Ideas and discussion from BxB2010 Summit

From Vivian Vahlberg: Notes on BxB closing discussion

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Notes on the Final Session of Block by Block Conference from Vivian Vahlberg: September 24, 2010

Jay Rosen: Invited conferees to talk about:
1. Key learnings and discoveries from breakout groups;
2 Something important they learned;
3 Best practices that emerged;
4 Assignments for other people — something funders should really think about, or geeks should work on, or academics should research , or big companies should do; how they describe their sites.

Rusty Coats’ group: Definite interest in pursuing ad networks. Cooperating with other sites might be a way to get off Google ads.

Howard Owens’ group: Need to create an advertising strategy or vision for the business; make it very personal. Then go connect with local advertisers and let them know you’re a local small business too.
First target should be the businesses in the community that others most respect. Set aside time every day to make sales calls.

Kim Isbell: Just tweeted list of legal resources for sites. Advice: Read up on media law. Figure out what you’re doing. (

Community engagement session: There a number of tools out there. People have had failures on this; a lot of people really unsure about it but there are good ideas out there. Engagement as a topic is so broad, all sorts of things fall under it: partnerships, marketing, meetups, civic activism, bringing audience and sites tog, using SeeClickFix to find frustrated people and give them outlet for action. Small operations have the great opportunity to not have an organization’s grand stand between you and the audience. Smaller outfits can build an expectation of a closer relationship from the outset.

Mike Orren: Session on metrics: Google analytics highly touted and Quantcast. Use Google’s keyword-watching metrics to see what keywords are being used to find your site. Put those into Google; will give you a whole bunch of other key words that can give you some really good story ideas.

Mark Potts: Session on ad networks: there’s strength in numbers. There’s no perfect model out there yet. We’re learning as we go but there is definitely potential in ad networks; it’s certainly one of the solutions. We at Growthspur are trying to figure it out and come up with some answers. When dealing with really small sites, being able to aggregate page views and resources is a good thing.

Andrew Huff: Working with volunteers and contributors: You want to give them the tools they need, the encouragement they’re after and don’t let them fall off the face of the earth once they’re with you. Plan for attrition and for them to leave.

Best practices for credibility: 1. Link to your sources, particularly in the context of science papers. 2. Be transparent about revisions and changes. Let people know what you’re doing. 3. Truth squadding in forums; if people make incorrect statements, engage them in conversation about it on site or delete. 4 Make it easy for people to know who you are and to contact you. 5. People do lie and make mistakes. Give people a break. Make sure people know that things happen. They will give you a break in return.

Jay Rosen: Amazes me how many sites I go to where I can’t find out who makes it and how to contact them and who supports them. That should be available in one click. If I can’t find that, a site is failing the minimum test of transparency.

Susan Mernit: Social Media session: Think about what’s the stance of a journalist versus a community member in social media and how to wear both hats. Think about the value of using your hashtag or cultivating voice to help brand your tweets. Use Facebook to interact with audiences and create community. Do outreach, ask questions, enable them to vote for stories. We tried figure out whether it makes sense to form some kind of association for the local online news community. We don’t want to take that formal step yet. Anthony Moor of Yahoo is on the board of Online News Association. We would like to try to organize meet-up at ONA to continue discussion and discuss with ONA board people possibility of forming an interest group within ONA.

The functions of such a group:
• Innovate
• Represent
• Train
• Grow
• Standards
• Community
• Collaboration
• Networking
• Ethics
• Share ideas
• Catalyze.
Members should be indigenous to their communities and community based. Are we OK with Patch joining? We all agreed core need is better work around ad networks. But are certainly other things that can be done collaboratively.

Ben Ifeld: Had a group about Patch, with him, someone from patch and someone afraid of Patch. Takeaway: we hope Patch writes to existing indigenous bloggers and associations and groups in areas where they go and let them know they’re coming in and that they would like to meet to discuss what’s going on. There’s a real opportunity that we could all grow local online news and advertisers and do more good journalism. At the same time there is the possibility that Patch could push out all the smaller, indigenous bloggers. That might be fine for now but what would happen when the leadership at the top of AOL changes? Patch is hiring now. What happens when they decide to keep the local assets they’ve built and get rid of their reporters and use what’s available on the Web – if all the local bloggers have been pushed out.

