Just the FAQs, please

Jeff Jarvis on the Local Challenge:

“The biggest challenge facing local news organizations today is figuring out how they can gather more and produce less. That is, how can they help other people produce, so the news organizations have something worth gathering?”

Gather more and produce less, indeed. It’s hard for lifelong newsroom types to see layoffs one day and reader participation initiatives the next and not feel a bit slighted. But we’re not just talking about event calendars and little league reports here, although I love ’em, we’re talking about your newspaper as the platform for local information and interaction.

So it’s not just “send us your events and we’ll shovel them where they belong,” it’s “post your own events on your calendar which other users can add to their calendar, and tag your event with a number of useful categories that will help others find it.” Then let readers add their write-up of the event, and photos, and video.

This isn’t new, and it’s obvious enough. Apply that model to any information you want the community to have: Reviews of local businesses, parking lot maps or detailed notes on bus routes. (Did you know that if you’re quick about it, you can snag some free wi-fi access at one of the Scotts Valley stops on the Highway 17 Express Bus? It makes for a good moment to refresh your RSS reader.)

And a thousand other things. What are the frequently asked questions in your community? Answer those questions, and write a FAQ for your newspaper site that answers them with articles from your archives, links to all those maps and databases you’ve created, and aggregate local blogs that answer some of the same questions. Your reporters are resources here, as gatherers of information and mainlines to the institutional memory you’ll need when you try to answer these questions.

Jarvis goes on to say that one platform might not be able to handle all the hyperlocal information your town needs. I disagree. I think your newspaper can, should, and will be the information aggregator for your community. If that’s not our function, then what is?

Police Brawl in DC: A Case for Citizen Journalism – web.aan.org

A recipe for sending your reporters out on their feet into the community, not necessarily to do the reporting (nice if they do leave the desk, though), but to evangelize reporting. How to make reporters out of citizens. via david cohn

Police Brawl in DC: A Case for Citizen Journalism – web.aan.org

Newspaper community site philosophy

Steve Yelvington talks about Bluffton Today in an e-mail interview he’s posted, reminding me that there are reasons why community sites work and there are methods to manage and market them to the community:

“There’s a lot we can learn from Internet startups if we just recognize that geographic community is actually a special interest. A smart special-interest community-builder works to heighten participants’ sense of identity — of being part of something special. Traditional, local media can do that, too.”

That’s right. We’re talking about horizontal bonds here in a geographical sense. On the Web, no one knows if you’re in Portland, Oregon or Portland, Maine, but it doesn’t matter if people in both places really dig Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite.

So let’s take our neighborhoods and bring people together not based on a locator map that defines the boundaries, but based on the shortcuts and sunny side streets that only the locals know. There’s an obvious analogy there for the taking about talking to more regular folks and less official spokesmen. Steve puts it this way:

“We pick up some blogs and photos for the print product, but the real ‘secret sauce’ is that the community conversation helps the professional journalist connect with the real interests and passions of regular people, and not just the agendas of the institutions and newsmakers that pro journalists usually cover.”

Agenda vs. passion is the key contrast there. Ever notice that a story a reader called in to tip you off to gets more response (and page views) than a story that started with a press release from the mayor’s office?

Go read the whole thing. It’s a good place to start if you want to set goals for a community site with the community in mind, not just the numbers.