News for Digital Journalists

Posts tagged with: Local

April 23, 2010

Philadelphia journalism collaborative effort spurred by J-Lab report

On April 21, the William Penn Foundation announced its plans to make investments to develop an independent journalism collaborative in Philadelphia. This was based on recommendations made in J-Lab’s new report, Exploring a Networked Journalism Collaborative in Philadelphia (a study commissioned by the foundation).

Philly’s daily papers have fallen on hard times—in fact, today is the deadline for opening bids to buy Philadelphia Newspapers Inc., which declared bankruptcy in February.

Nevertheless, J-Lab says the nation’s sixth-largest city is home to a diverse media ecosystem that could, with some coordination, help local residents stay informed about (and participate in) city life.

According to J-Lab, Philadelphia is “ripe for a networked journalism collaborative.” This could be “anchored by an independent news site that would both curate and aggregate some of the excellent reporting originating in many of the city’s new media sites as well as provide original reporting on a half-dozen key topics and serve as the connective tissue for the partners. This should be a supplemental, rather than comprehensive, news enterprise.”

Under the umbrella of a collaborative with a central web site, Philly-area independent journalists could generate original news and issues coverage on six to eight key issues where coverage currently lags. It also would enable city officials, agencies, community organizations, nonprofits, and others to share their information.

Read the full report.

June 14, 2010

Neighbors Online: Pew report on digital media’s role in local community

The internet’s reputation for fostering alienation and weakening community ties may be an undeserved bad rap. According to a new report from the Pew Internet and American Life project, one in five Americans use digital tools to communicate with neighbors and monitor community developments.

News organizations, community organizers, journalists, bloggers, and others should read Neighbors Online for current context and ideas on using the web to build local community.

Here are some highlights…

  • Local alerts. 22% of all US adults (28% of internet users) have opted to receive text or e-mail alerts about traffic, school events, weather warnings, crime, and other key local issues. Except for crime alerts, rural dwellers are just as likely as urban dwellers to sign up for local alerts.
  • Local blogs. While individual hyperlocal blogs often attract a small readership, taken as a genre they are surprisingly popular. 14% of internet users (11% of US adults) reported read a blog dealing with community issues in the past year.
  • Neighborhood e-mail lists. About 7% of US adults subscribe to an ongoing neighborhood e-mail list.
  • Face-to-face still most important. Nearly half of those surveyed reported talking face-to-face with neighbors about community issues in the last year. Telephone is another key channel for neighbors communicating.

August 10, 2010

J-Lab’s new Philadelphia Enterprise Reporting Fund

A new experimental fund will help journalists in the Greater Philadelphia region develop public affairs stories and demonstrate the possibilities for collaborative newsgathering and distribution.

The Philadelphia Enterprise Reporting Fund will award ten $5,000 grants to support reporting projects. This program is funded by the William Penn Foundation and administered by J-Lab (a project of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation). J-Lab recommended establishing this fund in an April 2010 report.

Here’s what’s eligible, and how to apply…

According to J-Lab, eligible projects must:

  • Focus on the City of Philadelphia and the eight-county Greater Philadelphia Region. (Harrisburg- and Trenton-based projects focused on the Philadelphia region also are eligible.)
  • Foster an open exchange of journalistically sound information.
  • Include enterprise reporting that involves investigative or explanatory journalism, watchdog or accountability journalism, or computer-assisted reporting.
  • Enhance public understanding of important city or regional issues
  • Engage in solutions around public affairs problems and/or reveal new information.
  • Be published/aired within six months of funding.


Learn more and apply now.

Application deadline: Sept. 16, 5pm ET

One rich resource of current data about Philadelphia that could aid these projects is Temple University’s Metropolitan Philadelphia Indicators project, which released its most recent Where We Stand annual report in July.

Learn more about how reporters and news orgs interested in civic engagement could use such data to create a community dashboard—an approach that can complement traditional narrative storytelling.

September 01, 2010

OpenBlock launches demo site for Boston

On Aug. 26, the OpenBlock project launched its first demo site, serving the Boston area in partnership with the Boston Globe.

This project is the open-source successor to EveryBlock, a Knight News Challenge-funded project that was acquired by MSNBC one year ago. OpenBlock is “an open-source software initiative to bring hyperlocal news and data capabilities to news organizations of all sizes.”

Here’s how this project could benefit all news organizations…

OpenPlans (a nonprofit technology organization focused on civic engagement and open government) is developing OpenBlock. In June, Information Today reported: “Now, through three interrelated Knight-funded projects, OpenPlans is, according to Nick Grossman (the company’s director of civic works) aiming to ‘take [EveryBlock’s] source code and make it better and easier to use, so that other online news organizations can build similar sites in their towns.’”

