Getting started


preston-bradley-hall-holiday-party-for-opengovchi_11346925516_oThank you for hosting a conversation May 10 as part of the Independent Media Circle for the Chicago Community Trust’s On The Table 2016.


  • Sign up at On the Table 2016.
  • Your event description is the headline and a paragraph of what you want to discuss.
  • Invite your guests via email through the OTT 2016 interface.
  • In the form, select “Independent Media” as your partner (this puts you in queue for the special independent media survey questions.)
  • You’re done registering!
  • You can revise your event and add guests up until the day of your conversation.
  • Follow me on Twitter and join a Facebook group of your peers.


I highly recommend reading some reporting from the New Jersey Local News lab about their experience. First get better acquainted with the concept of what a news ecosystem is.  Then  head over to Medium to read Molly de Aguiar (@MollydeAguiar) and Josh Stearns (@jcstearns) six part series Lessons from the Local News Lab.

Reading these pieces will take you about a half an hour and help you focus on your  contribution to Chicago’s independent media ecosystem and your On The Table 2016 conversation.


  • Look over the Host Kit. That will help you understand how to guide your conversation.
  • Sign up for an On The Table training session, if you like.
  • Share names of others you think might want to participate.
  • Read the online description of the On the Table 2016, independent media circle.

DIY websites for journalists

Here’s what my site looked like in 2002. My first site went live in 1997.

Luckily, setting up a website has gotten a lot easier than when I set up my first website. Back in 1997, I had to print a form downloaded from the Web, fill it out and mail it in with a check to retain my domain name. That domain name purchase was made from the agency that became Web giant Network Solutions, which today manages  more than 7 million domain names.

By the early oughts, I was tapping into the sharing power of the Web by connecting with the Tech world, women’s networks, nonprofit community and others through a scrollbar on my site.

After purchasing my domain name, I then had to find a company that could “host” my domain on the Web- basically make it “live” on the Web. For a Web host, I selected  a company called Pair Networks, which ultimately became too expensive for me. The  first recorded image of in the Internet Archive was in August of the year 2000. By then I had learned rudimentary HTML, was a member of the International Webmaster’s Association and was reporting on venture capital and technology.  I had ambitions to set up my own domain registrar for NPOs. Didn’t succeed or I’d be a millionaire now.

Now that I’ve told you all that, forget it.

DIY for journalists
Setting up a site so you can retain an archive of your articles is 1000% simpler today. Although there are many ways to set up a portfolio online with live links, I believe the best approach for a  journalist is to set up an archive just like I have here in my WordPress site. I learned fairly quickly that I am not a Web designer and WP, SquareSpace and others take care of that shortage of talent.

Here’s what you need to know. Buy your domain name from a registrar.  Also know that you are not actually “buying” your domain name. You are “renting” it for a period of time. Mosts registrars give you a discount when you rent for a number of years so that is what I’d recommend if you can afford it. Here’s the list of the largest domain name registrars from WebHosting.infoLargest_ICANN_Registrars

The largest on this list are GoDaddy, Enom, Network Solutions, Tucows and Schlund+Partner. This list says nothing about price or reliability. I have had personal experience with GoDaddy, Network Solutions and Tucows.

These days, the larger domain registrars are also hosts. And many of them offer an easy user interface with WordPress, which is basically what your “design” on the Web will look like – no hand woven bad html design for lucky you! You can have an interface that looks like this site you’re reading on, which I’ve set up on, the commercial imprint of Word Press. Here’s a sampling of what the bare bones designs look like.



The basic designs are free but many folks choose to jazz them up by hiring a great designer to assist. My feeling is that site design for us sole proprietor/journalists is less important because the quality of information is what is important. And with the way  information is read and distributed on the Web, I think less and less about my site as a destination. In fact, many journalists are experimenting with site-less news models these days.

One-stop shops aplenty
It’s easy to find a one-stop shop that provides domain registration, Web Hosting and WordPress interface. But buyer beware. A company like GoDaddy seemingly makes it simple to buy your domain name and put it on the Web. But I ask at what cost. Me, I dislike GoDaddy.  Their early marketing was offensive (it was like Hooters) and they nickel and dime you for every little service you need. As your use and sophistication grows you might find yourself disgusted pretty quickly .

