There has been some pub recently about an experiment by Howard Owens and Ryan Sholin working with Gatehouse Media to launch a website in a place, Batavia, NY, where Gatehouse doesn’t publish a newspaper. You can read more about it here, here and here.
Here are the basics:
- Set up an office on Main Street
- Have one hired journalist/lead blogger in town everyday to connect with the community
- Build a site around a blog
- Allow any registered user to submit content, seek them out and promote them as much as possible
- Offer all the standard community tools
- Think about hiring a journalist to cover local sports
- Link liberally to other local blogs and content
- Post videos of events and breaking news
- Pull in feed from several sources
Here are a few of the comments being circulated about this experiment.
. . . the strategy is to launch an innovative news and community site that will eat the lunch of an incumbent newspaper that has ignored the web.
The Batavian is an experiment in whether a new web-native journalism can better serve a community. Here’s Howard on “Exploring the complexity of community issues as a community“
The Batavian lets any registered reader contribute posts, and it treats all registered readers as equals. One full-time reporter, and a couple of other Gatehouse employees who contribute occasionally, make sure The Batavian has new posts every day. The rest of The Batavian’s content comes from residents.
The company I work for, Gazette Communications, is based in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The company owns a TV station, a newspaper and a commercial print operation. We have a bureau with a few reporters in Iowa City which is about 20 or so miles to the south, and Iowa City also has its own newspaper, as does the University of Iowa.
All of these traditionally run media sites, including the one I have some influence on, operate on a print-centric workflow, philosophy and approach. The biggest argument for doing this experiment is that a digital-only operation will not operating under any rules or constraints.
A lot of people in the building at Gazette Communications believe there is tremendous opportunity in the Iowa City market. I feel those opportunities, however, go beyond entertainment and University of Iowa students.
Digital communication allows all members of the public – the press, the politicians, the government agents and the citizens – to discuss choices, consequences and conditions as equals. Reporters need no longer be bound by the limitations of print and present just the so-called objective report, but rather explore, examine, raise and answer questions, and start conversations.
So what do you think? Can this type of experiment work in Iowa City? Anyone willing to try it?
Note: Howard Owens on Walter Lippmann: Lippmann was an elitist. He believed that the modern world was too complex for the average citizen to grasp, and that Joe Public probably didn’t care anyway. Modern democracy worked best, he argued, if the governing class was comprised of experts and professionals who set the policy and then manufactured public consent. The role of the press in this model was to merely transmit the decisions and actions of the elites in simple terms, with little questioning or interpretation, aiming to maximize emotional impact.