J-Lab Report on Community News Projects

Community News Sites should engage their users, use quickly social media tools, tease out contributors rather than train citizen journalist in advance, according to a new J-Lab report released this week.

I found this J-Lab Report, which culled lessons learned from five years of funding community news startups, to be informative and worth reading. If you are thinking about becoming a news entrepreneur, take the time to read this report. It’s about 36-pages long.

The following is an excerpt of the press release and a link to the report:

The report, “New Voices: What Works,” documents the track record of 48 community news projects launched since 2005. These projects were created with small grants from J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism at American University. The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation funded the grant program.

“One of the most important contributions of all of the New Voices community news sites is not that they replaced news coverage that has been constricted – rather they added coverage that did not exist before, not even in the heyday of American journalism,” said Jan Schaffer, J-Lab director, in releasing the report.

“The report shows that New Voices projects have added perspectives to community debate while serving as important experiments,” said John Bracken, Knight Foundation’s director of digital media.

Among the report’s 10 key takeaways:

  • Engagement, not just content, is key: Robust and frequent content begets more content but it’s the engagement with users that make sites successful.
  • Citizen journalism is a high-churn, high-touch enterprise: Citizen journalism math is working out this way: Fewer than one in 10 of those you train will stick around to be regular contributors. It’s better to nurture frequent site visitors to generate content.
  • Social media is ushering in a new era for community news startups. Sites that build on friend networks are launching with lightning speed.
  • Sweat equity counts for a lot: Projects built on the grit and passion of the founders have created the most promising models for sustainability.
  • Community news sites are not a business yet. Income from grants, ads, events and other things falls short, in most cases, of paying staff salaries and operating expenses.

The New Voices program, launched in 2005, awards start-up funding to news entrepreneurs to create community news sites. Through 2010, 55 projects were funded from a pool of 1,433 applicants. The report examines the 46 projects funded from 2005 through 2009. Nine other sites funded this year will launch over the next six months.

Go here to view or download the report.

The News Entrepreneurial Journey

KDMC alums celebrate grants for investigative startups, offer tips on the entrepreneurial journey

 

Michele McLellan writes: As foundations step into a larger role in supporting investigative news, two journalists who left traditional newsrooms in 2009 are helping start new watchdog organizations in 2010. Laura Frank of The Rocky Mountain Investigative News Network and Mc Nelly Torres of The Florida Center for Investigative Reporting share what they’ve learned so far on the start up road.

 

Congratulations to my colleague, KDMC fellow and dear friend Laura Frank on her latest accomplishment: winning the Knight Community Information Challenge Grant.

Thanks Michele McLellan for the support. Read more here.


Chronicles of a News Entrepreneur Part II

From an Idea to Reality: Producing Investigative Journalism in Florida

Last week, the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting became the first nonprofit watchdog in the Sunshine state to receive a $100,000 grant from the Oklahoma City-based Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

FCIR is the nation’s first nonprofit, digital and bilingual investigative journalism organization.

News of our grant circulated rapidly through industry blogs and social media.

But FCIR’s success in fundraising didn’t happen overnight. In fact, we have worked for more than a year to grow FCIR from its seed as a simple idea to a viable journalism organization.

That idea was to meet a growing demand in Florida by producing investigative journalism about one of the nation’s most populous and diverse states. To accomplish this, we’d use the latest technologies and storytelling techniques to connect with diverse audiences throughout the state.

As we brainstormed and consulted with colleagues across the country, we determined that we needed to be different from other nonprofit news organizations.

Why? Because Florida serves as the gateway to Latin America and the Caribbean and its communities are among the most complex and diverse. FCIR needed to appreciate that complexity and reflect that diversity. For that reason, we made an early commitment to produce journalism in both English and Spanish.

Among our initial tasks was to recruit a strong, diverse board of directors and an advisory committee. Each of our board members brings a unique skill set, which includes journalism, management, nonprofit administration, digital media and law. As we grow, so will our board and advisory committee.

In addition to an accomplished and committed board of directors, FCIR needed a home. The International Media Center, a nonprofit affiliated with Florida International University’s school of journalism and mass communication, system offered us that.

IMC has an impressive, 20-year history of training journalists in Latin America and the Caribbean. It is a perfect marriage. FCIR’s partnership with IMC will allow us to create a substantive internship program that will help train the next generation of investigative reporters in Florida.

