There are some new media trends – planned micropayments,  companies threatning to stop free content online, etc. – that I will address tomorrow.  Tonight, I want to talk about news and information in West Michigan – and my hopes as I prepare to leave.

   In case you are reading this and don’t know, I am leaving WZZM in Grand Rapids in a little more than a week.  I am heading for the station Gannett owns in Sacramento, KXTV/News 10 as the Vice-President of the Information Center.  I am looking forward to that opportunity.

   But I feel like I am leaving several big projects unfinished here.  While we at 13 have come a long way in the past 4 1/2 years, there is a lot more to do.  I also know there are a lot of talented people at WZZM who will continue to excel.

    In the community, the Grand Rapids Community Foundation and Community Media Center are/this close to announcing the name of the new Neighborhood News Bureau program and its structure.  I have enjoyed working with Laurie and George from the CMC, Roberta from the Foundation and all the people I met at the various brainstorming sessions.

    If you have not, please join the NNB Facebook group.  They need the help of ANYONE who cares about what happens in the various city neighborhoods.  As commercial media continues to deal with this recession (if it’s over, I don’t see it!), we need everyone’s help to cover this great community.

    Laurie, Roberta or George, if I can do anything to help – either while I’m here or on the West Coast – let me know.  I can’t wait to see the first stories produced from Grand Rapids’ first Neighborhood News Bureaus.

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I knpw the Grand Rapids’ Community Media Center is busy working on the framework for this summer’s launch of at least 4 Neighborhood News Bureaus.

The Knight Digital Media Center is holding a series of online seminars for community journalists.  Their latest homework assignment intrigued me:

“This week, your assignment is to identify four online networks that serve the town you live in. These may be blogs, themed sites, community resources or even online services that don’t have a Web presence, such as e-mail lists.”

So I wanted to do that exercise for West Michigan.  I know of at least 4 good ones:

Rapid Growth Media

GR Now

Urban Planet’s Grand Rapids Coffee House

The West Michigan High School Hockey Blog

I do not want to count community newspapers or commercial TV stations.  But help me here – what other great community sites am I missing?

    Tomorrow Gannett – my company – is expected to report some awful numbers for the first quarter.  Today, Sam Zell admitted buying Tribune when he did was a mistake.

    So naturally the number of people questioning whether hyperlocal journalism can survive without newspapers continues to grow.  The latest article I saw on the topic came from the New York Times, whose headline to me is more of a question.

    I want to split this issue into content and sales.  The article, which is worth reading, brings in some national hyperlocal sites and asks them where they get their content from.  Here in West Michigan, we have a possible solution pending – if the community gets totally behind it.  I am, of course, talking about the Neighborhood News Bureaus now in development at the Community Media Center here in Grand Rapids. 

    Now, I am not saying these NNB’s will replace the Grand Rapids Press.  What I am saying is, if these Bureaus are staffed by true community journalists, we as citizens would still have coverage of these neighborhoods.  Now, I see a better short-term future for most TV newsrooms.   They will play a big role in this but, I’ll be the first to admit, the Press has more reporters in Grand Rapids on an average day than I do.  TV covers the big stories and has more immediacy, the Press and newspapers have always had a breadth of coverage.

    The other issue, which affects almost all content-gathering organizations, is revenue.  I want to pull one quote from the Times article.  The quote is from a hyperlocal market analyst named Greg Sterling:

When you slice further and further down, you get smaller and smaller audiences… Advertisers want that kind of targeting, but they also want to reach more people, so there’s a paradox.

    So the organizations many people are looking to as newspapers are downsized also have money problems?  It is an issue for the local NNB’s.  While the Knight Foundation and Grand Rapids Community Foundation have provided 3 years worth of funding, sustainability is an issue the organizers are rightly addressing now.

    So let me ask you this:  if the content is the quality you expect, would you pay for it?  And, would you accept the content if surrounded by some ads?  Whether you comment here or on the project’s Facebook page, give Laurie and Roberta some feedback.  I’ll start: bring the ads on!

I wish more people would get involved in understanding what the Grand Rapids’ Neghborhood News Bureaus could do for our community.

The Community Media Center and Community Foundation set up this Facebook page.  Almost 300 people have signed up, but the comments are getting fewer and less frequent.  While I don’t speak for the site organizers, I sure wish more people would talk about this.

