For anyone interested in how the new media is shaping community news media:

  • Engagement is key – robust and frequent content begets more content and whets the interest of potential contributors.
  • Citizen journalism is a field that has a high turnover. Fewer than one in 10 of those trained will stick around to be regular contributors and, even then, may only be “regular” for a short period of time.
  • Projects built on the grit and passion of a particular founder or corps of founders have created the most robust models for short- and long-term sustainability.
  • Community news sites are not a business yet.
  • Facebook, Twitter and other social media tools are ushering in a New Age for Community News, creating robust recruiting, marketing, distribution, collaboration, reporting and funding opportunities.

New Voices  is an incubator for pioneering community news ventures in the United States. It helps fund the start-up of innovative micro-local news projects and awards small grants to seed the launch of innovative community news ventures in the United States and explores models for sustainability. New Voices is administered by J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism, (www.j-lab.org) a centre of American University’s School of Communication.

Through 2010, New Voices grants were awarded to 55 local news projects from a pool of 1,433 applicants. The grant administrators looked  what worked and what didn’t, what made for robust sites or led to disappointment. In a recently released report New Voices offer tips to help other startups and recommendations based on what J-Lab has learned in mentoring these startups.

The report makes recommendations  for those seeking to launch their own community news sites, including to start simply with free or open-source software and make sure you have an editor engaged in teasing out content contributors.

The report also advises rethinking the premise of just supplying news to communities, stating that “the community doesn’t only want news; it wants connections as well” and to think of the enterprise as building community.

Key findings include:

  • Engagement is key – robust and frequent content begets more content and whets the interest of potential contributors.
  • Citizen journalism is a field that has a high turnover. Fewer than one in 10 of those trained will stick around to be regular contributors and, even then, may only be “regular” for a short period of time.
  • Projects built on the grit and passion of a particular founder or corps of founders have created the most robust models for short- and long-term sustainability
  • Community news sites are not a business yet
  • Facebook, Twitter and other social media tools are ushering in a New Age for Community News, creating robust recruiting, marketing, distribution, collaboration, reporting and funding opportunities.

Read the report online, or download the PDF.

For further information on how communities use social media and developing user-generated content strategies, I recommend Social Media: Tools for User Generated Content, one part of a research report undertaken by the Australian Cooperative Research Centres Smart Services CRC.

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