Logo

Monthly Archives: April 2009

People say the nicest things…

Indeed they do.  A long-time FPF subscriber (who gladly pays a monthly donation), shared the following today…

We are in the middle of an eight-month tour of the world with our kids (right now in Kathmandu), so we are enjoying Front Porch Forum more than ever, as it keeps us in touch with what’s going on back home.

And then Mary, in response to someone complaining about neighbors who speak up on FPF about local issues wrote…

There are millions of people around the world who don’t have a venue for their voice in any form. I celebrate the fact that we have a place right here (Front Porch Forum) for all our voices, whether I agree with them or not.


Smaller Groups Better than Big?

From FeverBee

10 groups of 40 members is better than 1 group of 400

Smaller groups are more intimate. Participation rates are higher. Activity levels increase. Messages resonate through friends, not through your organisation. It’s less work with better results.

Front Porch Forum is a network of relatively small online neighborhood forums, and our experience matches Richard’s trend above… lots of small groups are better than one big one, at least when your aim is to help neighbors connect and build local community.


FREE HIGHER GROUND TICKETS – FPF DRAWING

Front Porch Forum is giving away one pair of tickets for each of the following Higher Ground concerts…

If you want a chance to win these tickets, leave a comment below that completes this thought… “I deserve to win these tickets because…”

We’ll pick one winner from the comments for each show.  The first show is Wed., so make haste!  Thanks to Higher Ground.

P.S.  Make sure you leave us a way in your comment below to get in touch with you should you be a ticket winner.

UPDATE: We have our winners!  Sara Chesbrough from Burlington will be going to Talib Kweli’s show, and Ali Keener in Westford has two free tickets to Slightly Stoopid.  Thanks to all who entered and to Higher Ground.  Congratulations Sara and Ali!

I deserve to win these tickets because…

Sara: “… Talib Kweli and I are brother and sister in some strange musical/philosophical dimension and it’s been too long since we’ve had a family reunion.”

Ali:  “… i love these artists and i just cant afford to go see the shows. i don’t like how money decides music for me. music is so good for the body and soul…sometimes you just gotta dance.”

To everyone else… keep commenting below if you like, but the free tickets are G-O-N-E.


Can local save us from global?

Greg Sterling writes recently

This article from the Sunday NY Times magazine has some interesting and controversial “food for thought” about the future of the economy and local communities. The piece focuses on the “Transition” movement, whose central idea is that to be sustainable in a coming era of no oil, society will have to “relocalize” to feed itself…

A great deal of the “malaise” that afflicts us as a culture is built upon our collective use of things and consumables to satisfy what are essentially emotional and spiritual needs for community and connection to other people. The irony of most people’s lives is that they chase objects and material comfort only to discover — if they’re lucky enough to attain their objectives — that those “things” make false promises…

Yet if we all had enough wealth to stop “working” or worrying about money we probably would behave differently and not continue chasing more money. We’d probably start working on personal creative pursuits, the collective good or doing something to help others. I tend, because of this belief, to be somewhat mystified when I read about Internet entrepreneurs who no longer have to work, but are working on their next startup.

Important topic.  Even without the current attention to this subject brought on by looming global perils (economy, environment, war, disease, etc.).

The whole concept of localism (e.g., as put forward by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance) is finally getting some traction.

Our observation… one can’t get very far with this approach if neighbors are strangers to each other… which is, increasingly, the case in the United States.  So, we created and launched Front Porch Forum and now 40% of our pilot city subscribes and 93% report increased civic engagement because of FPF.

While we might lose the internet when catastrophe hits (say it ain’t so!), at least here in greater Burlington, VT, real face-to-face networks of neighbors are flourishing, catalyzed by Front Porch Forum.


Hopscotch Renewal

Like most cities, Burlington has a graffiti problem.  It’s frequent fodder on Front Porch Forum… sometimes it gets testy when someone takes the “tag on the side of your house is art” line of reasoning.  Spring brings a fresh round of graffiti and FPF discussion.

