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This wiki is running notes of the event "Block by Block," bringing together some 70 local online news community (LONC) operators from around the U.S. and Canada. In these notes, Lila LaHood, operations directof for the San Francisco Public Press, provides rough notes of a Friday afternoon breakout session to discuss opportunities for collaboration, syndication, networking or the forming an interest group or assocation for U.S. local online news communities.


SESSION IV Breakout: Networks, association, collaboration, syndication

PARTICIPANTS: Bill Densmore, RJI and Media Giraffe Project: Jason Pramas, Open Media Boston; Chuck Welch,; Lila LaHood, SF Public Press: Linda Jue, G.W. Williams Center for Independent Journalism; Ben Ilfeld, Sacramento Press; Anthony Moor, Yahoo and ONA board: Michael Stoll, SF Public Press; Anne Jonas, Miro Community; Darren Hillock,

  • Densmore: a lot of talk about ad networks. Would it be good at this time to talk about starting an association. Training? Online communities checking in with each other? At RJI for last 1 ½ year. Spent time profiling and observing online – has own typepad blog. Since 2005, it seemed to me that there would come a time when this industry (local online news communities) would benefit by some sort of trade association. Investigative News Network (NN) is a good model, however, unless they change their thinking, I don’t think they are interested in having as members every local news site. We could do a division of INN – there’s no point in recreating the wheel. Perhaps ongoing event management, but I think its in between the conferences that’s really important.

  • Jason Pramas: I’ve been part of different associations and unions. Online community news organizations are becoming a recognizable interest group, a trade – if we have enough needs and interests in common, its probably time to start talking
  • Bill: 8 or 9 interests in common. How do you efficiently facilitate collaboration instead of just having something that you pay dues to? I’m pretty clear there isn’t anyone who has stepped into this space yet. Maybe someone from a university, maybe ONA, but ONA tends to be dominated by major news orgs. Might make sense to have an independent association that is closely affiliated with ONA. i.e. Journalism That Matters holds events near to FreePress, but is not affiliated. The key questions:
    • Has the world of LONCs matured enough so that a loose association serving that constituency would be useful.
    • Is there a need for this?
    • Is anyone already filling that role?
    • Is anyone doing something related that would take this on? ONA? SPJ?

PROPOSAL: Form a subgroup of Online News Association?

  • Linda Jue: Why not just be a subsector of the Online News Association (ONA)?
  • Densmore: Is ONA’s mission close enough that it could serve this subgroup?
  • Jue: Yes.

Welch: Any pitfalls? Too much of an establshment mentality?

  • Densmore: Trying to get consensus to call these enterprises Local Online News Communities (LONCs). What are the key things such an org ought to do?
    • Organize an ad/sponsor network
    • What else?
  • Ilfelds: We’re pretty radically different from ONA. They’re all legacy media.
  • Jue: They need to change.
  • Densmore: What might be possibly in terms of networking, assoc or synd that might be helpful to this emergin class of online local news communities.
  • Moor (of Yahoo Local and ONA board member) joins discussion and is asked: Is the mission of ONA sufficiently broad so that it could serve a division of online communities? Moor is on the ONA board. He relies: “I think we would fit hand-in-glove.” ONA started in Berkeley in 2000 as a group of media affiliated digital guys, we branched out quickly. We started with a definition of who could be a member that was broadened quickly. We grew our awards so that now we offer. . . The awards we deliver are the Pulitzers of the online world. We have awards for bootstrapping small sites. We realized during the recession that we need to jump in and help train journalists on how to work as entrepreneurs. We do parachute training in a number of cities around the country — its designed for this group. What are the tools you need to do this? What’s open source? What do you have to think about? What are the business rules you need to think about? Designed for this audience. We now offer certain services that are designed for entrepreneurial startups. i.e. legal services, reduced rate insurance, etc. Last thing — you are networking at all levels of the business. If you are an online journalist — an independent or the BBC — people who do what you do are in our organization.