A couple of years ago I moved to MediaTemple. The $250 per year fee plus the cost of my domain name rental seemed like a good deal for me since I “play” on the Web a lot with various domain names and often establish and run sites and social media for clients. I’ve been pretty happy with them and their services. But now that Media Temple has been purchased by GoDaddy, I am preparing to flee if the extra fees get onerous. One option I have been considering is Bluehost, which is often played off against GoDaddy in articles like this from a site called (which by the way offers lots of useful info for those of you getting started.)

The important thing for a journalist to get from one of these services is 1-click set up for WordPress, which MediaTemple, BlueHost and GoDaddy all have.

Added kudos for Bluehost
When I asked  my friend, colleague and digital expert Courtney Hunt who she would recommend for Domain registration and hosting, she said she is leaning toward BlueHost.    “I typically recommend Bluehost (one of 3 recommended specifically by WordPress). I have clients who use GoDaddy (trying hard, but not the best option) and InMotion (seems to be good) as well,” she said.

I hope this is helpful. Courtney and I are discussing doing a joint session for journalists moving to the Web. Let me know what you’d like to learn about at SallyDuros AT and we’ll see what we can do for you.


Chicago Chamber of Commons


Here’s an intriguing idea I’d like you to join me in exploring.

The idea is to create a Chicago Chamber of Commons.

The Chicago Chamber of Commons recognizes, supports and highlights the green shoots of Chicago’s budding Generative Economy.

We see signs of it everywhere but we’ve not been using a framework to understand what we are seeing so we can better support it.

In her book, “Owning our Future,” Marjorie Kelly discusses the Generative Economy.

Continue reading Chicago Chamber of Commons

Public Lab’s DIY science plugs community into civic decisionmaking

by: Sally Duros |

Through low-cost tools, Public Lab injects community knowledge into civic decision-making about local environmental issues. This community engagement also alleviates media blackouts and information shortfalls that can occur after a major environmental event.

“That’s one of the essential tenets of Public Lab. It’s about rethinking how people can become involved in the decisions that are being made about the places where they’re living,” says Shannon Dosemagen, CEO and a founder of Public Lab.

Public Lab was born from balloon mapping work during the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf Coast. Balloons and kites in the hands of community members provided low cost, easy to use transportation for cameras that took aerial images to create maps and provide data for the community’s case on cleanup priorities.

“After the BP oil spill happened … there wasn’t a lot of good or solid information that was coming from the spill. And, so I started using a crowd-sourcing platform and getting people to report what they were seeing or what they smelled or other changes in their environment. And then another project that I ended up working on during that time was with the aerial mapping kit that Public Lab is pretty well known for,” Dosemagen says.

This work earned Public Lab $500,000 in the 2011 Knight News Challenge and in 2013, they were awarded $350,000 in the Knight News Challenge for Health to build a suite of pollution detection tools.

Today five years after its founding, Public Lab says it is an “open community supported by a non-profit” that creates low-cost tools that everyday people can use to create information that residents need about the places where they live. The data collection methods for researching environmental impact typically cost less than $150. The group’s website lists 22 low-cost technologies and more are being developed every day. Public Lab’s map archive includes 326 citizen-made maps from around the world and some are included in Google maps.

The Public Lab non-profit has staff offices in five states with 62 organizers, who Dosemagen describes as “super volunteers.” The super volunteers integrate Public Lab methods or tools with the work they’re doing and the organizations they’re working with. Activities are under way in 12 to 15 solid chapters and a broader community of between 5,000 and 6,000 people who contribute research notes based on the work that they’re doing or participate in one of the many mailing lists that Public Lab maintains.

Public Lab lists scores of DIY citizen projects on its extensive community populated Wiki website. For instance, in Philadelphia, geographers are mapping to visualize and document community events and gatherings in parks and plazas throughout the city. In Southeast Chicago, in an old steel mill industrial area, massive piles of ‘petcoke’ or petroleum coke waste from Canada, are accumulating. Activists and media outlets such as NPR and Vice News have reported on the piles and the possible health hazards. With Public Lab training, the community is documenting the petcoke piles, mapping them and discussing ways to estimate their volume as well as monitor air quality around them. In June, Public Lab will be hosting a Chicago “barn raising” to mobilize community around the petcoke issue.