Another way to keep up and comment is by following GRCitizenNews on Twitter.  There, you can find links to new studies and hear from key bureau folks about their latest progress.

While I would welcome the comments on my blog, I think it’s important anyone who cares about this community has some level of involvement.  As someone in the commercial media in town, having a lot of additional citizen resources to help cover our community can only be a good thing.

At last week’s final first-round meetings for the proposed Grand Rapids Neighborhood News Bureaus, I sat in on two discussions.  The first one, by far, was the most fascinating.  The topic wound up becoming: What is news to a NNB?

I have to admit I came in with my own ideas.  To me, a bureau could really get hyper-hyper-local on stories like:

  • Positive economic news, like small business openings
  • People in that neighborhood doing good, helping others
  • Even some middle and high school sports

That’s what I thought.  The members of the group had some other ideas:

  • Does it have to be words?  What about art?
  • The NNB site(s) should have a place for poetry.

I also read recently a fascinating post by the Knight Digital Media Center’s Michele McLellan that asks this simple question:

I sometimes hear journalists wondering how citizens might be trained to be journalists. I always want to flip that—What will citizens teach journalists about community and civic engagement?

So what do you think?  Can both definitions live in a NNB?  Which one do you lean more toward?

I just got back from the Community Media Center.  Tonight was the last of the information-gathering meetings.  As Laurie Cirivello from the CMC told the group, tomorrow they start putting a framework together.

If you have not attended any of the meetings, here is Laurie’s drawing that shows what the Neighborhood News Bureau model could look like.

NNB Model

Don’t spend all night trying to figure it out!  Here’s the basic idea: the community is involved every step of the way, helping to shape the content, hopefully get involved in creating it and learning about all the great ways to access it – including ways for the non-connected residents.  My company, WZZM, is bottom left: we are one of the recipients of the content, a potential distributor and, in some ways, a partner in areas like training.

Now, the hard questions need to be answered!

  • Who will sign up to be a community journalist?  How will that relationship be nurtured over the long term?
  • What will the process be for training?  Who will do it?  What training do you do?  How much is needed?
  • How much editorial control will be desired/needed?

You get the idea.  To me, this is an exciting time for Grand Rapids and, frankly, West Michigan.  Communities could get even more hyper-local coverage, area residents will be able to learn more about other parts of town and everyone becomes better informed.

If you want to learn more about this project, check earlier blog entries of mine; I have written quite a few about it.   You can also read a summary on the Grand Rapids Community Foundation’s website.  You can also follow the project’s progess on the group’s Facebook page.

   In case, you missed all the ‘great’ media news today:

  • Gannett, the company I work for, announced another round of furloughs.
  • Booth Newspapers said the Ann Arbor paper will go online only later this year, while 3 other papers will follow the 3-day a week delivery model of the Detroit Free Press.
  • And Freedom Communications announced its own furloughs!

OK, enough said about that!  We have to remember people are not running away from our content and information.  They are moving from newspapers and, in many time periods, TV, to the web.

So what’s a journalist with 3 teenage daughters about to hit college (that’s me!) doing?  Everything possible to find out how we can stay relevant to our customers and keep them customers:

  1. That means really listening to them!  Use their comments on TV, follow up on their good ideas and thank them when we do their story – publicly.
  2. Keep looking for new ways to find, create and distribute all of our content.  But we can’t just do it because the technology is cool or new.  That’s part of it, but it also has to help us bring our customers to a scene better, faster or both.  Skype is one new way, so are Mogulus and Qik.
  3. We need to include them in our daily coverage beyond asking them to comment or pitch an idea.  Many of our customers can and probably want to help us better cover their communities.  The Grand Rapids Neighborhood News Bureaus are one way we can start.  We need to take an entrepreneurial approach to this: there are no bad ideas; no ideas are what’s bad!
  4. We can’t let furloughs, pay cuts or other challenges keep us from doing 1-3!  If we do, the bullet points at the top of the story will only get longer and more frequent.

   This is some of what I plan to say Thursday night at the Ford Museum.  That’s where the National Press Club is doing its local stop on a national tour, focusing on the future of journalism.  It starts at 7:30.  Hope you can make it.