Posts about networkedjournalism

Towns are hyperlocal social networks with data (people that is)

I think I’ve been thinking about hyperlocal the wrong way. Like most everyone else chasing this golden fleece, I’ve defined it as content, news, a product, listings, data, software, sites, ads. It’s not. Local is people: who knows what, who knows whom, who’s doing what (and, yes, who’s doing whom). The question should be — in Mark Zuckerberg’s famous-if-I-have-anything-to-do-about-it phrase — how we bring them elegant organization. They already are a community, already doing what they want to do, already knowing stuff. How can we help them do that better?

Local is people. Our job is not to deliver content or a product. Our job is to help them make connections with information and each other.

In truth, that was, long ago, the job newspapers saw for themselves. That’s why they lived to get as many names in the paper as possible. They knew: Local is people. Newspapers gave us news that mattered to us and would be trivial to anyone else. Newspapers were small and local and served their communities — and their advertisers — better. This is very close to the real mission of a newspaper, a mission we have lost as they got bigger and more egotistical and more powerful, as they become one-size-fits-all monopolies. Except today we have new tools (and new competitors). No one can or should do it all anymore. We need to help people do it themselves. Yes, themselves.

I’m not suggesting that hyperlocal is just a social networking tool. Or just a forum. Or just a bunch of blogs. Or just a listings tool. Or just a search engine. Or just a news site. It needs to end up being all those things and more. And as I said the other day, this will not happen in one place, on one site, but will be distributed across wherever people are being people and communities communities, locally. The trick, once more, is to organize it all. Elegantly.

And this will not happen all on its own. It needs investment, motivation, leadership, shared and distributed ownership.

What exactly does this look like? I’m not sure yet. I’m working on that. But I’m getting a better idea, I think, by working from a new starting point: People, not content. People, not data. People, not software. Long ago, when I launched the GoSkokie project at Northwestern’s Medill, I told the students that towns know things I wanted them to figure out how to tap that keg of knowledge. They got partway there with (which was a model for Backfence, by the way), but that was only partway.

I now believe that he who figures out how to help people organize themselves — letting them connect with each other and with what they all know — will end up with news, listings, reviews, data, gossip, and more as byproducts.

Thoughts from the beach. Stay tuned.

The 11th principle

Washington Post editor Len Downie issues a set of 10 web principles and they’re good — as far as they go. They summarize:

These principles emphasize our commitment on the Web to around-the-clock breaking news, scoops and original Washington Post added-value journalism, in addition to multimedia and interactivity. They embody the same standards and values for our journalism on the Web as the printed newspaper. And they commit us to flexibility and change in newsroom structure and forms of journalism to adapt to the rhythms and opportunities of the Web.

To me, they leave out a vital 11th principle: They should be committed to working in new and collaborative ways with the people formerly known as readers. They should be recasting their relationship — and institution’s and each journalist’s relationship — with the community.

These principles still show that the paper thinks it is at the center. It’s all about how they operate as an institution. They need to break down their walls and recast their role in the world around them.

The local challenge

The biggest challenge facing local news organizations today is figuring out how they can gather more and produce less. That is, how can they help other people produce, so the news organizations have something worth gathering?

After trying one of everything in hyperlocal, I’ve come to believe that this will happen only by combining those various models — so people can join in however they want to — and by answering the questions: How much news will members of the community create and share? What do they need to do that? What motivates them? How can local news organizations enable and encourage them?

Hyperlocal will not, I firmly believe, happen at one site. It will work only via networks: content, commercial, social. It will work by gathering, not producing.

But I still don’t know whether it will work. We need to do a lot of development and experimentation.

That’s why I’m sad to see the long-time-coming closing of Backfence — not just for the founders, who are smart people and friends, but because we’ll now hear hand-wringing about hyperlocal, just as we did when Dan Gillmor folded his local efforts. There were particular reasons behind the fate of each. Paul Farhi acknowledged that in this roundup of the state of hyperlocal efforts.

But Farhi, as most do, just talked about the fate of local sites. I think we need to look at local networks. No one can do it all. Newspapers can’t afford to cover everything. They never could but now they can afford to cover even less. TV and radio stations are covering next to nothing themselves; they have no idea how to get very local. New local ventures, as Backfence proves and Fahri points out, are finding it tough to do it themselves. Individual bloggers don’t pretend to do it all and need help to get their stuff found and get revenue. And today there just isn’t enough stuff from all these players together to add up to a critical mass of coverage for almost every town and neighborhood in the country. We need more but we don’t yet know how to get it. I believe we can figure this out. But we have to try.

That, to me, is the state of hyperlocal. The work has barely begun.

I think we need a combination of platforms. Everything will not happen in one place; that is why, in my view, both newspaper local sites and independent, stand-alone ventures like Backfence haven’t worked. That is why lone bloggers have trouble making a business of it. They have to work together. They have to become networks that organize, enable, and monetize.

Newspapers will produce journalism, I hope. Individual bloggers will produce reporting, I hope. And people who are doing neither will want to contribute what they know to this pool of information without having to have their own sites. So we will need a combination of models and platforms: Newspapers will have local sites. Local bloggers will do their own thing. There is a need for group sites like Backfence or GoSkokie, which helped inspire it, where people can contribute. There is a need to organize all this; I hope can do that (disclosure: I’m an adviser). There is a need to support all this financially; that is where newspapers can play a crucial role, setting up ad networks and infrastructure. And then we still need to see what will motivate people to contribute what they know: money, ego, influence, what? And we need to see what help people need: technology, attention, training, support.

But nobody can do it alone. That is the real lesson of hyperlocal thus far.

I hope we don’t get discouraged when some efforts die. (And I hope we discuss this and commit to new experiments at our meeting at CUNY’s Graduate School of Journalism on networked journalism as part of my News Innovation Project in early October.)

Citizen historians

Ken Burns is urging “the YouTube generation” to take up their video cameras and interview veterans of World War II to feed an archive of personal histories at the Library of Congress. Citizen historians. He says in USA Weekend:

Thanks to a cooperative effort involving PBS and the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project, anyone can get a camera and conduct his or her own interviews of a loved one who lived through the war. All submissions will be cataloged by the library to become part of the permanent Veterans History Project collection. This is a great opportunity: When I made my Civil War documentary, participants were obviously long dead. But World War II remains very much alive in the memories of millions of Americans.

Get ’em while they’re still warm.

NewTeeVee points out the sad irony that Burns and the LoC are not having the YouTube generation use, uh, YouTube to share these videos. That makes this a rather closed, controlled effort: old media, old style, last generation. Imagine what could be loosed if they’d just use the tools of the age.

Of course, this isn’t the first effort to capture large orgal histories. Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation has been collecting the testimony of Holocaust survivors. In New York StoryCorps has been urging people to interview someone and some sometimes great radio comes out of this.

I frankly fear what Burns will do with this material. I know it’s heresy, but I find him and his work dull and dutiful: as predictable as the Ken Burns effect in iMovie.

But I do give him credit for thinking openly and publicly and inviting in more filmmakers to make more film: big pat on the back.

Indeed, think of all the journalism and history that could be gathered if we just dispatched people to take the cameras and ask people questions: Ask teachers about teaching, doctors about doctoring, children about technology. Let’s turn the cameras on our friends and family and see what learning comes out of it.

Citizen journalism meets voter activism on YouTube

Just posted over at PrezVid Chris Dodd’s call on voters to take their cameras and go up to their senators and representatives and ask them about supporting the Dodd amendment, which calls for starting the pullout from Iraq in 30 days. Then he wants them to put the videos up on YouTube.