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Why community newspapers should blog (Guest post by Marcie Hill)

Guest post by Marcie Hill, Journalist/Professional Blogger for the community resource site Your Chicago South Side Resource & Founder/President of The Write Design Company

Many neighborhoods and communities have newspapers that provide information and resources that are relevant to them.  Because the journalists that write for these publications are from the community, residents tend to place a higher level of trust in these publications.  Unfortunately, many community newspapers have limited staffs and budgets and large amounts information to share.  To help remedy this situation, they should consider having a blog in addition to their print publication.  Following are seven reasons why.

  1. Create and control your own media. Most stories and events in individual communities are not covered by mainstream media. When they are covered, stories shown tend to be negative or missing great detail.  Blogging allows community papers to share positive information about the people, places and events in the community in any format they want.  Community members with writing skills may also contribute at some point. Ultimately, they control the media and the message.
  2. People who don’t live in those communities do not know what’s going on.  Reporting on blogs can dispel many untruths and exaggerations shared by mainstream media. This could also garner support from outsiders for issues relevant to the community.
  3. Blogs are another source of news distribution.  Many community newspapers that serve low-income residents tend to rely on print to get the message to this audience. They are missing out on a more tech savvy audience, which can ultimately expand the newspaper’s reach.
  4. Continue to build relationships with residents in the community. Blogs allow community newspaper to really listen to the issues and concerns of the people and have conversations with residents who stop by online. This will not only help build relationships, it will also give them more stories to report.
  5. Share information quickly.  Because many community newspapers tend to be weekly, bi-weekly or monthly, a blog will allow them to share new developments and last minute information as soon as it is received.
  6. Become a news source for mainstream media. In addition to press releases, newspapers can send links to relevant stories to large media outlets on their sites.  Their online presence and the number of visitors to their sites will greatly increase.
  7. Generate another source of revenue through advertising.  Community newspapers can get advertisements from local businesses or large organizations that would like to reach members of the communities they serve, which will result in more revenue.

Blogs can be valuable assets to community newspapers.  In addition to reporting accurate and positive information about the neighborhood, they can expand their readership beyond their community.  Their online presence will ultimately result in increased credibility as a news source by local residents and worldwide audiences.

Whether you’re a community group or a community newspaper, blogs can be a great, informal way to tell your story. If you’re interested in learning more about blogging, check out our upcoming basic blogging workshop with former Tribune Reporter Teresa Puente.

Nonprofit Blogs to Watch: Every Person Is a Philosopher

Nonprofits are working hard to raise their online profiles. Twitter, Facebook, RSS feeds–these are just a few of the digital communications tools that nonprofits must start to embrace. Which brings me to blogs. Lots of nonprofits are trying them, and I want to highlight some of the good ones. We can learn important lessons from our nonprofit blogging friends.

This week, I kick it off with The Neighborhood Writing Alliance’s new blog “Every Person is a Philosopher.” The Neighborhood Writing Alliance provides opportunities for people in Chicago’s under-served communities to write, publish, and perform works about their lives. The blog is another way for the organization to share stories about their work.

A few things this blog is doing really well:

1) Updating regularly! It’s so important to update your blog often, and this usually requires multiple staff members contributing. We’re nonprofits so we’re all stretched for time. Pick one person to manage the blog, but ask multliple staff to contribute. (I know the problem well — I’ve been swamped so I haven’t posted to the NP Communicator blog since Nov. 18! Yikes. But I keep reminding myself to update as often as I can. A couple times a week is a good goal. If you can update every day, even better.)

2) Varied content. The new blog includes excerpts from people’s writing, profiles of staff and volunteers, photos from an event and guest posts. This keeps the content fresh and interesting and gives you opportunities to reuse content that may be found in other organizational publications.

3) Tapping friends to help out. Guest posts that relate to your subject area are great! It gives your organization another post and shares another perspective on your site. If the person works for another organization, ask if they’d be willing to include a post from your nonprofit on their site or blog in the future. Content sharing online is a great way to spread the word.

If you want to learn more about blogging, we’re offering a blogging workshop with Blogger and former Chicago Tribune Reporter Teresa Puente. Learn more here.

