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."
VoiceofSanDiego.org 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 and perhaps also a common database. Geanne Rosenberg suggests that the RJI Collaboratory might be interested to help with such an idea.
Len Witt says that in Northfield, Minn., as part of the RepJ project he heads, the one key consensus in the community is that they want real journalism practiced in their community. Witt says he has moved from being less concerned with community-talking-with-each-other to the notion of sustaining high-quality jouranlism. Because that's what the community says it wants.
Josh Benton at Nieman is going to develop a set of case studies which differentiate the types of models out there.
Joe Bergantino says it would be useful to provide training for people on how to practice journalism. The whole range of jouranalism. People are sick and tired of hearing people rant. They want to sort out information. It's important to help people understand how they can do that.
David Mathieson talks about the idea of a circle. The business model changes with the size of the circle. There is participatory media, a Flickr-like model. As you close in the circle, you head to more like community newspapers. So you can start with a community site and then start to narrow down to community "citizen journalism." The closest circle, probably is investigative journalism, which is the most expensive and may require insurance.
Geanne Rosenberg would like consider focusing on journalism at the city level, regardless of the model or who is practicing it. The are all pretty much strugging right now -- they haven't figured out how to support themselves yet. There are donors, but that only goes so far. It is not feasible that donations would cover all communities -- and a danger that affluent communities would be covered more than disadvantaged communities.
Another model is RepJ. There is Spot.us. By and large the finding is that people are not paying for the news. She said she rode the commuter train with a world-renowed economist and he said: "It's just a hue free-rider problem," that's how he characterized it.
Then there is advertising. He talks about MinnPost.com. There was the idea that "Google-juice" -- would make you profitable -- from Google AdSense and the like. That hasn't happened for news sites. How do you connect back with advertising at the local community level and how do you build such an infrastructure. She turns to Richard Anderson, founder of VillageSoup.com in Rockland-Camden, Maine, and asks for his input.