"The biggest problem, of course, had nothing to do with the newsrooms. It was the collapse of an unsustainable business model."
This is part 1 of the wrap-up for the Online News Association workshop on Citizen Media I spoke at last week in Toronto. See the introductory post for more information and links.
This will necessarily be a combination of what I said at the workshop and what I wanted to say. The principle lesson learned over the three years plus at Urban Vancouver is that we found it hard to convince people to post to Urban Vancouver if they already have their own blog. Some do it, like Dave Olson, Stewart Marshall, Roland, myself, and others (yes, I'm aware of the poetry and real estate posts), but for the most part, people figure if they already have a blog, then there's no point in publishing it elsewhere. We syndicate most Vancouver-based blogs anyway using their RSS feeds, so it doesn't matter too much. The other lesson from Urban Vancouver is that editing is a full-time job for at least one person done currently by 4 people who already have full-time jobs. The duties of Urban Vancouver include moderating comments and posts according to the terms of service; gardening the aggregator (adding, removing, updating feeds), responding to the emails we get, mostly mistakenly; and encouraging people to participate on the site. We've been happy with the high search engine ranking Urban Vancouver enjoys, and discussed SEO briefly during my session at the workshop. I suggested that writing for people, enabling comments, and having an RSS feed will get people to link to you (or even syndicate you) and therefore drive up your ranking.
An audience member suggested headlines as a determining factor: it's one thing to have a savvy and witty headline, but being briefly descriptive instead helps people get an immediate sense for the individual story's topic and helps people who are looking for such a thing in Google. I could have, but didn't, mention tags. At my session and as a follow-up to a comment in someone else's session, I tried to work in Urban Vancouver's aggregtor effectively being a new type of newswire (at least one blogger uses Urban Vancouver's RSS feed to end all RSS feeds as fodder for a regular column), but couldn't fit it in. I mentioned that it was okay to promote your wares (or others') on Urban Vancouver as long as it wasn't press release style, i.e. more conversational and less like a pitch. Also, copyright owned by the original author both encourages people to post their stuff and limits the work we have to do: since we can't sublicense any of the works, we don't.
Along with Lisa, I don't think Urban Vancouver competes with sites like Metroblogging Vancouver, Beyond Robson, and neighbourhood-specific blogs like Kitsilano and Carrall Street, since we syndicate and directly link to their sites often. An audience member suggested that we don't "compete" because Urban Vancouver doesn't sell advertising—at least not yet—and therefore doesn't compete for the pool of ad dollars.
See also: "What If You Created A Community Site and Nobody Came?", my November 2006 article in which I talk about Urban Vancouver and community sites in general.
Last week, at the Sheraton Centre in Toronto, I spoke for a few minutes on at the Online News Association's pre-conference workshop on citizen media. With Lisa Williams, proprietor of H2otown.info, a community site for residents of Watertown, Massachusetts, we were scheduled to talk about what's missing from local news coverage, but both chose to talk about the lessons we learned as outsiders in developing sites designed to get people talking about their respective cities in conversational ways that big press outlets can't seem to be able to. I will discuss, in future posts, the lessons I talked about for Urban Vancouver, a community site run by myself and three others (Roland Tanglao, Kris Krug, and Boris Mann, whose name came up later in the workshop); the lessons the workshop had for citizen/participatory journalism in general, if such a thing exists; and finally what I learned about my presenting.
Before I do tackle Urban Vancouver, I want to point out some bloggers who took notes and posted them to the web, some instantaneously. Omar took brief notes of each session; Barbara Iverson added more detail, continued covering Lisa's portion of the talk, and then when I talked about Drupal. Most of the websites presented at the Citizen Media workshop are powered by Drupal, which I pointed out during my portion of the talk. Although I didn't see him at the workshop, Travis Smith's thoughts on the ONA conference and citizen/participatory journalism are a must-read.
I found those two from Google Alerts for my full name. If you have notes, commentary, photos, etc., please point them out in the comments and I'll link to them here.
"News organizations are the dairies of the 21st century: they currently make the product and also deliver it directly to the individual."
Season 5 to focus on the newspaper and how the media frames crime in the American city.
Notes about the workshop I participated in. I wouldn't say I'm "the founder" of Urban Vancouver, but I'm definitely was a managing editor at founding.
The following two articles have information about it as well, covering Lisa William's talk.
One mistake describes an interesting case of dismissing something appearing on the Internet but taking it seriously when it appeared in paper form.
The flight's booked, so now's as good a time as any to announce that I'll be in Toronto from October 16th to the 19th, on the 17th speaking at the Online News Association conference at the Sheraton Centre. In my capacity as managing editor of Urban Vancouver, I'll be speaking with Lisa Williams, with whom I worked on Placeblogger, at a talk titled "Filling the Gaps in Local Coverage". My current mindset on the topic is along the lines of the Ryan Sholin's question "what's missing from the news", the answer being "lots", the hard part being "how to we cover what's missing?" Individual blogging and local group blogs are part of the answer, and so is aggregation, but the questions I'd like to ask is "where are the editors of citizen journalism?" and "is there room for assignments and/or publishing schedules in the blogosphere?"
Always with the questions. I'm looking forward to visiting with the friends I made online and in person while visiting Toronto last year, and one I had already met without really realizing it at the time. (Long story.) I'm also looking forward to finally meeting Lisa, who runs a community site for Watertown, Massachusetts, one of Bryght's longest-running sites (more than 2 and a half years old) and someone I've known about 2 years before that.