December 23rd, 2009
New news sites to learn from
By Jessica Durkin
Entrepreneurial journalism has taken off at a rapid clip, or so it seems — all the evidence thus far is anecdotal. Grants are assisting non-profit start-ups, self-funded endeavors are staying in the game, and colleges and universities with journalism programs have turned their attention to a new news curriculum.
Six months ago I started tracking new news sites that focus on independent news creation. I founded InOtherNews.us, to monitor activity “beyond legacy media.”
I have 50 start-ups listed on my site so far and here is a selection of stand-outs. Some were started this year. I chose them for their uniqueness, consistency, efficacy, and overall commitment to entrepreneurial journalism for the public interest.
Metropolis: Philadelphia-based news and opinion site. Launched in November. Edited and mostly run by a veteran news reporter, who last worked at the Philadelphia Inquirer. Metropolis, like other start-ups, relies on contributors. Although it is in its early stages, it is ambitious in its coverage. Opinion columns by the editor draw on deep knowledge and nuance of the city. Good community forum space.
Rust Wire: This regional endeavor focuses on the revitalization and rebirth of America’s Rust Belt — that area of the midwest and northeast from Michigan to Western New York. The site’s co-founders, both former reporters in Ohio, are passionate and knowledgeable about Rust Belt issues.
The Eastsider LA: Former Los Angeles Times reporter Jesus Sanchez started The EastSider LA to observe his own neighborhood, a steadily gentrifying area of Los Angeles. His site is a good example of solid neighborhood news reporting, especially in the shadow of LA Times downsizing and reduced coverage of the city. Jesus brings the nuts-and-bolts information residents need and want.
Woodstock CT Cafe: A great example of what a community can do with information, given an open forum and a desire for debate. This site has been around several years and serves seven small towns in “The Quiet Corner” (as it is known) of Northeast Connecticut. Anyone can post to the site, which is moderated with an seemingly invisible hand. Discussion usually centers around the school district that serves the towns. There is always pre- and post-local election forums.
Spot.us: This popular site has to be included in this list, for taking a creative approach to funding the news. Spot.us, which has been written about extensively in traditional media, works on a crowdfunding model, where the general public is asked to subsidize stories through individual donations.
The Digitel: A testament to the link economy. This Charleston, South Carolina site rounds up information from regional or national outlets, then picks the newsiest bits and links to them. They also have some original content. Lots of sections, lots of content. They put the human element in aggregation.
Philadelphia Neighborhoods and Intersections: The South Los Angeles Report: Two examples of university journalism programs working in new media. These sites are hyperlocal projects run by journalism programs at Temple University (Philadelphia Neighborhoods) and the University of Southern California (Intersections).
Red Bank Green, one of many sites covering news and entertainment for a section of New Jersey. The site recently scooped traditional media on a story about Bruce Springsteen fans purchasing the house where Springsteen wrote “Born to Run.” (disclosure: I am acquainted with a reporter there)
Alamo City Times: This site provides a place for topics of discussion and activity around San Antonio, Texas. The site, which is primarily in English but features a section in Spanish, keeps its community engaged through a space for highly visible user-generated content. (disclosure: site founder Patricio Espinoza sits on the board of directors of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists with me)
Baltimore Brew: A site plugging along, covering basic community events, news and happenings around Baltimore, Maryland.
This list reflects general community news missions. There are many more start-ups worth noting, but they belong in a different category. The recent past has seen large-scale, non-profit start-ups such as the Texas Tribune, MinnPost, Voice of San Diego, St. Louis Beacon, and Crosscut. Those are all in a different league. Their news scope is state-wide or multi-state, their budgets and staffs larger than community news start-ups.
And check out Chris Wink’s roundup and evaluation of 24 hyperlocal sites he lists on his technology news blog Technically Philly.
SPJ Digital Media Committee member Jessica Durkin continues to track community or other independent, online news startups at http://inothernews.us. Jessica is based in Scranton, PA and is the Region 3 director for the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. She’s usually Twittering about hyperlocal and entrepreneurial journalism @jessdrkn.