The belief that decisions about the environment belong to everyone is core to Public Lab’s philosophy.

The non-profit creates space for different types of expertise — from scientists associated with a research institute to community organizers to community educators.  “We’re interested in creating a place where people can bring their different experiences and backgrounds and think through processes together,” Dosemagen says.

This culture springs from the unique perspectives of the seven co-founders of Public Lab. The founders include an environmental organizer, a professional cryptographer, a biologist, an urban designer, another designer and two anthropologists, including Dosemagen. Dosemagen says her training as an anthropologist brings listening and analytical skills that help her understand how to make connections across different groups of people.

“We’re connecting on a different front with the much broader concept of climate change in terms of what it means,” Dosemagen says. It’s not big data, it’s local data, observing the impact from a very local level.

Historically, most tools used to research the environment are created at a price point that’s accessible for research institutions, corporations and government. Few tools have existed that allow people in a community to investigate local environmental concerns.

Public Lab changes that by enabling ground up data-based research and communication from the people in a place to the local governments and the industries whose policies impact the environment.

That’s a huge information gap that community members can fill. Activists, change agents, journalists are limited. They can’t participate in every minute of an event. Public Lab puts the tools — the media platforms and devices — in the hands of the community. Using the tools, the communities can gather information and fill in the gaps.

The outcome could be a media campaign, interfacing with journalists or calling for a larger, systematic study of a certain area.

The annual conferences, or barn raisings, bring people together in the spirit of thinking through a problem and putting together a tool. The gatherings are “unconference” style, which is a flexible facilitation method that allows people to self-organize around the issues and activities they are most passionate about.

While good solid data can be collected by putting accessible tools into the hands of community, the tools themselves can become self-replicating and viral by providing hand drawn, illustrated guides on how to create them. Public Lab’s video tutorials walk people through each step of the process of using them to collect data.

Open source licensing has fed into Public Lab’s sudden growth.

“I’ve heard the word float around several times that using those licenses is infectious in terms of the way things are able to spread,”  Dosemagen says. “If a certain component of that hardware tool is not available they could locally source it and then share that information back with the community. So I think that’s how the community really gains strength and momentum over the years.”

Your digital brand — journalism ethics

acts of journalism

Committing acts of journalism—  What’s that?

The Web and digital technology have made it possible for anyone to commit an act of journalism.

Today, more people than ever are participating in journalism. People are breaking news on Twitter, covering their communities on Facebook, livestreaming, distributing news via email and writing in-depth blogs on issues of civic and community significance. Some of these people are what we’d consider “traditional” journalists working on new platforms, but many are not. — Josh Stearns, when working at The Free Press. Read the Free Press Report on defining press freedom in the digital age.

That’s why as an independent journalist it’s important that you hard-wire certain attributes into your brand from the beginning.

Among others, these include:

These attributes will become increasingly important if news outlets evolve into a platform for our talent as some of us are predicting.

Continue reading Your digital brand — journalism ethics

Your digital brand 101 — identity as journalist

People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you’re doing it.

acts of journalism
When your brand and your purpose are aligned, you have passion working to your advantage, pulling you forward and drawing others to you.

Getting started on your brand
If you haven’t  established a strong Web presence yet, it’s a great time to get started.  So many tools are available now to make it easy to establish your digital brand and identity as journalist.  In addition, there’s a community of  helpful people on the Web to assist. The biggest challenges these days for building your digital brand and identity as a journalist is doing the work upfront to identify your brand attributes — the kind of journalism you want to be known for, your beat and niche as well as the audience for your niche.

Your brand is about what the audience thinks. Writes Nick Bilton in his book, “I live in the future & here’s how it works”

“It’s an editors job to reduce what a readers brain has to wrestle with.”

That’s the work of your brand. It’s a short cut to the identity that you are co-creating with your audience.

A cautionary tale
Andrew Sullivan is an early blogger, a former New Republic editor – who started his blog, the Dish in 2000. Because his brand as a political commentator had earned him a following at an existing platform, The New Republic, Sullivan’s persona was solidly established when the Dish was hosted by TIME, The Atlantic and finally, The Daily Beast. Continue reading Your digital brand 101 — identity as journalist