I took a day away from building our massive, bloody, code-spewing, chain-spanning, content management system to get back to teaching last week and spent some time with the Metroland Editors at their annual "off-site" in Markahm, just outside of Toronto.
I sat in on several sessions and taught one: Citizen Journalism and Community Engagement, the latest in my ongoing efforts to subvert the creative stranglehold our templated websites place on local newspaper editors. Hmm. Better remember to rephrase that....
You can see my slides below - and I'll offer some links below as well, but I thought it might be worth putting some of the very basic points down here in text.
After looking at the bad (False Steve Jobs heart attack report) and the good (coverage of a recent explosion at an urban propane filling station) of citizen journalism, we engaged in a discussion of just what the hell citizen journalism was and why they were so afraid of it. Many of them aren't, as it turns out, and with good reason:
Local papers have been running citizen journalism since the day they opened their doors - the web simply offers more and different opportunities to continue this grand, and vital, tradition.
For this session I zoomed in on three simple areas: Blogs, Photos and Wikis.
We talked about blogs and blogging and the general mess most newspaper make of it when they first set out to invest in blogging (with their own staff or offering a platform to the community). Biggest mistake is believe that "if you build it they will come".
You've got to work and work hard at the community engagement part, finding and nurturing talent just as you do on the print side of things. I pointed out how poorly we tend to recognize - let alone compensate - those few brave souls who blog for us and suggested fixing that piece was critical. I then took them through my own paper's new experiment: No Excuse - the poverty project blog I used to write but have now turned over to a cadre of citizen contributors I trained before handing them the keys to the car. Early days on that experiment, but I have high hopes.
I made the recommendation I hoped I should never have to make (because it seems so damn obvious): scour the web for local posters (on YouTube, Blogger, MySpace, Live Journal etc) and feature and link to their content.
Moving on to photos I urged them to steal the Flickr photo pool idea I've seen used so well at community and even big city blogs and newsapers: create a photo pool on Flickr and ask readers to share their photo with each other and the city.
Unfortunately we had such good discussions we ran out of time and I didn't get to talk about wikis, but I think they offer newspapers an opportunity to develop powerful community engagement tools, particularily around ideas like "local memories" or histories.
Perhaps I can return to this last topic later, in the meantime, these are my slides:
Gas Buddy - Angry motorist track the price of gas in their hometowns
Milk and Beer - A New York public radio station gets their listenters to track the price of beer, milk and lettuce in their neighbourhoods.
Mechanical Turk - A digital freelance job marketplace
Restuarantica - A restaurant recommendation site
Our Faves - The Toronto Star-owned urban goods and services recommendation site.
Pro-Am Journalism sites: New Assignment and Now Public
Crowdstorming - a crowdsourcing blog by teacher Peter Organisciak
Blog Search Tools - Try Google's Blog Search, Technorati, or Ice Rocket
Blog Creation Tools - Free: Blogger (which you used to build a blog in 10 mins) and Wordpress.com. Others include Vox and Live Journal.
Blog Creation Tools - Paid: Our chain uses Typepad.com ($150 US a year buys you unlimited, hosted bloging. Another alternative is to download the open source Wordpress program and then get your own web domain and host it yourself.
Live Blogging - Two companies — including one Canadian start-up — have the lead in this growing field, ScribbleLive and CoverItLive. I've used - and love - CoverItLive, Toronto area start-up.