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At the Baruch gathering today:

Jan Schaffer on the emergence of small-J journalism

Jan Schaffer of J-Lab opens with an overview of what she sees emerging in local online news communities based upon years of funding ideas and a current pool of over 850 applications for mini grants to launch community startups.

"To an applicant, the prevailing narrative in all of these, is that while we on the coast thing there is lots of media, people in the middle of the country do not have lots of media . . . people are finding pretty much that they don't know what is going on in their community ... they don't know when to sign up for office ... there are empty positions ... they are saying of nobody is going to cover us we are going to itselves." These sites are run by volunteers, the PTA presidents, the coaches of the soccer teams. "They carry a lot of institutional knowledge about the community . . . they cover it but they don't cover a community the same we Big-J journalism covers a community ... we are beginning to see the emergence of a small-J journalism." She says these volunteeers know and care about the community and cover it from the inside out instead of the outside in. It's not framed around conflict. There is no scorecard, she says. There are no false equilibriums -- a pro-con balancing.

As a result, later in the year, Schaffer says she is going to address the question: Is journalism broken. She says Big-J journalism is increasingly offputting to people, as is, says Schaffer, the lack of caring. There is to much he said-she said. People can't make sense of what is going on with the story.

Schaffer characterizes these often-volunteer entrepreneurs as framing what they do in terms of wanting to do what they thing a newspaper should be doing. She says their view is: "We are just trying to do what we think jouranalists would do. There is a real sense of we want to be accurate and fair and we are trying to do it right even as they are often very angry at whatever available media there is for not always doing it right." now has a budget of $840,000 and the San Diego Foundation is subsidizing their rent. "They have an infrastructure of people who are helping them get their sea legs." The model is individual grants and also large and small doners. The founding donor is now down to about $100,000 a year. The cover about six issues -- politics, issues, living in San Diego, environment, science.

Joe Bergantino asks to what extend there needs to be an obvious distinction between these two types of journalism -- Big-J from outside in and Small-J from inside out.

Ruth Ann Harnish asks if there is a database of all of these emerging citizen sites. Schaffer says they are in her 850-entry database at J-Lab.

Geanne Rosenberg talks about many of these people being from the top of their game in their region -- formerly journalists or bought-out journalists.

There is discussion about the law of non-profits selling advertising. Bill Densmore encourages the group to figure out a way to develop a white paper on the law of 501(c)3's selling advertising and the law of non-profits generally selling advertising. It may be well understood by some people, but Densmore says that it is a burning question, for example, for the group he has been part of which has just acquired a commercial AM radio station in Bennington, Vt. (WBTN) and is running it as a non-profit organization.

Howard Finberg suggests development of a common lexicon.