In this Post
Cornelius gets a new job
What is J-Lab?
Working at the Oregonian
Burying the lead: what’s in it for me, how to get involved
A new job
Greetings from the Death Star! I’m sitting at my new desk inside the largest newsroom in the Pacific Northwest: The Oregonian. Yes, that’s right. Cornelius Swart: scrappy publisher, reporter and master of the pan-flute, has taken a job with The Man!
Well more of a contract than a job to be exact. A few weeks ago I came on board as the new project Coordinator for The Oregonian’s Networked Journalism Project. Over the next year I’ll be working to create partnerships between The Oregonian/OregonLive and hyperlocal, beat and topic bloggers from around the state. The program will attempted to get bloggers and the paper working together in a cooperative and mutually beneficial way. To do that the program will promote hyperlocal and beat blogger stories through the OregonLive website as well as provide trainings aimed at sharpening journalism and business skills. There could be other ways to work together. The program is just getting started. Personally, I’m pretty excited about working with the indie community that I’ve known for so long AND the incredible news professionals here at The Oregonian (the biggest newsroom in the Pacific Northwest , did I mention that all ready?)
What is J-Lab?
The Networked Journalism Project is part of a national effort funded by American University’s J-Lab Institute for Interactive Journalism and the Knight Foundation. It’s a one year pilot program. Last year J-Lab funded Networked Journalism projects at the Seattle Times, Charlotte Observer, the Miami Herald and in Asheville NC and Tucson AZ. This year, The Oregonian, SF public radio station KQED, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Lawrence Journal World (Kan.) all received grants.
It’s a big opportunity for me in particular. For several years while I was publishing the hyperlocal paper The Sentinel, I was also involved in a non-profit think- tank called Portland Media Lab. In 2008, PML published a list of recommendations for improving the local news ecosystem (see items C-F). We tried to implement some of the ideas at the Sentinel, but never really had the resources (read: time and money) to get anything significant off the ground.
So I was excited when I heard The Oregonian had stepped up to the J-Lab plate and put its considerable audience and “resources” into the project. For me, its a chance to put some of PML’s ideas into action.
Working at The Oregonian
The folks here at the O have been really nice to me. I’ve gotten to meet quiet a few people already. It’s been reassuring to see that when it comes down to it, journalists are all journalists, whether they work in huge newsrooms or from their laptops in coffee shops. The folks here are well aware of the paper’s old reputation as “The Death Star” and that some independents may be wary of working with them.
Obviously The Oregonian has had to adapt to the new media world. Circulation at the paper has declined approximately 15 percent since 2008. That’s far better than many in the industry. However, with a daily print circulation of 250,000 and with an online site that gets roughly 2.26 million unique monthly visits and over 22 million page views, the O remains a large operation. So suspicions by the independent community seem natural.
To that end, the O seems committed to a genuine partnership. They went out of their way to recruit someone like me from the indie community. They put my desk at the Portland Team section to loop me into the newsroom, while at the same time advising me to be an “advocate for the bloggers”.
For my part, I’m going to do my best to provide lots of communication about the program each step of the way.
Burying the lead: what’s in it for me, how to get involved
So, without much more ado…no wait, a little more ado…more…little more…ok
What will the project look like?
At first the program will focus on partnering with hyperlocal news sites, then beat bloggers, then topic blogs. In Seattle, blog headlines appear on theSeattle Times home page [below the ‘fold’ under Local News Partners] and RSS feeds on this local channel. Major headlines are curated and promoted to the homepage by the Seattle Times editors and drive serious traffic to partner sites. The program in Seattle has been very success. It started last year with just 5 hyperlocal sites and now has over 27, with more topic based sites still being added.
All the programs across the country involve story promotion.
[BELOW THE SEATTLE TIMES EXPLAINS THEIR PROJECT]
Isn’t that just aggregation?
The short answer is, well, from the outside… yes, it looks like aggregation. But from the J-Lab, and newsroom POV, I think there is a very deliberate effort to avoid simply scraping people’s headlines a-la-the old HuffPo model. I think this program aspires to be a real newsroom partnership where reporters, editors and bloggers work in a peer-to-peer fashion to bring the most important local news to the widest possible audience.
Typically these programs also include trainings and workshops. As a former publisher and small businessman whose clients were small businesses; I’m going to take a special interest in the business training aspect.
I’m aware that indie news producers are generally swamped with their own daily operations. So we’ll have to make sure anything this program does, won’t significantly add to partner workload. Having said that, I would envision holding journalism trainings about legal rights and freedom of the press, public record search techniques, deep search and semantic web and maximizing social media tools for journalism.
Editorially speaking, there are lots of possibilities. Last year, The Seattle Times and blog partners teamed up on coordinated coverage of issues like graffiti and homelessness. This year the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is designing its entire J-Lab partnership around issue driven collaborations. I can’t wait to see what a local story collaborative here in Oregon might look like.
What’s in it for The Oregonian?
Well, nothing is set in stone. This is an experiment. That’s why it’s grant funded. The general sentiment from the O and folks at the Seattle Times, The Charlotte Observer, KQED and Pittsburgh Post-Gazzette ect is that the J-Lab experiment is part of their journalistic mission to provide information in the public interest.
Specifically, The Oregonian launched over 20 new hyperlocal focused pages on OregonLive last year. These pages are providing an increasing amount of neighborhood focused staff reporting. They also allow readers to post their own news and events directly to these community pages. Networked Partner links and headlines promoted in these pages would be a natural fit and would help connect quality local independent reporting with the sizable audience that OregonLive can attract.
Personally, I think the benefits will also come with providing readers additional resources and ‘value add’. As many of us know, being a successful online voice, whether you are in social media or traditional blogosphere, is as much about referring people to quality content, as it is about producing quality content yourself. It’s all part of being a trusted source for your readers.
What does this have to do with The Future of Journalism?
Well, who knows. But one modern vision is that “the news” today is made up of professional journalists, indie and citizen reporters, and the wiki-masses of cell phone empowered citizens who produce viral reports and capture events like the Egyptian Revolution. Taken together these things constitute what has traditionally been called “the fourth estate” or the news media’s ability to put a check on political power. My hope is that partnerships like this J-Lab project can help the mainstream and independent news media develop new cooperative models that allow both forms to stabilize and flourish.
Hold on. I have to put this soapbox back under my desk. Just a sec. The folks at the O were nice enough to let me bring it in here, but they told me…the told me specifically, that I had to keep it out of the way when I was done…there…ok
If you would like to know more about the project, The Oregonian will hold a program orientation and discussion session on Saturday March 12th at 2pm, 1320 SW Broadway, fourth floor, Portland. Digital Journalism Portland will sponsor a second discussion on Tuesday March 22nd, at 7pm, at the Canvass Art Bar & Bistro, 1800 NW Upshur St., Portland.
For details call or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, 503-221-8072, or stay tuned
to this blog [Updated 2.28.11- The official project blog has launched so you can go there TheOregonianNewsNetwork], or follow the tweets @corneliusrex
That’s all from for now.
May the force be with you!