Learning from other projects


I was in DC over the weekend at a grantee meeting. The following is a reflection from my CCTV blog for those who are working on and thinking about citizen journalism projects:

On Saturday, April 5th, J-Lab staff invited its 2007 New Voices grantees to Washington, DC to share program successes and challenges. Some of the grantees have learned valuable lessons so far -- insight that we can definitely use as we look ahead to the future of the NeighborMedia project.

New Castle NOW in Chappaqua, NY, like NeighborMedia, is trying to fill a news and information void in the community. "People do not know what's going on out there," says project editor Ann Marie Fallon. In a community driven by its public school system, the site strives to inform people so they won't be "afraid to participate in the discussion." New Castle NOW, which runs on Expression Engine. features real voices because residents are not interested in "pretend reporting," but does not currently allow its users to comment on posts. One challenge the project has faced is a digital divide issue: People above a certain age can't always figure out how to navigate around the site.

Jeff South of Greater Fulton News says his citizen journalism initiative, a Wordpress site covering an area of Richmond, Virginia, requires registration for top-level posts, but not to post a comment -- unlike NeighborMedia, which requires registration even for commenting. South's project is making strides into multimedia by having local students produce news packages; though he has offered training to residents on using flip video phones with built-in USB ports, it appeared that as with NeighborMedia, his bloggers have for the most part stuck to text and photo submissions.

OurTahoe.org is another project that depends on student reporting to cover issues that surround Lake Tahoe, California. Students receive disposable cameras to take photos for the site. OurTahoe.org was built in Drupal and had to be redesigned in Wordpress after Donica Messing received feedback that the Drupal platform was not very easy to use.

NewsDesk on AccessSF has been "chockfull of challenges," according to project coordinator Carter Paige. The access center has been recruiting not individuals but non-profit organizations to participate in training sessions and produce media. But creating relationships with organizations who are willing to dedicate a representative from their staff to four hours of training (2 hours of instruction plus 2 hours of practicum) has proved difficult.