000 grant from New Voices can help a civic minded publisher get a site up and running but it is simply not enough to bring in business expertise to create revenue or other funding streams.

The community news landscape has changed dramatically in the six years since J-Lab began the initiative.  It started a time when would-be community news publishers new little or less about the challenges of effective online engagement and the sand traps of Web development 1.0 and newspaper layoffs on any scale were unthinkable.

Today, journalists displaced from legacy news organizations are moving into online community journalism, often as publisher/entrepreneurs or as employees of startups. Other new players are getting involved in news and information, including Government 2.0 advocates and tech developers, accountability advocates such as the Sunlight Foundation, community foundations and other funders. Technology is more accessible and easy to use while experience has tempered belief that “citizen journalism” will play a major role in most news sites.

Sustainability - whether as a for-profit or not for profit - is the new frontier.

So now what? I would like to see two things happen:

1. Communities of practice need to be form to share a significant amount of learning that online community publishers and supporting organizations have produced in the past decade. Block by Block last week was one effort on my part to help that happen and discussions are continuing about how to create a more permanent network.

2. Online publishers - the citizens and the journalists - need to think about multiple revenue streams even before they launch. They may not start selling or collecting right away, but they need to have realistic plans in front of them.

I question whether these sites can become sustainable without significant business expertise (either a partner or a coach) on board from the outset. Money means multiple revenue streams. Serial grants are not going to be there and publishers who see them as a significant source of money are simply going to invent another “churn.”

Some online community and neighborhood publishers - Howard Owens at The Batavian, Cory and Kate Bergman at My Ballard (and a growing network of neighborhood sites), for example - are doing the hard work of making money and they offer examples for others joining the field.

(Disclosure: I work as a consultant to the Knight Foundation, which is a major funder of J-Lab and New Voices,  and I recently served on the evaluation team for J-Lab’s grant renewal by Knight.)


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

Get in touch with Michele at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

More Leadership at KDMC:
Leadership Seminars | Annual Leadership Reports

Support is provided by:

John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

USC Annenberg School for Communication

McCormick Foundation

Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute


@michelemclellan on Twitter

Recent Entries





Tag Cloud