That’s why Karen’s comment below was a breath of fresh air today, posted on FPF for the part of town where the Old North End and The Hill merge…

I was in a yucky mood this morning, walking head-down to work, when I walked onto a hopscotch board drawn with colorful chalk….that stretched….and stretched…along North Willard in a whimsical way, on and on until it turned the corner and stretched off into the horizon on North St.  It put a smile on my face.  I think buckets of colored chalk would go a long way in terms of urban renewal.  Thank you, sidewalk artist!  And happy spring.


Help inspiring VT-connected film gain national release

See America’s Heart & Soul at Palace 9 in South Burlington, VT, thru April 27.  If enough Vermonters watch this documentary portrait of ordinary people doing extraordinary things (children free), then it will be released nationally!  This movie shares much in common with Front Porch Forum… people pulling together to accomplish so much important work.


Hastening the demise of community newspapers?

A community newspaper in Vermont recently raised concerns about Front Porch Forum to an entity that is supportive of our work.  Here are some of the points made by the newspaper publisher…

… internet activities like the Front Porch Forum are direct competitors to community newspapers…

… subsidizing these forums and spreading their access is hastening the demise of [community newspapers]…

… you enable the neighborhoods to believe that news of their community is being covered by the siting of trash being dumped on the side of the road, or of a neighbor who attended a meeting and reported on the one item of real interest to them…

What happens with these types of forums is news is filtered out to the community by those with an agenda. School boards or planning commissions, for example, could designate a member of the board to write the report of the meeting and put it on the forum. The potential to have that report cover what the board wants and how it wants is huge, and it is not, in the end, in the public’s best interest in cases that may be controversial. (Given, that much of the news coming out of such meetings is not controversial and such reports could be unbiased and with no consequence.) But in cases that are controversial, how is the community best served if what happens is that Front Porch leads readers to believe they don’t need the local paper except on those few occasions of controversy. That is, they cancel their subscription and only buy it at the store on those weeks when a professional reporter comes to town to report important issues. That type of thinking, of course, hurts circulation and undermines the advertising base.

… activities like these are no small threats to community newspapers…

… you might reconsider how to carry on this part of your mission. Partnering with the local paper may be one way to do that.

Here’s my response…

Small town community newspapers are crucial to local civic health.  And many of these newspapers face a dire future.  This should be a big concern for anyone focused on local social capital and civic engagement.  It’s one of the reasons I’m working on Front Porch Forum.  You should be congratulated for your forward thinking in this area.  I would be interested in seeing innovative proposals from community newspapers for new sustainable business models to support local journalism.

Front Porch Forum’s mission is to help neighbors connect and build community.  Any sharing of news among neighbors is incidental… it’s one of many things that neighbors do when they have access to an easy communication channel.  We don’t directly compete with newspapers, we help and complement them.

In fact, in Chittenden County, news stories bubble up out of neighborhood conversations on FPF.  In dozens of cases, The Burlington Free Press, Seven Days, WCAX, VPR and others have used Front Porch Forum to get leads for their news stories.  We’re happy to play this role (assuming proper attribution).

And forward thinking newspapers use FPF to attract more readers.  For example, Seven Days has been running weekly messages on FPF about its stories drawing significant traffic to its website.

Further, many of our subscribers travel an arc from (1) getting direct results from postings (e.g., found lost cat, gave away a stroller), to (2) feeling more a part of their community due to these interactions and routine reading of neighbors’ postings, to (3) increased involvement in the civic life of their town (e.g., volunteering at Green Up Day, serving on a committee).  This heightened sense of what’s going on in the neighborhood leads to people being more tuned into local issues… thus FPF helps nurture an environment loaded with more potential readers of the local newspaper.  It’s up to the each newspaper to capitalize on this opportunity.

For example, in Burlington’s New North End, past monthly Neighborhood Planning Assembly meetings typically drew five or six people, in addition to the committee members.  Once the committee started using FPF, attendance ballooned to 50 or 60.  This wasn’t just because FPF was a better way to announce the meetings, rather it’s been the regular neighborhood-level discussions stirred up via FPF that have increase awareness and interest in local issues.  So when the meeting is announced, many people are tuned in and caring enough to show up and participate.

We’d be thrilled if one of Burlington’s newspapers approached us with ideas for tying into this exciting development.  Perhaps we could even work up a proposal and seek funding together.

