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« QUESTION TWO: How does journalism survive press/TV obsolescence? | Main | The creative environment: Managing the healthy journalist »

June 29, 2007

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Doug Thompson

I retired from the daily grind of mainstream journalism in 2004 and left Washington, DC, after 23 years to move back to my hometown in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Southwestern Virginia -- a one-stoplight county of 15,000 people. My plan was to run my political news site, dabble in landscape photography, develop and host a few web sites for local organizations and not worry about other journalistic matters.

But I quickly found a gaping hole in local news coverage. The local 4,000 circulation weekly, owned by Media General, featured as much canned material from Richmond as local news and early deadlines left anything that happened after noon on Tuesday until the following week. With no in-county radio station and the Roanoke television stations more interested in running canned syndicated news than local material More and more county residents turned to local blogs for news and information. I started Blue Ridge Muse as a photo blog but it evolved into a community news and information site with often heated discussions on local issues. I started covering county courts and local government part-time for the paper and worked with the editor to beef up local coverage. To try and fill the gap between Thursdays we proposed beefing up the paper's web site with daily updates. Instead, Media General opted to fold the web site into a regional one called SWVAToday.Com, further diluting the local news hole.

So, on Sept. 1, a group of us will launch FloydCountyToday.Com, an attempt to provide local news, information and community discussion on a daily basis. It will be staffed entirely by volunteers who, like myself, have worked in the trenches and retired here for the peace and quiet.

Will the community read it? I think so. Will they support it? That depends on how you define support. The county has a surprising depth of broadband in homes due to the local telephone cooperative using tobacco settlement money to fund fiber optic for the county. We've made a presentation to a couple of area foundations about help but they want to see what we produce first.

So we have committed enough of our personal resources to keep the site up and running for a year. After that we hope to have an established product that can attract advertisers and investors. The local weekly is not self-supporting. This is a rural county with few businesses. The biggest chain store is a Food Lion grocery. Two attempts to start an alternative weekly in the county over the last 20 years have failed.

If it doesn't work we will need to go the Plan B, which has not yet been developed. I started Capitol Hill Blue in 1994 with 5mb of free web space from PSINet. When Mindspring absorbed PSINet I maxed out my Visa to buy a server and co-locate it in a data center. I soon found I could make more money by leasing server space rather than running a web site and I used the server rentals to fund Blue. But big boys like GoDaddy are wiping out that option by offering gigabyes of space and bandwidth for nine bucks a month. Time for a new Plan B?

Russ Carr

CROSS POSTED FROM FACEBOOK

Russ Carr (St. Louis, MO) replied to your post
8 hours ago
I would argue that your first question is the wrong question to be asking of journalists; it's a question that needs to be asked of the communities that our media serve.

But the question can be turned around -- and those same communities would do well to ask it:

How can journalism support the community at a time when traditional media has been commoditized by corporations into a profit-or-perish line-item?

Colin's conclusion is an astute one: journalism will evolve to meet the changing needs of the citizenry. In this case, however, its evolution may come by regressing to a more parochial model. The measure of a newspaper's success (beyond pure economics) may not be how broad or far-reaching its coverage is, but how thoroughly and richly it covers its own backyard. I worked at a couple of weeklies several years ago, and yeah, we were hardly printing money. But we kept 20 people employed full time. We provided a forum for the people of the towns we served. Businesses pumped us with advertising revenue, and in return we pumped customers into their stores and offices. And those two weeklies continue to churn along, providing local coverage that is unmatched by the Major Metropolitan Daily that tries so hard to deliver the world that it fails to see what's going on only a few miles away.

So how does the community support journalism at a time when traditional newspaper-generated revenue is drying up? It starts when the journalists start supporting their community. Provide for them, and they'll provide for you.

Dale Peskin

Communities support journalism -- indeed, they are the foundation for it -- in countless ways. Only some have to do with newspapers and TV stations, which are business built on dominating the distribution of news and information. Journalsim itself is best expressed through authentic voice, a range of standards, performance and perspectives, as well as participation in the democratic process of citizenship.

Again, only some of this has to do with business entities established to profit by dominating the channels of distribution.

Communities -- physical and virtual -- spawn additional distribution channels, largely but not exclusively digital in this epoch, that enable participation in the journalistic process and dissemination of news and information through channels and citizens that may not be controlled by the business interests that seek to monetize them through domination. This is healthy, indeed vital, for an open and democratic press (an obviously dated and limiting term), envisioned by wise forefathers who foresaw the tyranny of control, economic or political.

Communities are smarter than the "traditional newspaper=generated revenue" model -- a tired and obsolete economic concept (as well as an informational one). Trust communities and their wisdom. Invest in them and their alternatives to control.

So the question is backwards. It should be how do civic organizations, including journalistic and business entitities, support the community? Not the othere way around. -- dale peskin

rick edmonds

I think the "community's" role for right now is to read and participate. I would look for start-up financial support from community angels (like Brian Tierney's group in Philadelphia or what Joel Kramer is trying to put together in Minneapolis)and from the non-profit/foundation sector.

Maurreen

Some options to garner more financial support from the community:
* Community co-op, which could share costs and revenues.
* Advertising department expanding, mainly into design and hosting of Web pages and sites for other businesses.
* Expand from "town crier" concept to "village plaza and guides." Make the operation and Web site indispensable for community members by making it the ultimate source for connecting with each other and any information about the community.

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