Jonathan Dube of CBC Canada attended in October, 2006, the Citizen Journalism Summit sponsored by the University of Maryland's J-Lab center and reported on a presentation by Maureen Mann.
J-Lab's website updated The Forum's progress in a comprehensive post in May, 2006.
Maureen Mann, her husband Bob and a cadre of other volunteers run a citizen-jouranalism website which serves several very small towns in rural New Hamshire. A retired library who moved north from Massachusetts, Mann and her colleagues obtained in 2005 a $12,000 startup grant from the Knight Foundation via the University of Maryland's J-Lab initiative. They spend $50 a month on the webside and had sold almost $10,000 worth advertising by June 2006.
On Saturday, July 1, 2006, Philbrick James Forum co-founder Maureen Mann was part of a panel at the Media Giraffe Project summit at UMass Amherst. Here are excerpts of some of her remarks from the discussion among fellow citizen-journalism website operators:
PLAY QUICKTIME VIDEO OF ENTIRE PANEL
Q: Why did you start?
(32:02) And literally the only reason we exist is because there was no conceivable coverage. Nobody knew who or if anyone was running for office. Nobody knew what warrant articles were, nobody knew if somebody had died. Nobody knows if somebody had a baby. There was no real outlet for somebody who was angry or had an opinion about something going on in the area to express it. (32:29)
Q: What were your early fears?
(33:45) -- Well, the first fear of course was that there wouldn't be enough news to cover. As it turns out, that fear disappeared immediately, replaced by a fear, as what Gordon says, we just don't have enough bodies because as we've grown, more people want more things covered. (ends at 34:06)
Q: What effect are you having?
(52:49) All right, I guess the best way I can explain, well there are two ways, the effect we are having, in 2005, in the municipal elections which are things in our area such as select board, planning board, library trust and I'll use specifically Deerfield. There were 22 positions on the ballot. Eight of them had no candidate running at all and all but two were uncontested and often it was the same person who had been in that office forever.
Q: What were your early challenges?
(01:16:27) As you can imagine, credibility was a real issue with us in the beginning. And what we did is we concentrated on what it was that we thought people really wanted to know. And so we went to the towns and got police blotters, we got information on the fire department, where was the fire, and then what we did on the theory that everybody is very nosy about everybody else . . . . .is we profiled not just important people in the community necessarily, but the postmaster, just somebody a woman in her 90s, something called the pink-mobile."
Q: What about sustaining the work of volunteers?
But the problem is, once you start paying say five of us who put in the most hours, then the people who maybe submit one article or go to one meeting, well if you're getting paid why shouldn't I get paid. So we've ended up not paying anybody. And it has become an issue we have to look at because we are burning out the people that do all the work and they're doing it with love for the job. I'm not sure how much paying them $25 to go to a meeting and $25 to do an article would make a difference, and it might destroy the whole volunteer basis of it. But it is a real dilemma, because maybe it would attract more people if they felt they could get $25 to go to a meeting or to interview somebody. (ends at 1:19:46)
Q: How do you recruit people?
1:21:21 -- We harass everybody we run into on the street. If somebody says I'm interested in this, well write an article about it. Because if you're interested in target shooting somebody out there is interested in reading about target shooting. You cannot say one word to anybody on the staff of the Forum without them immediately arm twisting. (ends at 1:21:41)
Q: What motivates you?
(1:45:32) I think what motivates us is we have become addicted and I don't think we could stop now. I would like to say the community needs us but I suspect we need the community so we can keep doing this.