The decline of the newspaper industry is closely tracked and widely discussed.  Here’s one such recent piece that warrants careful reading.

Here are some other respected resources about the upheaval in the newspaper business…

Many factors contribute to the current status of the newspaper industry, including past business decisions, the current economy, volatile changes in the advertising world, the effect of the internet, participatory and decentralized journalism, etc… suffice to say, it’s complex and the sea change underway now has been a long time coming.  It’s hard to imagine that supporting a small local civic-engagement dot.com experiment has much of a role in this larger, centuries-running drama of the American newspaper.

The newspaper publisher appears to have some misconceptions of how Front Porch Forum works.  FPF is open to all residents of its service region, those with agendas (of any stripe) and those without.  It’s a discussion among clearly identified nearby neighbors about topics of their choosing… like a block party with name tags.  Newspapers, on the other hand, bring their own agenda, determine the topics, and limit who can speak.

While some FPF members may quit their local newspaper subscriptions, as he suggests, that’s not our intent.  If that happens, I submit it has more to do with the readers’ perceived value of the newspaper than with FPF.

Finally, we’re humbled by the recognition and awards from the following organizations bestowed on Front Porch Forum for its cutting edge work in building social capital and civic engagement, including…

  • American Press Institute
  • Wall Street Journal
  • Morning Edition
  • PBS
  • John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
  • Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society
  • Personal Democracy Forum
  • Case Foundation
  • Sunlight Foundation
  • National Night Out
  • PlaceMatters
  • Action Coalition for Media Education
  • Snelling Center for Government
  • Orton Family Foundation

Thanks for the opportunity to comment on this subject and I’d be glad to continue the conversation with you, newspaper folks, or others.  I have much to learn and remain openminded and flexible.


“… whether we agree, disagree, or simply are not sure”

Thomas Hark, President of the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps, makes good and frequent use of Front Porch Forum in Richmond, where VYCC’s West Monitor Barn is located.  Currently, there’s some interesting back and forth about a beef-cattle proposal.  Good points all around, but what really caught my attention was Thomas’ remark…

Front Porch Forum is a fantastic tool to share these sorts of concerns, ideas, and more… whether we agree, disagree, or simply are not sure. I am grateful to have such a communication tool available.


NY Times takes another look at “hyper-local”

More impressive coverage for “hyper-local” media darlings Outside.in and Everyblock, this time in the New York Times.  Venture capitalists have pumped $7.5 million into aggregator Outside.in and the Knight Foundation has given Everyblock a $1.1 million grant.

Of course, neither is actually local, rather they work in a host of cities from afar, cobbling together data sets, blog posts and news site feeds.  But the Times doesn’t focus on that aspect, choosing instead to ask the “but what is the business model?” question.  And, “what will they aggregate if newspapers continue to go out of business?”  Not clear.  But I’m glad to see these and other experiments underway.


“For us it’s more a place to live than a community.”

From the Local Democracy blog in the U.K…

There’s a really good, detailed bit of reporting here from Friday’s Guardian about the near-collapse of local newspapers in some areas.

The starting point that Stephen Moss chose was my old local paper when I was young – The Long Eaton Advertiser.

This bit stood out for me:

“For the older generation, these things matter. “They want to know who’s passed away,” says the barman at the Corner Pin down the road, “and to check it’s not them.” But the younger generation don’t much care. Carl and Katrina Smith, a married couple in their mid-30s, not only didn’t know the paper had closed; they didn’t even know its name – and they were born nearby and have lived in the town most of their lives. They did, though, occasionally buy the Nottingham Evening Post – mainly for the jobs. For this generation, Long Eaton as a place has almost ceased to exist, lost in a more amorphous Nottingham-Derby conurbation.

“It’s only the older people who think of communities now,” says Carl. “For us it’s more a place to live than a community.” He was an electrician’s mate and worked all over the country (until he was laid off two months ago – people are as vulnerable as papers in the slump); Katrina works in Leicester. Long Eaton is a dormitory for them; they rent a house and say they have no idea who their neighbours are.”

That’s a problem.  Front Porch Forum and other efforts are part of a solution.