The Oregonian to play nice with local bloggers and independent news site.

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.

Big Finish

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 cswart@oregonian.com,  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!

Cornelius

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19 comments
  1. Tshombe said:

    Cornelius,

    This sounds great! Collaboration with folks who were formerly considered worthy to merely consume the news is a radical new model for journalism.

    After reading your assessment of your new role in all of this, and after viewing the video of how Seattle has embraced and benefited from this approach, I’m interested to follow the development of the Portland Project.

    Speaking of Seattle, something that they did that I thought was very interesting was to recruit local people to write blogs for the Seattle Post Intelligencer. In other words, the personal blog documenting personal experiences living and working in a particular community in Seattle “lived” on The Seattle PI site itself rather than on someone’s personal site elsewhere.

    They generally were niche topics. For example, one Seattle woman documenting her experiences from discovering she had cancer and her life in the wake of that. The blog is called “Lemon Margaritas” (http://blog.seattlepi.com/lemonmargaritas/).

    Forgive my ignorance if this is something that The Oregonian already does, but if not, does this pilot program also envision including something like this?

  2. Bloggers and independent journalists will only benefit from having more support, but at what cost? Will the Oregonian play nice? This reads like an unpaid internship.

    With the resources to help journalists reach much bigger and unforeseen audiences, I also have the lasting impression that people aged boomer and beyond are the sole readership of the paper. Oregon Live is a mess, and no thanks, I’d rather have my own domain, user interface with selected advertisers. The main benefit I expect would be attempting to bridge a generational gap between those who get their news from the internet, and with those who subscribe to the daily and open the pages on the kitchen table…?

    I’m curious to change my mind and gain more clarity.

  3. Tshombe said:

    Jacob,

    Of course, I don’t know this and may be totally wrong, but I don’t think ‘working with bloggers’ means taking them on as interns, unpaid or otherwise. The bloggers would have an existing web presence in particular niches/neighborhoods/beats and The Oregonian would link to their stories.

    It seems like one of the purposes of this would be a sort of recognition of bloggers as legitimate, credible journalists. With waning staff that is probably already overworked and still unable to cover all the great news happening (and especially from various perspectives), I can see where the paper potentially would be enhanced.

    As for the bloggers who participate, they would naturally gain more readership and traffic. The addition of no-cost training and education is a bonus.

    What say you, Mr. Swart?

  4. Yes this is a good distinction to make. For the most part, the project is not asking the partners to do anything they don’t already do. If you’re beat is covering the town of Remote Ore, then you just do that. Nothing changes. As the partner posts his or her stories on their own blog, those headlines will also come up through OregonLive. Depending on the story, those headlines might get promoted to different pages on the site from breaking news to homes and garden. You can see it on the Seattle Times home page. The Times isn’t assigning stories to the partners. The headline links open up in pop-up windows so that you can clearly see the partner site, brand, story [and very important one here] their ads. Like I said in the post. I believe the success of the program will require that there is very little or really no, extra work for the partners to have to do. They are swamped as it is. Having said that, there will be some work at the beginning and we are going to select a handful of Pilot Partners who will get a cash award to compensate them for us having to sort out the details and smooth the bumps with us. More on that soon. Stay Tuned.

  5. It was great to talk with you the other day, and I’m totally stoked to see where this goes. The one last bit of advice I have is to be as methodical as possible with your experiments. Approach them as science with limited variables and a controlled environment. If you can do that, you’ll be able to bring together truly valuable assessments of what works in this space and what doesn’t.

  6. NORTH said:

    Cornelius,

    Does this mean the hyperlocal bloggers posts will turn up on OregonLive.com? If so, will The O spring for a salary for someone to moderate the comments or will it just be a place for the trolls to keep spilling hate? If there is no moderation there is no discussion. If there is no discussion we bloggers would just be posting into a hellish echo chamber..

