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Envisioning the Newshare and its circuit-riding reporter: Convenor, teacher, curator, collaborator

This description accompanies an application to the Knight News Challenge. Please review the applicate and rate it.

Like a circuit-riding judge, the Newshare reporter will play a role in multiple communities defined by the physical spaces they visit. They are beat reporters with a twist – a new explicit commitment to inspire learning, participation and sharing by community members. Here a scenario about their role.

Q: Why Newshare spaces?

Simply, to use the latest developments in infotechnology to revive public discourse at the local level by creating a network of public sites (in coffee houses, bookstores, community centers, senior centers, country stores, libraries, for instance, even in newsbars or a subway-station platform) where teams of citizen journalists assisted by professional journalists create hyperlocal newsWebpapers – can we call them Newswebers?

Q: How do they work?

Imagine a typical cafe on the main street of New England town, but it could just as well be in an urban neighborhood or in a retail strip on the edge of a suburban subdivision. Let’s say the coffee house is named Fuel – as in Fuel for Thought – and it’s run by a young couple who believe they will best prosper by making their coffee house a place to exchange ideas and news of the day. The Newshare reporter will help take the natural gossip and give it factual basis.

What do they look like?

In the storefront window of our imagined coffee house is a large – say 27” -- flat screen monitor on which is displayed the local Newshare news site being produced within that very coffee house. People passing by stop to watch and read the latest happenings in their community. When they reach their home or office -- or come into the café with their laptop -- they can access that page – and the links to the complete reports. As well, they can add their comments and observations.

Mixing the hyperlocal stream

What they see is a package of headlines, photos and nutgrafs. There are three or four such packages that rotate onto that screen every 10 minutes. This storefront screen is the equivalent of the old town crier. The news of the community comes from the circuit reporter, and from Newshare members – some of whom have earned rights to contribute to the continuous Twitter-like stream. Public officials, businesses and NGOs contribute to the stream – appropriately labeled. The Newshare reporter watches the stream, commenting on its contents and advising its community contributors.

On this particular day, the topic of one of the news packages is a proposed charter school that challenges the practices of the public school and even threatens the public high school’s financial support from the state. It turns out that Newshare broke the story about the charter school because of its many sources within the community, who have nowhere else to turn since the regional newspaper cut back its coverage of outlying towns.

Supporters of the charter school want their kids to have a more intensely academic program, with a concentration of arts and environmental studies – subjects trimmed back at the public school; opponents characterize the charter school as an elite private school at public expense. There are numerous blog comments on the articles associated with this issue.

Curating from a corner

Inside our coffee house, the Newshare setup is in a back corner. There is a table where Newshare collaborators gather. A single professional journalist is on call this morning, on her rounds of Newshare cafes in the district. She is joined by a Newshare collaborator – a night-shift worker at a local hospital who is spending a couple of hours working on the charter-school story because his child wants to attend the new school.

Using Skype, he’s recording an audio interview with the regional school superintendent. A small camera captures the scene and audio and streams the discussion live to the the Newshare community web video channel. Later, the hospital worker will edit the audio he captured with Audacity software and wrap it into a narrative account.

The Newshare reporter’s role is to empower the hospital worker to turn her concerns into meaningful dialog, to elicit and convey facts – to build a bridge between advocacy and helpful debate where none exists today – to find a middle ground.

With our journalist is a core of citizen newshounds, adding items to the Newshare Newsweber. Nearby, people are leaning over to add their comments to the process, or simply to watch. Their remarks and observations become part of the flowing commentary. Mounted to the wall behind the Newshare desk is another newscreen. Around the news table conversations – and at times, debates – are going on.

At the desk, the journalists are assembling queries to be posted on Newshare, and editing and posting submissions for the full Fuel site. The copy, video, photos, text have either been collected at the coffee house or sent in by Newshare correspondents. Those able to post material have earned the privilege, having been trained in the etiquette and ethics of news presentation much as citizen programmers at the local LPFM station, with whom the Newsweber site is affiliated and for whom it provides news content, are trained in broadcast protocols.

The Newsweber is not a static information-on-a-page format. It uses a newly created social networking design called Avenue to create a community of news sharing, letting the ferment of ideas and news generate a vivid sense of engagement and participation in civic affairs that is reflected in the active, flowing current of news on the Newsweber.

But the Fuel coffee house is not the only location within the town for a Newshare node. There is one in the high school, local library and community college branch, bookstore, an information kiosk set up at the commuter rail station, and even at a village lunch counter.

By the way, the issue of the charter school has not yet been resolved. There is a public meeting this coming week between the school committee and the alternative school proponents. Newshare will be there – and as a result, so will the larger community. They'll be able to read about it and watch video online, at the rail station, or library, at the community center, passing by the coffee shop window, or coming into Fuel to join in further conversation.

What web platform does Newshare use?

The Newshare sites might use a new Web social networking Web design, Avenue, developed for the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute at the Missouri School of Journalism specifically for news sites.

Roles of the Newshare staff journalists

To help develop news coverage, to curate content quality, and to train citizen journalists, employs a “circuit-riding” professional journalist.

This position requires an experienced journalist with a strong reportorial background; a passion for local news and a keen news sense; a willingness – and preferably a demonstrated ability – to work collaboratively and to train and guide fellow journalists; and familiarity with multiplatform and multisource news presentations in an online environment.

The four principal responsibilities of the staff journalist are as follows:


The basic function of the “circuit-riding” Newshare staffer is to act as a catalyst for creating the Newshare news medium. He or she would be in residence for three hours twice a week at each Newshare site he or she was responsible for. In the case of the Berkshires, for instance, thew staffer would be responsible for four sites. During the regularly scheduled site sessions, the reporter would confer with the citizen journalists who are the core of the news gathering operation. They would discuss developing stories, address any problems, brainstorm new ideas and formats, and develop a timetable for the major elements of information to be presented on the Newsweber. Of course, these regular Newshare sessions welcome anyone who has been following the news and wants to participate.

The staffer would also convene periodic Town Hall sessions at Newshare locations for an open discussion of local issues. These Town Meetings would be, of course, presented on the Newshare NewsWeb.


The Newshare staffer serves as a guide and mentor – as well as a recruiter -- for the corps of citizen journalists. He/she will instruct the members of Newshare in the techniques of creating news content, -- basically, how to be a reporter and verify information -- how to post it, how to abide by professional guidelines and standards, including how to seek out and report news. In short, each Newshare site becomes a mini media classroom.


As the bureau chief – so to speak – for the Newshare network, the Newshare staffer is also responsible for the quality of the Newsweb content – and in that sense acts as a copy editor – and a teacher of content standards -- to make sure that posted items comply with ethical guidelines and accuracy of expression and fact. That means that Newsweb content passes through a review process – being held in a queue until approved. Once trained, the citizen journalist team can make the call.


Finally, the Newshare circuit rider is also a member of a more general communications mandate. First, the journalist is a collaborator with local bloggers,and online observers, independent radio stations, independent print publications – so that the Newshare Newsweb becomes a neural information node. We should remember that in the effort to keep the public informed competition should be kept in perspective. Every available resource has to be commandeered for a larger purpose – that of preserving an informed populace. And second, the Newshare journalist seeks out and invites input and participation from those community constituencies that may have been marginalized and have no other voice – immigrants, the poor, the elderly, for example -- and thereby gives them a chance to have their insights and concerns join the communal consciousness.