Downsides of ONA as seen by Moor

  • Moor: ASNE board? Great people. Not where they need to be in this mindset. ONA is right where you want to be. Knocks Moor hears about ONA:
    • The conference is too expensive. But when you compare to other conferences, it’s damn cheap. And it’s essential.
    • Membership is $150 for three years. Until they cut the price, ASNE was $600 for three years.
    • Too many legacy news media. But if you look at the board members today, they represent mostly new media.
    • Success at reaching out to smaller ops, one-man-bands, has been mixed. (Personality type attracted to the risk and individuality of that kind of biz isn’t the same as a joiner. — And, not everyone who does digital-only media is a journalist. There are other associations — Blog Her — that’s about being a woman and being public in the media online; but it’s not about being a journalist.
  • Densmore: What are bylaws regarding board members elections?
  • Moor: Any member gets to vote. Members are individuals, not entities. ONA is already about this. We will support regional meetups — weve been doing that around the country. ONA will support parachute training around the country.
  • Densmore: you could have an interest group or committee?
  • Moor: Absolutey. Our website is a place where you can go and has internally useful social networking tools.
  • Welch: How many one-man ops in leadership? Part of why a group like this would want to join a larger one would be for leadership.
  • A: I don’t know that there are too many. . . part of the reason is, if you’re a one-man-band, you’re working your ass off to keep your site going.
  • Densmore: If this group could have its own advisory board with one ONA board member, that would work.
  • Ilfelds: I think we are a part of ONA. I think ONA should be a part of this. But I’m really passionate about this group of this people in this room. And it’s narrow and different. I think we should do both. I think we should have a stake in ONA. But we’re free radicals! Need to be involved but we deserve to form an independent and interesting organization. It should be a 501c4 to lobby. The issues we deal with are different. Intellectual property, net neutrality issues. As many people who can should be part of ours like ONA, but we should have our own, too.
  • Densmore: Maybe we could form one with a close affiliation with ONA?
  • Moor: Maybe take a look at ONA first to jump start what you want to do. We’re now at the table in discussions about shield law. We’re already there, and we’re thinking about you.
  • Welch: I want to influence the direction they (ONA) take.
  • Moor: Let’s figure a way that we as a group can keep the energy in this room going.
  • Welch: By having a separate group that’s linked, you can do that.
  • Ilfelds: As many of us as can afford it, should be part of ONA and push for an advisory board.
  • Densmore: I bet ONA would give a discount to our org
  • Pramas: Could we get some kind of meeting within the conference that’s coming up and have a conversation with board members? I’m leary of two things. . . people busy, members of other orgs.
  • Jue: What’s the primary need you want to fill by forming a new org?
  • Densmore: There’s great knowledge sharing at events like this. A lightweight organization that facilitates knowledge sharing between meetings like this. It could also legitimize what online news communities are doing.
  • Pramas: A group like ONA might be able to provide some staff time.
  • Jue: But on the other side. . . there’s a lively, ad hoc, outsider thinking that can be compromised by becoming institutionalized . . . you want to preserve the creative drive that can be lost in an institution.
  • Welch: What we want to do is radicalize ONA!
  • Moor: We intentionally didn’t create a code of ethics. . . any institutional act you take is restrictive. I advise: Keep the lines of communication open amongst yourselves, in a loose way. The problem is, outside of a structure. . . a few months later, the cards are still sitting in the stack.
  • Iifelds: Block by Block was built on good will. I think we have to build (a network) out of the pureness of our own hearts. . . We’re more diverse among ourselves here and now than the people who founded ONA. . . I think we’re all more dissimilar.

Similar to Independent Press Association?

  • Pramas: We’d essentially be starting the Independent Press Association again.
  • Welch: Why is it over?
  • Jue: It had to do with mismanagement.
  • Pramas: But we’d have to do the work. Have some staff. Networking. Meetings. Policy platforms. A lot of the conversation this week has been about people partnering with majors, and about fears about being crushed by majors. For my own outlet, I don’t think we’re crushable. . .
  • Ilfelds: I hope you don’t operate under that threat. I think a lot of the people here are really confident about their beats . . . we have to continually be pushing that envelopes. Even if it starts out as a listserv. . .
  • Pramas: Would be great to have a staff person.
  • Ilfelds: Maybe a fellow takes us on as their project? Or we could form a leadership group and try to secure funding to hire someone to do it.

What about a “meetup” at ONA Oct. 27-30?

  • Densmore: What about meting at ONA in Washington Oct. 27-30?
  • Ilfelds: maybe facilitate a meetup at ONA?
  • Welch: Do we have to meet in person? Why not online?
  • Pramas: I want a face-to face for this discussion
  • Densmore: How about starting a one-page document with the intended mission of this entity? What is its mission and what does it intend to do? Let’s work on the flip-chart paper easel.

Key roles of a Local Online News Community interest group

  • Legitimize
  • Innovate
  • Represent
  • Training
  • Grow
  • Standards and best practices
  • Ethics
  • Communication
  • Catalyze
  • Collaboration (loose – focused, time limited collaboration)

  • LaHood: Why exclude? Why not set standards and let people self select?
  • Ilfelds:But its easy to get co-opted. And then we’d have to go start another organization.
  • Moor: What can start as a great idea can turn into a slog — if you focus now on the goals of what you want to get our of this and less on structure. First, get your goals and your audience together. And then if you want to affiliate with ONA or someone else later, go ahead.You don’t need to be organization creators to do networking.
  • Densmore: So the first step might be merely a discussion group.
  • Moor: Think about who are the people, more than the organizations you want to include.
  • Welch: When organizations start joining things, $500 conferences become normal.

What are the next steps?

Densmore: So focus on individual members. Next steps?

  • Moor: I’ll send you info on ONA.
  • Ilfelds: Send an e-mail to invite people from here.
  • Densmore: I’ll set up a Google group or a list.

Lila LaHood
Director of Operations and Development
SF Public Press
965 Mission St., Suite 220
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 846-5346 / @lilalahood<