Tim Windsor of Patch. The way I look at it is that if Patch does build community and the audience is based on deep local reporting and that changes and AOL tries to throw a commodity product at the audience, the audience will just disappear. If we stop delivering, people will just go away.

David Boraks: My goal was to get recharged and find out how I”m doing. I learned I’m doing OK and probably should move a little faster. Liked the idea that developing relationships with your advertisers can be part of your community engagement strategy; put your arms around them, embrace your advertisers in the same way you embrace the news, as part of the community, , not in an unseemly way.

Anthony Moor: I learned what everyone needs in the room, from yesterday afternoon (at the Chicago session): revenue generation, visibility, know more about audience, analytical support, networking within and without our organizations, with others in the profession and with advertisers, and to be able to inform policymakers. Training was another big need.

??: learned that online community news operations are now definitely a community of interest and we deserve our own associations. We’re definitely definable.

Jay Rosen: The way to summarize this: ENTREPRENEUR ATOMIZATION OVERCOME.

Susan Mernit: I learned that hope springs eternal. Really impressed by passion and hopefulness of everyone who came and how much we all want make it work. We really need each other; we are all trying to do something very hard. Most don’t come from a revenue background. I’m very interested in ways we can stay together before the next Block by Block to help make our sustainability goals come true.

Peter Sklar: A little disappointed; all I’ve heard about for revenue is about advertising and some grants. There is another way. You’re serving users. They’re happy, they go to your site, they should be paying for your content. We should be thinking of ways to get them to pay for what we’ve got. Advertising is basically an evil thing. If we have a chance to not shake hands with the devil, it will be a much better thing. We’re trying, with modest success. It’s a big challenge.

Jay Rosen: I totally agree. We need to include many other sources in the picture besides advertising. Some is services and training. Some is foundations, subscribers –the consumer reports model, which gives them a great deal of independence.

Dan Christensen; Broward Bulldog. I came up here looking for how to do ad sales. After listening I don’t think I want to have straight ads; I want sponsorship ads. It’s better taxwise for a non-profit. Are number of incompatibilities. We have not talked about what it is we do, the journalism that we do, and potential conflicts that advertising sales create. Someone talked about going out and writing feature stories about advertisers. I think we need to think about whether those are best practices or bad practices. Struck by how much diversity there is within online community news orgs. People are taking many different approaches on funding and producing news. A little shocked at how few are trying to do it without advertising; would be interested in staying connected with those people. I’d like to know how you dealing with the challenges of staying ad free and what you hope to do in future. Are issues of conflicts of interest with advertisers; same thing is true with
foundation money. You can have mission creep. It’s tempting to change the shape of your business (because of funder requirements) and you don’t realize it’s happening.

Rosen: There is no innocent solution. Every solution compromises you in some way.

Andrew Whitacre: I’ve learned it’s best to ask questions from people who know nothing about what you do. Ask three business people their advice; give them only a little heads up about what you’re trying to do. Ask from a naïve perspective to people without a background in your field. Sometimes people with far-away associations are more powerful than people with whom you are closely associated; you need to get beyond the people you always talk to.

Jay: one thing that characterizes these sites is that every element of their success depends on the quality of the relationship with the community, from news reporting to advertising to social media to traffic and popularity. That’s very different than metropolitan journalism. One theme is are we that different from the small town newspaper of yesterday, in that relationship? So we need to learn from what went before. Instead of thinking about metropolitan professional journalism as the thing from which these sites depart, we should say we had community, community, community, and then we had professional journalism. It was an interval of 60 years where had journalism professionals, based on a certain kind of media economy that lasted for a long time. That economy is breaking up. Now the situation is more like what we had before. That’s interesting. We’re reestablishing continuity with something that existed before.

??: I’ve been using kachingle micropayments. You could try it. Goes thru what sites visited, allocates money based on what sites you visited most. Interesting alternative. Not the only way but if enough of us put kachingle on their sites and people want to pay it is a possibility..

