Friday, December 17, 2004

Do-it-yourself news

Grassroots newspapering may not be the hottest thing since the invention of movable type, but it is starting to take root. There are several variations on the do-it-yourself theme, but it goes something like this:

You create a web site that not only invites, but encourages, readers to contribute their own articles, pictures, audio and video. The content either is or isn't edited by a gatekeeper. And everyone who visits the the site is encouraged to add, subtract or detract from the posted info.

Two up-and-runnning -- actually, more like up-and-crawling -- DIY sites illustrate the concept:

The first is, the beta version of a do-it-yourself online newspaper that is an offshoot of the well-trafficked Wikipedia, a rather ambitious online encyclopedia written entirely by volunteers who take the time to author articles and/or amend those written by others. Even though there are no editors to police the content, the few listings I sampled seemed to be surprisingly accurate, objective and well written.

Visiting WikiNews for the first time, I cribbed from the New York Times to refresh an outdated article on the Ukraine election, ethically attributing the new stuff to the Gray Lady. When I clicked the button, the article published instantly, remaining on the site for a couple of days until it was overtaken by events. As an inveterate editor and busybody, I was tickled by the ease with which I could hijack the story. But I get chills over the obvious potential for abuse.

MyMissourian has a more modest mandate than covering all the world's news all the time. It publishes "News of Mid-Missourians by Mid-Missourians." The lead story today is about Rita Preckshot being named citizen of the year, accompanied by a classic grip-and-grin photo. Although MyMissourian depends on reader-submitted articles and pictures, the content is screened, and presumably edited, prior to publication. This is a journalistically superior model that won't scale if the idea catches on in a big way. Even if the flow of in-bound content is less than torrential, a responsible adult will have to be engaged to mind it.

Speaking of large-scale grassroots news projects, a new site called Backfence is planning to launch early next year in the Washington (D.C.) market. Backfence hopes to become the authoritative source for chicken-dinner news in the affluent D.C. suburbs. Revenues would come from selling ads to local merchants, who can't afford to advertise in the big media and would be insane to do so if they could.

If the Backfence pilot is successful, the idea will be exported to "16 other metropolitan areas over three years, with 10 town-size sites in each market," says CEO Mark Potts, a feisty former Chicago newsman who went on to run new media ops at the Washington Post, Cahners and elsewhere. (Although WashPost won't cover the news that Backfence will, they did cover Mark. Click here to read all about it.)

If Mark has his way, big-time media execs eventually will be forced to choose between joining the grassroots movement or staying lost in the weeds.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of the old media's biggest vulnerabilities is men's issues. The extent to which the old media ignores men's issues, and pushes feminists nonsense, is truly astonishing.

As a media veteran, just consider this. The Washington Post is running a prominent series "following up" on the Peterson tabloid story (see WP front page, 12/19). While the WoPo may be trying to compete with the tabloids, it will lose, because the tabloids are a better read for these kinds of horror stories. On the other hand, the real untold story is domestic violence against men. The relevant research is readily available (see here ) and at least one UK major publication has provided some reporting (see here) But the real difference is that now the web makes the untold story available to anyone who cares to type “domestic violence against men” into Google.

Gross anti-male media bias really is a major problem. The NYT runs 30 articles about Augusta National's male-only membership, but never mentions men's lack of reproductive rights, anti-male sexism in the family courts, how men, because of their shorter life expectancy, get shafted by the current social security system... Groups like Fathers-4-Justice ( will get their message out. The question is what news sources will have any credibility remaining when they do.

12:16 PM  
Blogger brw said...

I am a little repulsed by this conservative diatribe. Males, particularly white males, can hardly claim to be discriminated against, either now or in the past. Sure, there are (many) male issues that need greater attention—take for example the fact that many media organizations ignore the fact that men also get (and need to be educated about) breast cancer. At the same time, though, to claim (or at least suggest) that domestic violence against men is as serious and prevalent problem as domestic violence against women is insane!

A more important issue, though, is how the media treats a broader (and more sensible) array of conservative points of views. For example, the media antagonizes the religious right, dismissing them as rural, uneducated, dogmatic freaks. Not all religious people are fundamentalist, and moderate religion deserves better coverage. Until they get what they deserve, though, they are likely to be large contributors to grass-roots, citizen journalism efforts. Just take a look at how active the religion section of is.

1:56 PM  
Blogger Peg said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

12:42 PM  
Blogger Peg said...

Just wanted to make sure you were aware of another grassroots launch.


12:44 PM  
Anonymous Pat said...

Just found your post, which relates to my new project,

Essentially, WikiCity provides a city wiki for every city. Thanks in advance for your feedback.

5:38 PM  
Blogger nick said...

7:39 AM  

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