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation funded its OpenBlock Initiative through three grants totaling $458,625, to:

  • “Streamline and extend the EveryBlock code base and build a community of open source software developers and newspapers who can use and improve the software.”
  • “Install and test OpenBlock at The Columbia Tribune (Columbia, MO), and add new features in the context of a smaller newspaper.”
  • “Install and test OpenBlock at The Boston Globe, to add new features in the context of a larger newspaper.”

The Boston OpenBlock demo site is fairly minimal so far. The OpenBlock Project blog says that there are “plenty of known rough spots. The home page map doesn’t have popups yet, the theme could use work, and there are some broken pages. And there are no maps on pages other than the front page.”

News organizations of all sizes should keep an eye on this project, explore the test sites as they develop, and offer input to the development team. Such participation will help make make OpenBlock a more useful, practical tool for news organizations. And perhaps a lucrative tool, as well—OpenBlock is an example of a structured information service that could support the news business model through new kinds of data-supported products.

September 13, 2010

19 communities win Knight grants for local news, information

Local news and information will get a big boost in 19 communities thanks to $3.14 million in new grants from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s Community Information Challenge initiative.

These grants are matching funds in partnership with locally focused foundations in each community.

More about this year’s winning projects…

Among the winners and projects are:

Other winning communities and regions include Pittsburgh (PA), Dubuque (IA), the Black Hills region (SD), San Antonio (TX), El Paso (TX), Austin (TX), Seattle (WA), Alaska, Tulsa (OK), south Florida, Youngstown (OH), Boston (MA), Cleveland (OH), and West Anniston (AL). See project summaries.

Bring home one of these grants. The Knight Foundation will again accept applications for the Knight Community Information Challenge from Jan. 17 to March 7, 2011. So start talking now to local community foundations—you might find a partner foundation willing to contribute funds, and Knight will match their contribution.

In addition, foundation leaders can register for Knight’s fourth annual Media Learning Seminar—a gathering to discuss how foundations can support local news and information needs and opportunities. Feb. 28 - March 1, 2011, Miami.

December 01, 2010

Could Chicago-based mobile civic engagement experiment be model for news organizations?

A project that invites Chicagoans into a cell phone text message-based dialogue about alternative forms of transportation offers an intriguing glimpse into how news organizations could engage their communities…

The “Give a Minute” initiative now underway in Chicago describes itself as offering citizens an “opportunity to think out loud…and to enter into dialogue with change-making community leaders.” The idea is to raise a simple challenge (in this case, what would encourage residents to walk, bike or take public transportation more) and then invite users to text in their suggestions or enter them on a web site. Community leaders then review and respond to the best of them.

The effort reportedly garnered 1,000 responses in its first two weeks. And now the Give a Minute initiative, which was created by the media design firm Local Projects as part of CEOs for Cities US initiative, with funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation and others, is planning similar projects for New York, Memphis and San Jose.

In a detailed writeup in an online-only N.Y. Times column, writer Allison Arieff describes what she sees as the project’s potential to build community activism around this simple technology—raising the all-too familiar art of civic complaints into actionable, crowdsourced ideas that can be leveraged into consensus-driven solutions.

What could news organizations learn from or do with this kind of effort? For one thing, the potential benefits of using basic, widespread technology, such as text messaging, to better engage communities.

But more than that, could news organizations use an approach like this to serve as much-needed focal points for civic conversations around important community issues? Could they help build better communication between citizens and their local government and other civic leaders? Or foster networking between engaged citizenry and those local organizations that are already trying to do something about local problems?

Notes Arieff: “People are turning inward to their own communities ... people increasingly understand that they can effect change in their own backyard, block, and neighborhood.” Perhaps news organizations can tap into this impulse as well, fostering not only civic engagement but a newly recharged role for themselves in the lives of their communities.

January 18, 2011

Knight Community Information Challenge now accepting applications

News entrepreneurs are finding that support can come in many ways that news organizations traditionally have not explored—including partnering with community foundations…

If you would like to launch a local news or information venue or project, now is the time to find a community or place-based foundation willing to support your project. Then have your foundation partner apply for the Knight Community Information Challenge. This five-year grant contest from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation designed to engage community and place-based foundations in meeting local information needs.

Applicants must be a US community or place-based foundation. Projects must meet a local information need, and the local foundation must match Knight’s investment.

Apply now!
Deadline: March 7

In addition to grants, this program provides access to mentoring and other resources—including “circuit riders” like Placeblogger founder Lisa Williams who recently explained what makes a good community information project.

March 08, 2011

Knight Community Info Toolkit: Help make your community stronger with better info

News organizations have always helped local communities function. Now they have new tools for understanding their role in the local information ecosystem, and for helping to make their communities stronger…

Last week the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation released the first draft of its Community Information Toolkit. This document outlines steps that news organizations and other community leaders can take to gauge the health of their local media ecology, create a local “information scorecard,” identify opportunities for using local information more effectively, and to start to address local challenges through more robust information.

