Local citi-J websites claim staying power and most began because of perceived inadequacy of legacy media, preliminary Ford-funde

Local online news sites measure their success by impact on their community and not by numbers and most intend to be around indefinitely, according a sneak-preview of citizen-media research supported by a $50,000 Ford Foundation grant. Most of the sites began because of dissatisfaction with existing local media, the survey has also found.  

UPDATE: February 2007 -- study now online
Jan Schaffer, director of J-Lab at the University of Maryland-College Park, introduced preliminary results from the survey of 31 citizen-media projects at the Citizens Media Summit II(SUMMIT SUMMARY)  in Washington, D.C., then turned over the podium to consulting researcher Susan Brenna for details. The 90-minute telephone-interview survey, with standard questions, was conducted in May and June.

Foundations could support

Schaffer says J-Lab expects to distribute the survey results to community and family foundations around the United States as a way to encourage small grants to local online journalism sites -- even $10,000 or less. "Because many of these sites need really modest support," Schaffer told conference attendees, "and would be an educational vehicle for local foundations."

A more complete report, both in print and the web, is likely by end-of-year, said Schaffer, including a list of the sites surveyed. The intention is to provide quantifiable data which can be useful to people thinking about launching similar local online news services.

�Many of the site runners I talked to consider themselves a success because they are getting a conversation going in their community," said Brenna. "I get the sense the many people feel they are a success because they are providing a community service. That does not necessarily mean they think they are  providing journalism.�

Other study highlights so far, according to Brenna:

-- Only nine of 31 sites surveyed have any kind of marketing budget.

-- Many sites are struggling with getting enough content. However, for the sites affiliated with some legacy media organizations, the sites are being used as a place to post material which isn't considered of sufficient interest to make the print publication.

-- Not all of what the sites do is journalism, but rather about bringing a subject to light for the community's benefit.  "There's a lot of naked compassion and caring," says Brenna. "There�s a lot of, also, increased number of people who, when video and audio becomes available, they like to post raw stuff � video, audio, documents.�

-- Site owners are struggling with all kinds of issues of managing their site --what to edit, what not to edit, does everything go into a moderator cue?  Online nine of 31 sites post pure news releases, although some are opening up special sections for posting submitted releases.

-- Nine sites started for less than $100, and incur little expenses, not including the labor of founders and volunteers. The barriers to entry are low but the economic and financial questions follow soon after," says Brenna.

-- Only nine would allow pure press releases to be posted.  Some are opening up sections for posting.
-- Many sites began because they were convinced an incumbent local news organization had become distance from the concerns of the community. 

"They wanted a place to discuss things that were not being discussed on their local tv or radio station or newspaper," says Brenna. "There was the observation that radio just reads headlines from the newspaper that [in turn] has lesss local news . . . there is a sense of that."