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erkThis wiki is running notes by Bill Densmore of the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute on the proceedings of the event "Block by Block," bringing together some 70 local online news community (LONC) operators from around the U.S. and Canada.


Ideas starting the wrapup session

Let them know you are a small business too . . . volunteers and contributors – How to attract volunteers and keep them engaged. Don’t let them fall off the face of the earth. . . . Link to your sources; be transparent about changes; truth squading in forums.

An interest group for local online news communities at ONA?

  • Discussion in one break out about forming a interest group within the Online News Association to advance the work of Local Online News Communities (LONCs). The mission of the interest group, according to breakout co-moderator Bill Densmore, includes these words: Legitimize, Innovate, Represent, Train, Grow, Standards, Ethics, Communication, Collaboration, Network, Share ideas, Catalyze. Membership should be community based and indigenous, and be people not corporations. So an editor or reporter at join, but AOL couldn’t. NEXT STEPS: A meetup around the ONA meeting in Washington, D.C.; establish a listserv.

What is something I’ve learned over the last day and a half?=

David Boracks, North Carolina – The relationship with your advertisers can be part of your community engagement. “Putting you arm around them, not in an unseemly way from a journalistic standpoint, but as part of the community.”

Anthony Moor, Yahoo – He learned what people in the room need. Analytics, knowing about your audience, networking, and networking to advertisers, informing policymakers, training.

Speaker: “We need to help disrupt Chicago government a little bit -- a little pressure on City Hall to be more open.”

Jason Primas, OpenMedia boston – Online news communities are definitely now a community of interest. “We are definitely definable.”

Jay Rosen: “I call that entrepreneurial atomization overcome.”

Best practices I learned, assignments for someone else

  • Susan Mernit: Hope springs eternal. “I’m impressed by the passion and hopefulness of everyone who came and how much we all want to make it work . . . we really, really need each other. We are trying to do something that is really hard and we don’t come from a revenue background.” Hopes to stay together for the next Block by Block.
  • Peter Stark (CHECK): All we’ve heard about is advertising for revenue. “There is another way to generate revenue.” Users should be paying for your content and we should be thinking outside the box. “Advertising is basically an evil thing. There is an opportunity now to not shake hands with the devil . . . I hope people come up with some new ideas to do it.”
  • Rosen: “I totally agree with that. We need to find other sources besides advertising . . . directly from subscribers is one. That’s the Consumer Reports model . . . they have a great deal of power and authority. We should be thinking of that as well.”
  • Chuck Welch, Lakeland Local, Fla. -- After listening to everything he things he wants to have sponsorships on his website, not just ads, or perhaps not even ads. “We haven’t talked a whole lot about what it is that we do – the journalism that we do and the potential conflicts that advertising sales create.”
  • Lia LaHood, SF Public Press – Learned how much diversity in practice there is within the local online news community. They are doing it without advertising. “We are a minority within a minority and I would like to know how you have been dealing with the challenges of staying ad free.” The same conflicts come with foundation money and there are challenges with mission creep by changing the shape of your business to confirm to funder’s interests.
  • Jay Rosen: “There is no innocent solution. Every solution compromises you in some way.”
  • Andrew Whitacre, MIT: A lot of people learn best when they asks questions of people who know nothing about what they do. Try talking to people in your community about how they have been successful.
  • Teresa Wippel, MyEdmondNews (Washington state): Based on the advice we got from Howard Owens – She has ideas for new targets for advertising. “I am going to tell her to start with those businesses who are absolutely the most respected in the community. That’s the best advice every that it makes total sense it is going to beget other advertisers.”
  • Jay Rosen: Of these groups: “Every single element of their success is dependent on the quality of their relationship with the community . . . which is very different from metropolitan journalism.”
  • Barbara Iverson, Chicago Talks at Columbia College: Has been using Kachingle. You can try it and use it on your site. “It is an interesting alternative. If enough people put Kachingle on their sites and enough people want to support good journalism it could be worth while.”
  • Howard Owens: There are a group of passionate people here about local. The people who are aren’t here at those who really believe in online news but don’t believe local matters. Why are you doing local? “To me the local community is the foundation of democracy and over the last 40 years our local community has become less and less engaged. I believe this is about bringing about that local democracy . . . communities with locally owned businesses have higher graduate rates, are healthier, don’t be skeptical about a key part of your local community, they are the most engaged, give the most donations, support the most charities.”
  • Ben Ilfeld, Sacramento Press: “I’m doing local because I like transformative stories. The ability to change something in my life.” Academia is doing a good job of getting the word out that people should be talking about local news. “I want people to study how effective are about what we do and find which things we can innovate on.” He would like deep research done on our effectiveness.
  • Joy Mayer RJI – She is defining engagement and can we tell whether it is effective or not. @MayerJoy
  • Participant: “I’m doing it because I used to work for a newspaper and the newspapers in my community aren’t doing the job anymore the way it needs to be done.”
  • Eric John Abrahamson, Black Hills Knowledge Network: On the local level it is hard to build a new business model. There is rising demand for quality information, but an unserved market.
  • Participant: An assignment for geeks: See a way for local bloggers and producers to such in structured, relevant data that would pair nicely with a blog post or some news item or piece of content they are able to create.
  • Susan Mernit: “I’m doing Oakland Local because I want to prove that media has become an effective forum of social change.” They organized Oakland Local around food, development, environment, identity, arts, education and justice. The site is a matrix that is about a place and three or four critical issues.
  • Lisa Williams: Don’t just pay attention to the fewer, well-funded sites. Placeblogs in 2006 1 in 8 Americans were served by a local blog. Now 1 in 2. She knew they were increasing in number, she wanted to know if they were increasing and scope and ambition and the answer is yes. That is happening with advertising, engagement and then journalism.
  • Mark Katches, California Watch: “This is not going to happen overnight. It is really going to be a process. There are going to be some shooting stars among us, but most of them are going to be garage bands. … it is a process, it could be an accelerated process . . .. it starts around great content – credible, relevant content.
  • Darren Hillock, WestoftheI in Kenosha, Wis. “I feel like the thing that is really exciting me is the little story, the very very little story, which finds a home. When I was a print journalist I was always trying to find a way to lower the threshold to what was news. This medium provides the chance to tell those real little stories.”
  • Ann Galloway from Vt. Digger: “I’m not sure it is rocket science.” She would like a guide book for the next phase. A lot of the information is right here. “If you guys put together tip sheets or something more formalized it would be helpful.”
  • Rich Gordon: A class at the Medill School is trying to produce a guide like what he has described. He thinks it won’t be “best practices” per se. But they will look at the two big problems – the audience problem and the revenue problem. “Documenting what’s working and hopefully coming up with some new ideas as well.”
  • Dan O’Neill from EveryBlock, Chicago: He learned from Mike Orren that all the statistics don’t make the difference. “We’re finding that advertisers … one way of looking at it is they are not sophisticated enough.” That kind of targeting will be valuable in the future. Re data in neighborhood blogs: Everyblock has been good about collecting data but haven’t done a good job to ask bloggers to tell stories that are meaningful to human beings.
  • Roger Gafke: RJI – He learned “be transparent.” That liberates advertising and editorial strategies.
  • Stephen Franklin, Community Media Workshop – Organizations like these should partner with an NGO in your own community.