This toolkit is a joint project of the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy and The Monitor Institute, with support from the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

While the toolkit wasn’t specifically created for local news organizations, it’s clear that news organizations can help muster local support for this project and take an active role in both putting this toolkit to work and being part of the solutions it generates.

The toolkit includes:

  • Getting Started Template: This helps you identify a set of local issues and brainstorm how information influences them.
  • Community Information Checklist: This research tool evaluates your local information supply and infrastructure. It assesses local Internet access, information about government services and activities, digital support in libraries and schools, and civic intermediaries.
  • Community Information Scavenger Hunt: This form lists several tasks that ask community volunteers to access, find, use, and share certain pieces of information. Volunteers must record whether they were able to complete these tasks, which sources they used, how difficult they found this process, and what they learned.
  • Community Information Scorecard: This visualization tool helps you understand, interpret, see, and communicate the responses to the Checklist and Scavenger Hunt. It converts the raw data into color-coded tiles rating the strength of each part of your community’s information system.
  • Planning for Action Template: This planning frame helps transform the lessons from the other parts of the toolkit into an actionable plan to work toward specific local solutions.

The News for Digital Journalists blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

March 25, 2011

Everyblock shifts direction, adds local discussion to data

Earlier this week Adrian Holovaty announced the first major redesign of his local data service Everyblock. This site is shifting from being a one-way news feed of local data, to becoming “a platform for discussion around neighborhood news.”

More about these new features…

In addition to adding a big “post” button to pages, Holovaty notes: “We’ve unveiled several new features to encourage positive community behavior. Each user contribution to our site has a ‘thank’ button next to it that lets you give positive reinforcement to the original poster for sharing information. We’ve built a lightweight neighborhood honors reputation system that rewards people for making contributions, as determined by their neighbors’ thanks and a number of other factors.”

Also, intriguingly, Everyblock now allows users to “follow” places, much the way Twitter users can follow other Twitter users.

GigaOm’s Mathew Ingram observed: “I think EveryBlock’s change of heart was a necessary one. I’ve argued in the past that whatever value local news sites have comes not from the data, but from the people at the heart of that community—which is why even poorly designed services that are built by the people in a town or neighborhood are almost always better than services that are set up by companies with a one-size-fits-all approach. History is littered with examples of well-meaning services such as Backfence and Bayosphere that never really connected with the communities they were supposed to serve.”

It seems to me that Everyblock might want to try to integrate more fully with Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Yelp, and Flickr, since those services are where so much discussion about community happens. But it would be hard to do that in an automated way. Once a service moves toward hosting public discussion, it really seems to need the hand of a community manager to get the posts flowing, and to keep the flames down. Everyblock will also have to guard against inevitable spamming of its system.

Because of the need of human staff effort to support thriving community engagement services, I’m skeptical whether these new discussion features will last at Everyblock.  But a strategy more based on curating conversations that happen on other sites and bringing that content into Everyblock might be at least partially automatable and thus more sustainable. And there’s room for Everyblock to move in that direction.

Of all these new Everyblock features, I think the most promising is the ability to follow places, and to receive that information as a feed or via e-mail. I live in Oakland, CA—which is just across the bay from San Francisco. SF is an Everyblock city; Oakland is not. But Oakland does have the lovely Oakland Crimespotting interactive map by Stamen Design. I would love to be able to “follow” a neighborhood or area on that map and have it update me with new incidents.

The News for Digital Journalists blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

April 06, 2011

Social networks and communities: new report offers useful insight for journalists

Social networking—whether enabled by technology, or not—is a key tool that helps people accomplish just about anything. Understanding how social networks function also can help journalists better engage communities. A new report explores how social networks are affecting communities…

The report, Connected Citizens, was created by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Monitor Institute. It explores what emerging social networks mean for community change, as well as how philanthropy can support social networks that help strengthen communities or achieve positive social change.

Here’s what Knight means by “network” in this report: “A group of people who are connected through relationships. ...We are focusing on loose networks of individuals that are coproducing information, knowledge and action; integrating online and offline strategies; and, bridging differences across communities. We are looking at both networks that are place-based and those that cut across geographies.”

Although this report isn’t specifically about professional journalism or the news business, the act of sharing news is a core part of what social networks do. In that sense, learning more about how social networks function is a way to get back to the roots of journalism and news—and to spot new opportunities for the future.

Understanding how social networks create, use, and share news also can help redefine what a news hook is, especially for local media.

This Knight report offers insight that might help the next generation of journalists and other news producers get past the ingrained newsroom cliche of “If it bleeds, it leads”—an approach that succeeds in getting attention, but also tends to hurt communities if overdone.

UPCOMING WEBINAR: April 20, 2 pm EDT. Learn more about this report and ask questions. Speakers include: Mayur Patel (Knight Foundation), Diana Scearce (Monitor Institute), Conor White-Sullivan (Localocracy), and Dana Jackson (Making Connections Louisville). Register now.

The News for Digital Journalists blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

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