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April 7, 2008

hyper-local news

Since 2005, I've served on the advisory board of the New Voices project, which supports hyper-local news. Last Friday, we met to choose a third round of grantees. The formats that we support include websites, wikis, and radio (among others). The topics range from general-interest news in small communities to specialized subjects such as climate change in Vermont. The news is always produced by people who could be called "citizens," meaning that they aren't professional journalists, government officials, or media companies--although these can be involved in various ways. Our small grants have seeded some impressive projects. For example:

♦ The Twin Cities Daily Planet in Minneapolis/St Paul (MN) is a whole newspaper-like website. Original material produced by citizens is combined with articles selected from the local professional media. It's got lots of updated content and substantial amounts of advertising revenue. It's also an association that provides training and social networks for citizen journalists.

The Forum in Deerfield, CT, came online just as the town ended its old tradition of town-meeting government. It gets 37 new citizen-generated articles per week, in a town of 4,000 residents. There's lots of online discussion. Advertising revenue is quite robust.

Vermont Climate Witness is a site where citizens can post and discuss evidence of climate change at the state level. Its central feature is a map onto which citizens can add all kinds of content.

NewCastle NOW is a community newspaper for the bedroom community of Chappaqua, NY that has 57 contributors and covers all its costs through advertising. Chappaqua, home of the Clintons, has a wealthy and highly educated population. Still, I think the grant was a great idea because the Chappaqua team is figuring out all kinds of practical strategies and tools that can be easily imitated elsewhere.

♦ Appalshop in the Kentucky Mountains trains local citizens as a Community Correspondents Corps. They produce radio segments that are broadcast on local public radio. The segments are also collected on a website and available as podcasts.

These projects are typical of a broader range of civic experimentation in America today. They are nonpartisan and they welcome diverse perspectives, yet they are not rigorously neutral and detached. They support deliberation combined with creativity and action. They are unaffiliated with major institutions such as governments, unions, and religious denominations, but loyal to particular communities. They try to develop skills and confidence even as they produce useful products on deadline. They deliberately combine politics and issues, culture and entertainment, and social networks. They are entrepreneurial and eager to mix for-profit with non-profit funding.

April 7, 2008 9:50 AM | category: Internet and public issues | Comments

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