As dots connect, whole emerges for future of news

First published Huffington Post, June 12, 2010

The online dots are quickly connecting. Gov2.0 entrepreneurs are building a strong backbone for a hyperlocal new stream. And much of the innovation is seated here in Chicago.

Everyblock and SeeClickFix have formed a partnership.

Many Chicago alderman are signed up for SeeClickFix. We are forming new communication channels on the Web for talking to our governments, creating a crowd-sourced complaint system and measuring the quality of government’s response to our complaints and requests for service. [I’ve embedded it here on my website – so give it a spin.] More to come on the feedback systems that could drive all this.

I haven’t talked with OutsideIn for a while but I see that the creators of the conceptual framework of the Emerging Ecosystem of News Delivery have a robust stream of information coming in from news blogs.

There’s no formula for bringing all this together and making it all work like a well-oiled machine. But – as was evident from a panel on models for news and the optimistic viewpoint of Steve Rhodes about revenue models at Chicago’s Community Media Workshop last week, we have many reasons to look brightly to the future.

We also have the “Big” thinkers now stepping forward and touting tools for getting the information you want, many of which James Fallows outlined in this June piece in the Atlantic Monthly. Give GoogleNews a spin – you’ll like it. Even the New York Times Magazine is taking notice of the plight of New Journalism Entrepreneurs in this May 10 piece by Andrew Rice “Putting a Price on Words.” It’s something I first noted in a ChuffPo post last year.

At this rarified high level of information exchange online, there’s much going on front stage and behind the scenes. There are more moving parts than can be counted.

I was reminded last week that all this blue sky can quickly go gray from the clouds cast by the lack of online access for underserved communities. Committed community news activists and journalists (no longer news-room bound) gathered in Detroit for “Create or Die” an open space on Journalism that Matters.

That’s a conversation that is continuing at a higher pitch and urgency June 24 at “From Blueprint to Building: Making the Market for Digital Information,” which Bill Densmore calls an action congress for trust, identity and Internet information commerce serving newspapers and beyond. Trust is our currency on the Web, and we’ve made much progress defining that since Pierre Omidyar made his first discoveries on eBay. Now even Omidyar has gotten the news bug and has launched Honolulu’s Civil Beat. Densmore hopes his “Blueprint” will dot the “i’s and cross the “t”s on the next phase of online trust. We’re hopeful and we will see.

As the Chicago News Cooperative continues to explore the idea of the low-profit limited liability, or L3C, business structure, the Pt. Reyes Light in Marin County says it is taking the plunge and will become a mission-driven newsroom.

As Steve Yelvington explained so well in this presentation last year at the University of Minnesota Economic Models for News, journalism has never had a business model of its own. My thinking is that it is about time it does, as I explained at Community Media Workshop panel last month. That’s why I am continuing to follow and braid the threads leading to a social enterprise news stream.

It can’t be long now before this all comes together, and when it does it will be in several robust forms that will provide access to volumes of information we’ve not had access to before. And it will be up to a diversity of journalists to do the job of helping to create, vet, sort and distribute these streams.

Hold on for a wild ride.

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L3C discussion at Community Media Workshop

I’ll be joining John Plunkett and Thom Clark in a discussion about the new L3C business structure and how it could be useful to new media orgs on Friday, May 7. Stop by and join the discussion.

I hope you’ll be able to join us Friday when The Chicago Community Trust’s Community News Matters program and Community Media Workshop host an informational session to discuss the L3C model and how it might benefit new news organizations looking for a more flexible method of organizing that differs both from standard business
incorporation and 501c3 nonprofit status.

When: Friday, May 7; Coffee at 8:30; program from 9-10:30
Where: Room 401, 600 S. Michigan Ave. at Columbia College Chicago

We’ll discuss what an L3C is and why some new news journalists have
been exploring it. Harborquest CEO John Plunkett, whose nonprofit
helped initiate the enabling legislation that created L3Cs in the
state of Illinois and was the first to use the new status, will talk
about how to take advantage of L3C status and how it fits into the new
wave of “social venture investing” in Chicago. Journalist and media
expert Sally Duros will talk about special considerations for news

We hope you’ll join us to find out more about the new L3C model.

This event is free but please RSVP by emailing Maggie Walker at

Vivian Vahlberg
Project Director
Community News Matters

BGA awarded $60,000 from Chicago Community Trust

More to come…..

Better Government Association
To train volunteer “reporter monitors” to report on government meetings downtown and in Chicago’s neighborhoods for a new “Good Government Virtual Town Hall” Web site.

The Community News Matters program was spurred by a lead grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s Knight Community Information Challenge and is jointly funded by The Chicago Community Trust, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. It seeks to increase the flow of truthful, accurate and insightful news and information in the region and spur development of new business models for news.

Here’s the press release from the CCT