Howard Owens: whether we’re for profit or non profit, this is a group of really passionate people about local. Exciting. There are people who don’t believe in local; they think the web’s global. Nobody here really talked about why you’re doing local. For me the local community is the foundation of democracy. Over the last 40 years, there’s been less and less engagement; online is an opportunity to bring back that engagement; that is what democracy and free world is about. Passion. To people skeptical about ads, don’t forget you are a locally owned business. Communities with locally owned businesses have higher test scores, standards of living,etc. They’re keys to health communities. Local biz people are the most engaged in the community, they give the most donations and support the most charities.

Ben Ifeld: I’m doing local because I like transformative stories. Big stories that involve lots of people are not as dynamic and I cant affect them as a reader. The ability to engage and transform something that affects my life in meaningful way is amazing. Is why I do it. I would ask academia: study how effrective we are at what we do and figure out what parts are not working well and how to improve them.

??: I’m doing local because I used to work for a newspaper and it was not covering news the way they’re supposed to. How many doing for that reason? (Newspaper sucks?)) Maybe about a third.

Eric Abrahamson: I come to it as community social entrepreneur and history. It’s really important to remember that era of professional journalism was limited to the monopoly era. When businesses had lots of surplus profits, they could devote it to standards. But the tradition of newspapers is much more competitive and very opinionated. We are returning to it.

???: Why local? Because newspapers collapsed. Because people have become more sophisticated consumers of info. Globally, it’s worth it for entrepreneurs to enter markets and aggregate content. At the local level, it’s harder to build a business model. Twofold opportunity: rising demand for quality information but unserved market.

Jason Pramas: As grad student, I studied metropolitan news vacuum. Lots of disenfranchised communities in urban area that never had great coverage even by the community news outlets that are now mostly gone. Now they have none because of the rolling collapse of metro media. Need to go in and do the core mission of afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted. We cover poor and working class communities. For academics, look at lots of us, not just the leaders that get written about a lot.

Mike ??: Relieved to hear Pegasus say they view opportunities through baseline of radio so we should think about radio people and how they promote local businesses; made a lot of sense. Assignment for geeks: would love to see way for local bloggers to suck in structured relevant data that would pair nicely with blog post or news items.

Susan Mernit: I want to prove that media has become an effective form of social change that can relate to economic transformation, with more tools to tell the story with. I don’t think anybody else would be doing what we’re doing in Oakland if we didn’t. We organized around the issues we saw in the strategic plans of many non profits that are focused on policy: food (both access and deserts), development, environment and identity. Added arts and education and justice that community thought were essential.

Jay; So instead of a site about place, it’s matrix; it’s about place and 3-4 critical issues that obsess the people in the place.

Lisa Williams; request is to not just pay attention to the few sites that get talked about.

Jay: should be not only students of media but of American democracy. DeTocqueville observed newspapers make associations and associations make newspapers; Intimate connection between the two. We are living together and need information medium to feed that association.

Mark Katches: This will not happen overnight. It really is a process. Going to be some shooting stars. Most will be garage bands toiling in obscurity and anonymity and then hope we hit it big. Could be an accelerating process that starts around great content – credible relevant content – and from there builds community and then builds brand and from there we become in a position to really sell. We’re anomaly as a statewide site. We trying to help other news orgs do local. Often we produce stories 95 percent done and ready with the exception that local news orgs can have inserts ,quotes, sidebars, and can tailor data to own markets. We want to find a way to get statewide approach to delivering information to lots of different localities.

Darren Hillock: What really excites me is the little story that finally has a home.

Anne Galloway: I’ve heard a lot that academics could help with. We need a guidebook for the next phase. We’ve had a lot of help getting launched. Need a phase two guidebook. We’ve got a lot of information right here. It would be good to have tipsheets.

Rich Gordon: Not sure it will give you everything you’re looking for but at Medill I’m running a class for the next ten weeks with a Chicago Community Trust grant where we hope to produce something like what you’ve described. We’re gong to look at one community site and at the two big problems – building audience and building revenue, which are related. Will have a class blog up next week. We’re going to see what’s new and document what’s working and come up with some new ideas and approaches.

