Community networks, or “we networks,” are so poorly used that they tend to really be “me networks.” That’s the gist of a new article in Annenberg’s Online Journalism Review by Tom Grubisch, who revisits the subject a little more than a year after first looking into it.
A person need not search too hard to find such services that seem a mile wide and an inch deep. Grubisch’s piece devotes a few paragraphs each to ten examples of local citizen journalism sites. iBattleboro gets a decent review (gotta love those crazy Green Mountain boys and girls), but not so for most of the others.
This brings to mind (hold on, this is a stretch) the first years of minivan production. Some manufacturers started with the tried and true full-size van or pickup truck and nipped it down to a slightly smaller version. Others started with a car chasis and built it up. On the surface the two minivan types appeared very similar, but, of course, they were quite different… one drove like a truck, the other more like a station wagon. Ultimately, a new creature evolved, borrowing from both approaches… a true minivan. It’s now part of the automobile landscape.
So, to local online efforts… some are mini-versions of something much bigger and beefier, e.g., Backfence, which looks like a local online newspaper. Others approach from a grassroots level, where the content is intended for a few hundred households, more a neighborhood newsletter… Front Porch Forum is coming from that angle.
Are these both “minivans” or two different things? The first tends more toward citizen journalism, the latter toward community-building within neighborhoods. Will the two approaches converge? Will one or more of these models become part of the “permanent” online landscape?
I tend to think that journalism requires professionals at its core, but the volunteer bloggers and online others provide a great service in keeping the pros honest and on their toes (and more). So, for my local news, I prefer a mix of local professional outlets and citizen efforts.
On the tiny end of the scale, most people want to know what’s happening on their block, and the only people who can deliver that content are their neighbors. Early success of Front Porch Forum and other neighborhood-level services seems to back that up.