Guest Essay: Why is the Internet so slow?

This is the last guest essay from our recent report “Realizing Potential” about the long-term needs of the online news sector. This essay, by Justin Massa of Metro Chicago Information Center, focuses on why net neutrality is so important for hyper-local online news providers and bloggers. You can find the first two guest essays on the NP Communicator blog as well.  Read the full report here.

“Realizing Potential” Guest Essay: Why Is the Internet So Slow?

By Justin Massa, Director of Project and Grant Development, Metro Chicago Information Center

Imagine if, when shopping for appliances, only GE microwaves could nuke your food on high power while other brands could only operate at 75 percent. Or, imagine if only calls from certain telemarketers rang through to your mobile phone while your friends had to pay an extra, per-call fee in order to reach you. Sounds crazy, right?

Unfortunately, there are a growing number of major corporations lobbying for just this approach to data on the internet.

Telephone and power lines are, in a word, dumb. They don’t pay attention to who is using them for what purpose or what devices they are connected to, only that the user has paid the bill. Until very recently, the internet operated in much the same manner; while your specific connection speed might vary based on your individual plan, the actual content that came to your device and the specific make/model of your computer, phone, radio or car didn’t matter. All websites loaded at (roughly) the same speed and you have been free to connect any device to the web. This is the core tenet of net neutrality: your connection to the internet should be ‘dumb’ and deliver whatever content you request to whatever device you use at the same speed, regardless of what the content is.

But this principle has recently been called into question by both the courts and major corporations. In April, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) does not have the authority to regulate an internet provider’s network management practices and policies; in short, the FCC can’t enforce regulations to protect network neutrality.

Then, in August, Google and Verizon released “A Joint Policy Proposal for an Open Internet,” laying out a set of seven principles they believe should guide federal regulation. In their proposal, there is a clear distinction between the rules for “wireline” and “wireless” services. While wired broadband access (such as through a cable modem or an office’s network) would be governed by a weakened set of network neutrality principles, wireless broadband—which includes every connection to the web from a mobile phone—would only be required to disclose the exact nature of their services and would be allowed to control how fast various services were able to communicate data back and forth. Under their proposal, Verizon would be able to allow, for example, USA Today to display stories three times as fast as the Sun-Times in a mobile web browser, for the right price.

University of Illinois at Chicago Prof. Karen Mossberger’s research highlights the importance of network neutrality over wireless broadband for hyperlocal journalists in Chicago. In her “Digital Excellence in Chicago” report for the City of Chicago, she writes, “Over a third of Chicago residents have accessed the internet through some type of wireless device, and the concentration of such use among residents under 30 suggests that this trend is likely to increase in the future, especially with advances in technology.”

As the Workshop’s NEW News report suggests, the vast majority of Chicago’s neighborhood news sources are passion projects and few are generating much revenue. And, as we all know from our own internet use, speed is everything: waiting too long for a page to load simply means you will look elsewhere for the information. If wireless broadband providers are allowed to require that hyperlocal journalists pay for top-tier access—fees that many likely cannot afford—the inevitable result will be fewer sources for neighborhood news.

Tribune’s Chicago best blogs, vital signs for metro news

Hey, The Chicago Tribune has a feature running on their home page for Chicago’s best blogs. Come on, you know you want to nominate CMW! For npcommunicator, or Curtis Black’s Newstips blog… or both!

I just found it because I was looking for a web version of a “wrapper” that came on this morning’s home delivery Tribune discussing some tweaks to the print edition and reiterating the paper’s “mission.” That’s a promising sign.

Less promising: In an article in The Atlantic, writer Michael Hirschorn envisions the question “[W]hat if The New York Times goes out of business—like, this May?” (thanks, Kevin Taglang at Benton Foundation). 

It reminds me of what we see again and again with smaller news outlets: at the margins, news publishing is thriving… but metro news is just taking a tremendous beating. Another way to say that is, anyone can do news and eke out a living, but big bucks are hard to come by. That’s how the news business started in this country. It’s hard to believe that’s what we would go back to.

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