News for Digital Journalists

Posts tagged with: Communities

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.

July 02, 2010

Pew research: Internet is mostly good for society, community

The Internet has been getting a bad rap for allegedly destroying the fabric of society and community—but new research from Pew and Elon University suggest that the social benefits of internet use will far outweigh the negatives over the next decade…

For The Future of Social Relations report, researchers from the Pew Internet & American Life Project and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center surveyed nearly 900 internet experts and other internet users. (Disclosure: I was one of the experts surveyed, and I am quoted in the report.)

The results were most, but not completely, positive about the impacts of the internet on social and community life. In all, 85% or respondents agreed with this statement: “In 2020, when I look at the big picture and consider my personal friendships, marriage and other relationships, I see that the internet has mostly been a positive force on my social world. And this will only grow more true in the future.”

This research indicates the importance of recognizing how people’s sense of society, community, and connection has been changing because of the internet. This could be especially important for geographically-focused news organizations (like local papers, TV, or radio) to recognize and reflect in their coverage. Understanding what members of your community have in common besides geography—and following the patterns of how and where they’re connecting online, and with whom—could help you provide news that continues to be uniquely relevant and compelling.

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.

November 11, 2010

UNC proposes news biz game plan for 2014

On Friday Nov. 12, the University of North Carolina is presenting a paper that aims to show news organizations a potential path for renewal in the digital age. Here are some of the highlights from The News Landscape in 2014: Transformed or Diminished? Formulating a Game Plan for Survival in the Digital Age...

UNC’s game plan for news orgs has three complementary strategies:

Shedding legacy costs as quickly as possible. “In many newspapers, printing and distribution account for almost half of expenses… [But] few (if any) newspaper publishers have a game plan or timeline for transitioning a majority of their print readers to online delivery. ...The tipping point occurs when a well-defined and sizable segment of the population begins to organize daily life so as to take full advantage of the disruptive option. Staying on top of and ahead of this digital migration of readers is a strategic imperative for all traditional news organizations.”

Regain pricing leverage by recreating community online. “Media companies who survive a disruptive innovation understand that there are basically two ways to gain pricing leverage with advertisers. One is to build a mass audience and provide reach (“eyeballs”). The other is to provide access to a highly desirable (affluent or young, for example) community or a well-defined one (that can be targeted along geographic or political boundaries). ...Part of the issue is that newspapers, especially, have thought of themselves as reaching a “general interest” audience, instead of a “special” interest group.

“...[Newspapers could totally reorient reporting: [for example,] there would not be one A-1 story on the current health care debate, but instead several, aiming at the special concerns of those various communities.”

Building new online advertising revenue streams. “Unless newspapers can replace the loss of whole categories of print advertising with new online advertising revenue, then the ambitions of news organizations will be limited.”

December 14, 2010

Newsroom cafe: Journal-Register Co. goes web-first with bold approach to community engagement

A daily paper from Northwestern Connecticut is now serving coffee and pastries along with news, in an effort to increase community engagement.

This week, the Register Citizen opened a new newsroom in Torrington, CT. The 13,000 square foot facility features the Journal-Register Company’s first newsroom café...

The newsroom café is open to the public and serves coffee and pastries. It also offers:

  • Free public wifi
  • Public access to more than 120 years of newspaper archives
  • Classroom/meeting space with video conferencing capabilities
  • Dedicated space and workstations for the public as part of The Register Citizen’s Community Media Lab.
  • And more...


While the newsroom café concept may be new—or at least novel—in the US, it’s been happening at least since 2009 in the Czech Republic. The New York Times reported in 2009 on a chain of Czech news coffeeshops operated by PPF group.

Eric Pfanner of the Times wrote:

“A free press is a relatively recent development in the Czech Republic, but it has not been immune from the travails the newspaper industry has faced in more-developed markets. Dozens of papers have been shut down in recent months as the economic crisis has deepened. Yet PPF, a firm based in Amsterdam with banking, insurance and media holdings in Central and Eastern Europe, sees an opportunity in the turmoil.

“PPF is starting small, investing less than 10 million, or $13.4 million, in the project for now. It plans [as of 2009] to begin publishing seven weekly newspapers and about 30 web sites serving four distinct regions of the country.

“...If the sites and newspapers are successful ...the goal is to add scores of similar ones across the Czech Republic—and perhaps beyond, in other Central and Eastern European countries.”

The news café idea occurred simultaneously—and independently—to David Cohn, founder of the journalism crowdfunding service Spot.us. In a 2009 blog post, he wrote:

“Aside from being a revenue stream (coffee, bagels, etc) it would create a deeper connection between the news organization and the public. Could story tips be garnered this way? Perhaps it would be a great way to meet and encourage citizen journalism partners. Could a news café take on MediaBistro in the workshops/training department? Could the space eventually be used to organize civilized public debates? Is this something that could be franchised and repeated in the following cities: San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, New York, etc?”

