BlockByBlock

Ideas and discussion from BxB2010 Summit

What You Missed at the Community Engagement Panel at Block by Block

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The Block by Block Conference in Chicago has attracted over 100 local site owners, foundations, academics and others whose livelihoods and/or obsessions revolve around on-line local news operations and how to sustain them.

Because this conference is organized as more of an on-going conversationgroups than of podium lectures, I thought it might be useful to put some of those threads and insights into bite sized pieces:

*Community Engagement* Panel: Discussion about how to draw readers and get them to stay.

Susan Mernit, Oakland Local moderated, with David Cohn, Spot.us; Tracy Record, West Seattle Blog; and Andre Natta, The Terminal, Birmingham, AL

Tracy found that once her site was turning a profit, they have found success by:

  • sponsoring local events by giving advertising and money. The event becomes associated with her site and creates loyalty.
  • – Forums. Tracy learned to let them take on a life of their own and not moderate. It brings engaged people to the site who have something they want to talk about
  • existing event that needed a new “owner”, they run the huge local community garage sale. Coordinating registration via paypal and making the paper and on-line map.
  • Showing up. They throw up a no-frills table at local events just to…talk.

Andre’s The Terminal in Birmingham seems to have mastered the art of Twitter, with a weekly tweet-up where he sends out 5-6 questions and starts conversations about issues in the community that often lead to stories on this site. OaklandLocal finds the diversity of its own team is tied to community engagement. Training programs teach readers how to use social media and write simple stories.

From Andre: “Since we have no money, a good marketing tool is to shout out great not for profit events… getting out to events is critical for us too.

    David from Spot.us said he felt like “A duck on panel of chickens because one of things we’re trying to do is build tools for sites that have their own communities to distribute the financial burden.”

    David’s idea “of bringing transparency to the process of Journalism -traditionally made behind closed doors, people can engage from the beginning to the end.”

    In terms of spot.us as a standalone site, “I don’t believe spot. us is a single source for great content…people feel energized…an adrenalin rush..when they see..cross pollenization so to speak.” 6 organizations covered a trial in LA…exciting for people who would go to these sites individually.” People can submit story ideas at spot.us, as well.

    Patricio Espinoza of AlamoCityTimes.com- couldn’t get peeps to comment on his site or on his Facebook page, so he asked questions, and people came. He has also put together community training camps in partnership with a local University lab- teaching citizens how to set up YouTube or create photo slide show so they can tell stories that they want to tell.

    In Davidson, NC, DavidsonNews.net owner David Boraks said that coming from traditional journalism and a traditional approach- the change in mindset took a lot of getting used to. He remembers the thrill of having his picture in the newspaper as a child and thinks how that can motivate people he covers back to the site.

    At edhat.com in Santa Barbara, all it takes to write for the site: send a picture and a paragraph and that’s all you have to do to participate. Every story is equal.

    Denise from the Rapidian in Grand Rapids has a twitter feed on front page headed “right now” where people can literally tweet in news and on the right top is the photo of the day- thru this she made close ties to robust photography community in her area.

    Several people shared different journalistic philosophies about handling names in the Police Blotter. I personally shared that our police blotter at theLoop is one of the most heavily trafficked areas…we go light with the Crime of the Week. And don’t post mug shots.

    Anne Galloway at Vtdigger.org in Vermont asked the group how do you choose what to do each day if youre a One Man Band running a site? Tracy Record from Seattle says you *have* to be able to do it all simultaneously: watching twitter/forums/scanner/emails/comments, can’t not know multitasking.

    Fortunately, we had David Cohn to save us all from burnout, who said he once though, “The internet doesn’t sleep, so I can’t either.” Now, he says, he only checks e-mail twice a day.

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    Written by Polly Kreisman

    September 24, 2010 at 9:53 pm

    Posted in Uncategorized

    One Response

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    1. Communities and professionals can learn a great deal from on-going sessions like this. The answers are there, and they are being proven by “little people” rather than the media giants.

      Ed Meek

      September 25, 2010 at 2:37 am


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