Category Archives: Make It Your Own Awards

Help inspiring VT-connected film gain national release

Posted on Saturday, April 18, 2009 by No comments yet

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?

Posted on Thursday, April 16, 2009 by 1 comment

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 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.

Front Porch Forum Expands to Starksboro, VT

Posted on Monday, February 16, 2009 by 23 comments

Thanks to the generousity of the Orton Family Foundation, Front Porch Forum is now available in Starksboro, VT!

Any and all Starksboro residents are encouraged to sign up for this free community-building service immediately.  I see that we have two dozens subscribers there already… I guess word got out before the “official” launch.

Finally, thanks to the warm welcome this evening from the Selectboard and Art and Soul folks.

UPDATE: Here’s Orton’s news release (April 13, 2009).  Already 20% of Starksboro subscribes to FPF!

Don’t talk about religion or politics?

Posted on Wednesday, December 17, 2008 by No comments yet

Growing up in the Midwest in the 1960s and 70s, I frequently heard that one simply did NOT talk about religion or politics.  I somehow combined this etiquette demand with the admonition that I was not to say swear words either.  Needless to say, this approach left me confused… “but how are you supposed to learn and debate and change if you can’t talk about this sh#$@t?”  Oops.

Many people, I think, still feel that it’s improper to talk about such matters among neighbors… at a block party, a school event, or on Front Porch Forum.

Recently, a member of the popular and rural Westford FPF forum posted a note about civil rights and gay marriage… an issue that is picking up steam in Vermont.  This led to a response from another resident…

If our Neighborhood Forum is going to turn into a political soapbox then I will remove myself from the mailing list.  I appreciate being kept informed on our community’s events, and knowing about lost dogs and items for sale, etc. I do NOT want to hear about somebody’s political or sexual orientation. I do not think this is an appropriate venue for such discussions.

And then a third neighbor responded to the above with…

online dictionary definition of a forum (#3)
an assembly, meeting place, … for the discussion of questions of public interest.

I like the Westford Neighborhood Forum from lost dogs, to school district issues, house sitters, farmers markets, and political issues… a place for the discussion of questions of public interest. We all won’t agree but let’s keep the forum open.

I am not interested in every posting on the Forum, but I am always eager to open the email marked Westford Neighborhood Forum and check out what is there.  I feel it is is a great resource for our community and hope it continues to grow.

It’s a tough question… some people are interested, able and willing to engage civilly about almost any topic, while others feel that some popular issues are simply out of bounds and should not be discussed openly.  Front Porch Forum’s mission is to help neighbors connect and foster community at the neighborhood/town level.  And to accomplish that we need lots of people to be involved… not just those of one political persuasion or another.  We also support open, civil and construction conversation among neighbors about many topics.  It’s a balancing act for all involved.

Kids Collect for Kids

Posted on Wednesday, December 17, 2008 by No comments yet

I was so impressed with the informal groups of neighbors who came together around Thanksgiving to collect donated food, each group in their own neighborhood, to pass on to local food shelves.  A group of people in the Laurel Hill area of South Burlington have been doing this for some years and they call it Kids Collect for Kids.  This year, one of the organizing parents, Monica Ostby, turned to Front Porch Forum to get the word out… in her own neighborhood, and also to spread the concept to other neighbors… and several took up the challenge!

I love the informal nature of this… and zero overhead costs.  And the kids work and learn… great all around.  Thanks Monica and everyone.

One night, two national awards for Front Porch Forum

Posted on Tuesday, October 7, 2008 by No comments yet

What a humbling couple of days.  I’ve just returned home from Rural TeleCon 2008.  Yesterday I led a rich discussion about local community building via Front Porch Forum with a room full of telecom professionals, and this evening Front Porch Forum collected two wonderful honors…

First, the RTC People’s Choice Award — Most Innovative, which included a $500 check.  And then, the real shocker, the RTC Champion Award ($3,000)… this is the top national award from the Rural Telecom Congress!  And a genuine honor, especially considering the caliber of the other award finalists.

Credit for FPF’s recognition is shared with many collaborators and advisers, as well as our 11,000 Chittenden County subscribers, 200 participating local public officials, 350 FPF Neighborhood Volunteers, 100 local advertisers, and many donors.  And thanks to the RTC board of directors and conference staff!

See FPF’s growing list of awards and recognition, media coverage, and member testimonials.

UPDATE: Thanks to Cathy Resmer at Seven Days for her coverage on Blurt and Vermont 3.0.

Front Porch Forum Earns Grant

Posted on Monday, May 5, 2008 by No comments yet

The Case Foundation announced the final tallies for its Make It Your Own Awards today. We’re delighted that Front Porch Forum finished sixth out of almost 5,000 entrants, earning a grant of $10,000. A remarkable 25% of the 15,000 voters cast a ballot for Front Porch Forum. We’re especially proud of our showing given our small population base (projects in major metro-areas claimed the top five spots).

In describing their program, the Case Foundation writes today

Contrary to research that showed a decline in civic health and increasing social isolation, we saw that people want to connect with their neighbors, identify shared concerns, make their own decisions, and shape their own course of action.

Thanks to the 3,870 people who voted for us and to the Case Foundation for its support of Front Porch Forum!