Good luck to the Register Citizen’s new venture. And take it easy on the espresso.

February 22, 2011

Disaster news prep: Google Person Finder

When a disaster strikes, the first thing that people usually want to know is: Where are the people I care about? Some news organizations step up to this task with forum or bulletin-board style tools. But there’s another option from Google that might be easier to implement and even more useful: Person Finder.

Google just launched the Christchurch Person Finder to help locate people affected by the recent New Zealand earthquake. This is a web application (“web app”)—an interactive, task-focused service that’s delivered via a web browser. It allows users to search for, or provide information about, specific people in the affected region.

This tool is based on Google Person Finder, a free searchable missing person database toolset. It’s open source software running on the Google App Engine platform, and it’s available in several languages.

A few key advantages of this approach:

  • Mobile friendly. Person Finder works well and quickly, even on feature phones with low-bandwidth connections—a key consideration in disaster-stricken region, since limited cell access is often the first communication system to get running after a disaster.
  • Widget/gadget. People can generate a widget version of your person finder, which can be embedded on any web site—thus increasing its visibility and reach. You can also add it to your site as a Google Gadget.
  • Google may build it for you, which saves time and effort—and which may help avoid public confusion. (Explained below).


According to the FAQ for this toolset, “Google engineers built Google Person Finder in response to the January 2010 Haiti earthquake in order to help those affected by the earthquake connect with their loved ones. In 2005, during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, multiple websites created missing person registries, so families and aid workers had to search in multiple places when looking for information. Google Person Finder addresses this problem by accepting data from other registries in a common format and searching over all the data.”

How to get started: It’s possible to roll your own Person Finder by cloning this tool’s open source code base and running your own instance of it. If you want to brand this service with your news organization, this is what you’d have to do.

However, a good first step (especially in an emergency situation) is to ask Google to generate an instance of Person Finder related to your disaster. E-mail your request to the Person Finder Google group. Google can set it up in a few hours, and then you can simply add it to your site. This approach make this service more visible and reduces the work required by your developers. It won’t have your branding, but the public goodwill this type of effort can generate in an emergency may prove more valuable.

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

February 25, 2011

White papers push broadband, local online hubs as key to government transparency

Better broadband access for core community institutions and smarter models for local online information hubs - those are among the keys to greater government transparency and accountability, according to two new white papers released today by the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy.

The white papers, fourth and fifth in a series from Knight and the Aspen Institute, are designed to help implement recommendations made by the commission in its “Informed Communities” report issued in 2009.

In Six Strategies for More Open and Participatory Government, the authors call for expanding efforts to support greater adoption of broadband Internet access services and devices, creating opportunities for developing public goods apps, and educating citizens about e-government tools, among other proposals.

Another white paper, Creating Local Online Hubs: Three Models for Action, explores an array of successful existing online hubs and suggests three general approaches to such services that best offer citizen access to government and community information.

A three-hour roundtable discussion with the authors and two-dozen high-level participants accompanied the release of the report; an archived video of the roundtable is to be made available. You can also follow discussion on Twitter via hashtag #knightcomm.

For more insight on the Knight Foundation “Informed Communities” report, also check out a special series on civic engagement by Amy Gahran in our News Leadership 3.0 blog.

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.

October 10, 2011

Video: FCC hearing on Community Info Needs

On Oct. 3, the FCC held a public hearing to explore the recent report Information Needs of Communities: The Changing Media Landscape in a Broadband Age.

Video of this session is now available online…

The panel featured FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, Commissioner Michael Copps, Chief of FCC Media Bureau William Lake and report author Steve Waldman, They heard testimony from a panel of media experts on the future of U.S. media. Journalists, academics, businesses, and the public discussed how to innovate and strengthen journalism and other forms of newsgathering to meet community needs and support democracy.

Genachowski noted three key findings of the report:

  • Opportunities. new tech is creating a new world of opportunity to empower journalists and citizens, and to keep the public informed
  • Disruption. The internet and economic pressures have had a disruptive impact on local newsgathering. “There’s an emerging gap in local news reporting that’s not yet been fully filled by digital media.” FCC is moving forward on report’s recommendation for transparency by broadcasters, and to remove obstacles to nonprofit news organizations.
  • Universal broadband access. “This is an economic imperative for the U.S.,” said Genachowski. “Broadband is a bright spot in the current economy.” He noted broadband offers benefits for for both new and existing businesses, including the news business. Larger broadband audiences will better support the business models for all kinds of news and information ventures.


Waldman noted: “We don’t have a content crisis; we don’t have a news crisis; we have an accountability reporting crisis.”

Watch the video.

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