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TEXT: Laid-off Kenosha, Wis., reporter seeks advice on starting non-profit online news community


You've got public television and you've got public radio -- why not publicly funded newspapers?

Denise Lockwood is like thousands of U.S. daily newspaper reporters -- she fell victim to staff reductions. But she's not giving up reporting -- she's pursuing her passion onlline.

Lockwood, an award-winning education reporter, is looking for advice on how to start a non-profit online news and community site for southeastern Wisconsin. She wants to focus on providing the context and background that dailies are being forced by economics to abandon.

One idea Lockwood is pursuing -- what do we mean by "participatory democracy." She worries that it isn't enough to just vote anymore, that citizens "need to show up" at public meetings.

On Oct. 13, 2008, Lockwood talked by phone with Bill Densmore of the Media Giraffe Project and Matt Thompson, a 2008-2009 Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute fellow at the Missouri School of Journalism. Here are some text excerpts of the discussion:

Interview excerpts

DENISE LOCKWOOD: I want to starting an online news magazine that would really focus on investigative stuff, intense, local pieces.

I can't tell you how many times I've been at a board meeting ... there's nobody there. It used to be, and now I'm gone. the community si really missing out on some very important isseus, and that breaks my heart.

I'm trying to figure out if there's anyone else who is doing this, what challenges they face, what success they have, what resources they use -- how they funded it is a big question. How they are funded is a question. I'm intersted in non-profit journalism.

... So my thinking is to find out if people have used video, and primary sources, but also kind of using some of those websites as collective places that knowledge can be drawn from so that communities can tap into those resources on an ongoing basis. So that tomorrow's newspaper just doesn't disappear, you still have an archive or a log that's coming back and forth that has that issue, that background that we all have to have to make intelligence decisions.

There seems to be a need in the community for background and just basics of even how taxes are figured and what makes a budget. REally kind of having collective resources that if, i'm a community member and I'm trying to find out why health care costs more here in Southwestern Wisconsin than in the entire nation, and why that is, i want ot know from a collective standpoint information from different, primary sources. .... so you're not only getting perspective but also the background and the issues that are being discussion in the community. But not having it go away because a new day's news has been established. But really tring to pool resources.

MATT THOMPSON: News sites ... should not just be concacenations of recent news that fade from relevance a few hours later, they should actually be living archives that are updated over time and relevant indefinitely.

LOCKWOOD: There are so many issues that have ongoing story lines. And what to newspapers do well, they interpret, the give context, and now we are abandoning that for the daily news, the crime of the moment, the breaking idea." "The medium is really unlimited with websites, so why not use it, and really kind of have that different layers of knowledge. I'm working with the Poynter Institute to work on storyboarding -- telling the story from the point of view of a patient, or a hospital administrator, or a doctor or the state Medicaid director. You can look at an organization as a whole -- how does it work.

MATT THOMPSON (blogging at newsless.org) -- Many of us who have been working in news who have been working in online news are coming to the same sorts of conclusions about what the shapen of news should be online. A few of us having taken that step of articulating exactly what this looks like. We're beginning this process of evolution and this first few tries at this we're definitely going to get some things wrong, we may fail to garner an audience with some initial stabs at it but I really want to capture some of the initial ideas.

LOCKWOOD: These communities are really losing that collective knowledge base becuase we're just not doing it. Two thirds of our taxes in Racine county go to the school district, I can't tell you how many times I've been at other school district sthat no one is there at the annual meeting where they're actually setting the lvy or the mill rate -- and that's two thirds of the tax bill. And these school districts are relaly struggling and if people knew the ideas behind the dollars and the purposes behind these programs, And the could really have a wonderful discussion of how important are these things to us."

MATT THOMPSON: A lot of it is how we ptich those stories. Right now we pitch them to folks who've been paying attention . . . and we sort of leave out those folsk who might be really interested in this stuff if we gave them an avenue to get into it, a gateway to get in.

LOCKWOOD: You've got public television and you've got public radio -- why not publicly funded newspapers?