Participant: “What I really enjoy is getting to understand something new and sharing it with readers. That’s a great thrill and I do it on a daily basis.” He suggests reframing comments to “ask a question about this story” rather than make a comment.

  • Tracy Record: Comments are content.
  • Dylan Smith, Tucson Sentinel – Ads are content also. “Don’t be afraid of advertising. Just go out and try to find good advertising that your readers are going to want to see.” Rebuild the advertising/news package.
  • Anthony Moor, Yahoo Inc. – Check out – next seminar is on hyperlocal news sites, what’s working and what isn’t.

Participant: He does local online news community work because he wants to prove to other community members that they can do it too.

Samantha Abernathy: Center Square Jouranlism – She was at a small town paper in a town of 2,000 people. “I never ran out of things to write about, in a town of 2,000 people with four reporters.”

Why the accelerated decline in press trust?

  • Jay Rosen: In 1976, 47 percent of Americans told Gallup that they had a reasonable amount of confidence in the press. In 2006 that number was down to 14 percent. During that period, journalists become better educated, more elite, and more professional. So why did their trust ratings decline?

When he posed it to his classes, they say trust in all institutions declined. He doesn’t know the answer to the “trust puzzler,” as he calls it. “The people in this room are making a start on that problem because they are going back to an original connection between journalism and community and saying that’s where it starts, to the places where people live and the people they live among.”

“Somewhere between the professionalism of the press and the 2000’s, they lost the puck . . I don’t completely understand how it happened.”

  • Polly Kreisman,, Westchester County; It was when reporters became the story and the stars. “What we are trying to do now is making the people the story again.”
  • Denise Cheng at The Rapidian in Grand Rapids, Mich.: She wonders if it has to do with a failure of media literacy or a rise in skepticism and trust being more fragmented into smaller groups.
  • Peter Sklar,, Santa Barbara – He once created an online community for a software product. He tried to connect people with each other and with the physical community. What he was doing is now intersecting with all these journalists. “It’s just an accident that what I’m covering is called news.”