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J-Lab recommendations for community news sites and their supporters

November 18, 2010

The following list of recommendations for community news sites and their supporters is excerpted from “New Voices: What Works”, a report authored by J-Lab’s Executive Director, Jan Schaffer, that offers a rich set of “lessons from funding five years of community news start-ups”. You can also view the full report and a list of “ten key takeaways” here.

J-Lab Recommendations for Community News Sites and Supporters

For those who seek to launch their own community news sites, be they professional or amateur journalists, we urge you to:

  • Start simply with free or open-source software.
  • Be sure project leaders stay involved; delegating key tasks to grad assistants or volunteers doesn’t work.
  • Build in a community editor or partnership coordinator on the front end to engage in the high-touch work of teasing out content contributors.
  • Hook interest from entities with established infrastructures – agricultural extension agencies, public libraries, community technology centers.
  • Try everything. Keep what works and redo what doesn’t. Be willing to do so quickly.
  • Remember that the community doesn’t only want news; it wants connections as well.
  • Think of your task as not just covering community, but building it as well.

For those in a position to support new developments in the community news ecosystem, consider interventions that:

  • Build up social media skills for community news sites.
  • Convene existing site operators with wannabe site founders.
  • Provide training in grant writing and management.
  • Establish a New Ideas Fund for ideas that surface after the project really understands what it needs.
  • Build a second-tier Tech Fund for sites ready for more complex web development.
  • Ramp up donor education so that interested high-wealth individuals understand opportunities for supporting new media infrastructures.
  • Develop ad software that can help small sites monetize their value to their communities.
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