  7. That is such …an… incredibly…AWESOME comment. That’s a really great issue to bring up. I hadn’t thought about that. Trolls and comment moderation is something we will have to watch very carefully and address head-on if/when it arises. As luck would have it the folks at Digital Journalism Portland http://journopdx.com/ sponsored a great discussion last Tuesday in which folks from OPB, The Columbian, The Portland Mercury, C-Net, ReadWriteWeb and The Oregonian all discussed comment moderation and trolls. It was pretty interesting. I don’t know to what extent I can discuss the comment policies of these companies. BUT there seems to be lots that can be done, especially on smaller sites, to deal with these issues. That will be one for the laboratory for sure. Thanks for flagging that. Very sharp. I would want to sit at your table in the cafeteria if we were in High School.

    • NORTH said:

      Cornelius,

      I suspect The O doesn’t want to moderate OLive because the easiest way to filter the trolls is to make people register and use their real names, mapped to an IP address. Making them register and be public will cause a drop off in users and traffic. This brings me to the issue with newspaper companies and the web – they are focused in the present of solving problems of the past.. Just look at the iPad app disasters – http://bit.ly/slate_iPad

      The past problem, the drop in revenues because of reader defection, can not be solved by advertising on the web sites of these publications. The horrendous UI/UX on OLive.com doesn’t solve anything. The site is a nightmare to navigate and is cluttered to all hell with banner ads and the like. And don’t get me started on the comments.

      This lack of concern on the OLive folks side for how we readers/users navigate the site will result in a failure of the aggregated blog plan, I guarantee it. We access the news from all points now, but mainly mobile as mobile use continues its exponential growth. We can choose how we want to use it too, which menas the The O as a brand has no control over that. So another question – will the new blog aggregated sites be optimized for mobile? They better be!

      I could talk about this all day as what I’m discussing here is what I do at my day job. I am particularly interested in what media publications will do when they embrace mobile because the failures of Rupert Murdoch’s, The Daily, and Richard Branson’s Project Magazine, just go to show that even companies with millions of $$s to spend on Apps, get it terribly wrong.

      It’s about the reader/user not the content of the digital “container..”

      Dave Allen http://North.com

  8. Tshombe said:

    Wouldn’t any comments be on the bloggers’ blogs? I don’t think The Oregonian would be moderating comments on other people’s blogs.

    I think that is beyond the scope of the collaboration. The point is that the bloggers maintain their independence, just as they’ve always enjoyed. I would hope they have a system in place to catch SPAM and to moderate their own comments.

    Similarly, blog optimization for mobile phones on individual blogs should be the responsibility of their respective owners.

    • NORTH said:

      It appears to be unclear, to me anyway, where the blog post or the blogs themselves will live..that said, if the OLive nightmare isn’t cleared up it won’t go away.

  9. Jared said:

    Wow. The Seattle Times video was helpful, thanks.

    My concern lies in the details of “I’ll be working to create partnerships between The Oregonian/OregonLive and hyperlocal, beat and topic bloggers from around the state.”

    When I moved to Oregon in 1999, the Oregonian had writers working throughout the state. I enjoyed stories about Medford, Klamath Falls, Grants Pass, Coos Bay and Roseburg. Those veins dried up years ago. Now, the newspaper rarely reaches beyond south of Salem (except for Ducks sports coverage).

    Hard news coverage still flows up to the Oregonian via the AP wire, albeit in 2-3 paragraph bites where full stories used to run. However, the same can’t be said for feature stories, the festivals, the wineries, the artists who get the short shrift.

    As you gather topic bloggers from around the state, please be attentive to the arts and entertainment alive and well outside Portlandia.

  10. RE: Trolls-The partner blog content lives on THE PARTNER BLOG. It’s just the headlines or perhaps short summaries, that will be on OLive and will link back to the Partner Blog. The home page of http://www.Seattletimes.com [below the fold under Local Partners] is the best way to visualize this. It’s pretty straight forward. Anon commenters/Trolls from OLive would not be able to post comments on Partner Blogs unless the partner blog has a policy of allowing anon. comments.
    RE: Metro V Statewide focus- yes, I agree. I think that’s one of the excite opportunities of the project is to broaden things up again.

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