Yet FCIR will never lose sight of its mission to be a content provider of investigative journalism. For that reason, FCIR has established a network of ethnic and traditional media outlets that will publish FCIR’s journalism and at times collaborate on projects.

By collaborating with English- and Spanish-language media, FCIR can reach Florida’s diverse audiences on all available platforms– online, broadcast, radio, print and mobile.

What’s more, FCIR’s partnership with the First Amendment Foundation in Tallahassee will foster collaboration with citizen watchdogs around the state. We believe that engaging the public is crucial to make this new model of investigative journalism successful.

Although FCIR began as a simple idea, it has grown into a public- and foundation-supported nonprofit organization with an important mission — to work in Florida’s public interest by exposing corruption, waste and miscarriages of justice.

Note: FCIR is seeking watchdog projects from Florida journalists to fund this year. Deadline is Sept. 30. Proposals can be e-mail to watchdogfund@fcir.org.

Mc Nelly Torres is the associate director and reporter of the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting and a board member of the Investigative Reporters and Editors organization. Torres has been a member of NAHJ since 1998. This blog item was also published by NAHJ Sept. 13.

Chronicles of a News Entrepreneur Part I

I was in Chicago a couple of months ago where I taught several sessions during an Ethnic Media Workshop held by the Investigative Reporters and Editors organization.

Mark Horvit, IRE executive director, asked me to talk about multi-tasking and juggling daily work while working on in-depth and watchdog stories.

During my years as a beat reporter, I was raising two children, now grown (thank God), and I was a military wife. My husband was gone most of the time.

And as I juggled work, the kids soccer games, karate and ballet lessons, I slowly became a master at planning. And with time I realized that planning is a discipline. Embracing this concept made my life easier as I approached complex stories, covered the daily stuff, and handled my personal life.

There are things you can’t control in life like the weather or breaking news. But planning your week ahead of time gives you flexibility and control. It could be a small task such as making a couple of calls, reviewing a sample of data or making an open records request.

During the past 15 months, I had to be extremely disciplined to accomplish many objectives while working on freelance stories, writing blog posts and working behind the scenes for EdMoney.org, traveling around the country training journalists and being part of efforts to build a startup from scratch.

Other duties included planning IRE annual conference (oh yes, I’m on the conference committee) and judging this year’s IRE contest, a labor-intensive job.  But wait I’m not done. I also managed to be attend a criminal investigators training-internship program where I’ve been investigating cases for public defense attorneys.

Sounds exhausting? Not really.

The day has 24 hours. That’s a fact. So that means that there are so many things you can do in 24 hours let alone eight if you plan accordingly. I know…I know…you need to sleep.

In essence, the secret to multi-tasking is simple and lies on three important words: planning, organization and discipline.

You must have the discipline to be organized and plan your days.

You must be organized because you can’t plan and follow up if you are not. And you must be disciplined because without discipline to focus, you can’t do any of these things.

Period.

So how do you become a disciplined person? You do that by following a task and coming back to finish if something happens and you don’t have the time to finish that specific task.

Successful athletes are disciplined by nature. They trained every day to reach their goals. So do musicians –I’m one since I was 9 years old—and they practice for hours and hours to perfect their techniques and become better. Our military forces are disciplined too and those who do well are the ones who succeed in the military world.

You can be disciplined as well. You need to focus and follow what you started. Is not impossible. If it doesn’t work today, tomorrow is another day. Write a list before every week ends. Plan phone interviews and make appointments the week before.

I usually write a list by the end of each day. I mark my appointments on my blackberry calendar to receive alerts.

My goal? To complete each of those tasks before the day ends. I take pleasure completing one after the other. Sometimes I don’t reach my ultimate goal and that’s okay.

Tomorrow is another day.

Don’t be a procrastinator. Become a master at multi-tasking. You’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish when you set goals and focus.

Stop plagiarism on the Web

The Web is like the Wild Wild West: what you find is what you get. And because of that factor anybody can steal a journalist’s work and distribute as his/hers own. I don’t know about you but that’s unethical and plain wrong.

So how can you stop it or at least be aware of it before you begin propagating something that has been plagiarized by someone else?

Rebecca Aguilar, a friend and board member with the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, might have a solution about this. And she blogged about this issue for the Society of Professional Journalists this week. Rebecca has found a good Web tool that targets plagiarism.

I think there should be a law against plagiarism, but that’s just me.  I’m a journalist.

Thanks Rebecca for sharing this with us. To read the blog post go here.