Dan O’Neill. Liked how Mike Orren talked about learning how to do behavioral targeting and finding out it6 was more complicated than advertisers could deal with. We find the same thing. We target to block level. We know all that. Advertisers not sophisticated enough – or that’s way market is now. Challenge is to be able to sell what they want now while continuing to innovate and to think about the future where targeting will be valued. We’re pretty good at collecting data and presenting in meaningful way. Not doing great job of working with local bloggers to tell those stories in meaningful ways to local communities around that data. We want to change that and work with people here.

Steve Franklin: Urge people to convene with local community organizations and NGOs and partner with them. If there’s a problem in the community, there’s an NGO working on it. Would create engagement and involvement. We’re hesitant about doing that; we say we report the news, we don’t become a part of it. But we can change that. My request for techies: find a better way of not just pointing out problems but triangulate between organizations and issues and media.

Jay: That’s what DeTocqueville meant: any association of people is inherently in need of journalistic help.

???: Why I do what do; we love where live and care about and want be better places. What I really enjoy is getting an understanding of something new and sharing it with readers. Great thrill daily. Suggestion: try reframing comments. Ask a question about story, not post a comment. Tell us how it works.
Comments are content.

Tracy Record. If we have breaking story, just comes streaming in. Important to have rules unless we want it to be a free for all. …We love comments.

Dylan Smith: not only are comments content but ads are content. Don’t be afraid of ads. Try to have good ads that audience is going to want to see instead of lousy banner ads and ads from google. Offer readers something else. Do a better job of ads; innovate there as well.

Anthony Moor: Join ONA.

Lisa Williams: ONA has low cost legal resources; training; tools and techniques; awards as the Pulitzers of online j. we have categories for microsites and local blogging…number one reason ona is important is it’s a great resource for meeting people who do what we do.

Samatha from Center Square Journal: After graduated from Medill, worked in town of 2000 people that had four reporters. Would love to see four reporters for every 2000 people in Chicago. WE’re trying to apply that to Lincoln Square and other areas; equal representation.

???: Engagement is something everybody can do better job on. Often falls by the wayside because we’re so busy; it isn’t something we can monetize. The sites that succeed and have larger readership are those that are really excited about engaging audience and readers. Have to think of it as an investment of time that will pay off. Even if you don’t have time, not difficult to find a volunteer to do it – perhaps a loyal reader who shares your mission and vision

Susan Mernit: real potential in selling training. If you can operate in a way that teaches you something, you may be able to sell that knowledge to others. Think of building learning organizations. Gets to how you organize yourself so daily, weekly, monthly operations instruct you in something that can become a revenue source.

Bill Adee: Tribune is looking at selling services, creating a digital consulting business called 435 Digital within Trib. We’re taking what we’ve learned about engagement and teaching it to advertisers. We found when we started ChicagoNow that when we tried to sell it to businesses, they didn’t get it. So we realized that was a business opportunity. If they look to you as an expert, that’s something you can sell – if you can manage the conflicts that may come out of it.

Michele McLellan: More impressed with the group than ever. Makes me even more hopeful about the future of news.

Jay: My trust puzzle. Gallup asks same questions year after year. In 1976, 47 percent told Gallup they had a great deal of confidence or a fair amount of confidence in the press. That was two years after Nixon resigned. But in 2006 that number was down to 14 percent. In that same period was when journalists became more professional, more educated, went to better schools and were essentially transformed from working class to educated professionals, and most people in the business would say the observance of professional standards went up. How could it be that in time of more educated, more professional journalists who adhere more to professional standards that trust declined from 47 to 14 percent, with an accelerating decline after 2003? I don’t know answer to this. When I pose this to journalists, they almost always say trust in all institutions has declined. Not a good answer; we’re supposed to be watchdogs on the other institutions. I don’t know the answer but I think
people in this room are making a start. We are going back to the original connection between journalist and community and saying that’s where it starts. We’re trying to reconnect journalists and the places where they live and the people they live among. That’s only way going find the trust. Somewhere between the professionalization of the press to now, they lost the trust. What excites me about this group is people like you finding that trust again.


Written by Michele Mclellan

September 26, 2010 at 12:59 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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  1. […] as VTDigger’s Anne Galloway put it during the conference’s wrap-up session, “We need a Phase 2 guidebook.” The […]

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