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Witt’s Representative Journalism Funded for $51,000

Hello Eric Von Hippel and thank you for convincing me that “free revealing” works.Several months ago, as regular readers of the know, I started freely revealing my idea of Representative Journalism to the world. Ruth Ann Harnisch, a former TV, print and radio journalist  and now president of the Harnisch Family Foundation, came across the concept right here at the, now saying:

“From the first time I heard about representative journalism and read Leonard Witt ideas in his blog, I was eager to help launch it. Len’s idea has the potential to revolutionize the practice of journalism, especially as American journalism struggles with the loss of its advertising support base.”

Also from the start, she began encouraging, no really pushing me, to stop talking about it and to take the lead in making it happen. Now thanks to her and the Harnisch Family Foundation support of $51,000 to Kennesaw State University it is a reality and we are doing the first Representative Journalism trial project with the folks at  “Locally Grown,”an online community website in Northfield, Minnesota.

I chose Northfield foremost because of Griff Wigley, who I have been watching do on and offline community building, since he helped develop the Cafe Utne for the Utne Reader in the mid 1990s. He has also been my online mentor, indeed, there would have been no blog if he had not convinced me to start it back in 2003.

Here is more about the site from the “Locally Grown” press release:

Ross Currier, Tracy Davis, and Griff Wigley are the three local citizen bloggers, podcasters, and community activists who manage “Locally Grown”. They fill the web site with bits of community news, hundreds of photos, strong opinions, and quirky humor, and then engage the community in vibrant online discussions, some of which have drawn as many as 300 posted comments. The partnership with Representative Journalism allows the site to add breaking and in-depth journalism.

They thought having a professional journalist providing the community with news and information would be a perfect addition to the site and for Northfield as a whole. That’s what our Representative Journalism team of Bill Densmore, who runs the Media Giraffe project, Chis Peck, editor of the Commercial Appeal in Memphis  and a former president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors and the Associated Press Managing Editors, and I will help get done.

Peck has agreed to share some of his time to be the editorial traffic cop to ensure that from the beginning this project produces high quality, ethically sound journalism. However, the journalist will be funded by the community with our editorial oversight and will be embedded more in the community than in a newsroom. Words like community-assisted journalism, collaborative journalism help to describe what we are launching.

Since it is a trial we are not sure exactly how it will be configured in the end. Wigley, Currier, Davis, Densmore and I have been busy sending messages back and forth, dozens of them, as we work out a formula that will work for “Locally Grown” and meet the high journalism standards that the three of us on the Representative Journalism side live by. Densmore, a former small town newspaper publisher,  will be helping us move through all the logsitical steps it takes to run this on a daily basis.

I must tell you, as someone who has spent more than 25 years in newsrooms, this collaborative effort is different. We can’t just drop in and say, “Hey this is how journalism is practiced, take it or leave it.” Even in these first days of discussions with Currier, Davis and Wigley, it is very clear that Representative Journalism will not be a one-size-fits-all operation. Each geographic or interest community will be different. Each will have its own demands, own platform and own hierarchy. Making this all work and having the journalist funded by the community will be challenge, but one that Harnisch, Peck, Densmore, Currier, Davis and Wigley and I think is worth taking.

Stay tune, this is going to get interesting.

8 Responses to “Witt’s Representative Journalism Funded for $51,000”

  1. Chris O'Brien Says:


    Congrats! We need lots of experiments like this to figure out how to sustain great journalism as the business collapses around us. Best of luck with this, and please keep us posted on the progress and what you’re learning.

  2. Innovation in College Media » Blog Archive » Representative Journalism Says:

    [...] Witt writes about the first experiment he’s conducting in Representative Journalism. It’s a good idea for college media types to follow this experiment, as it may be a crucial [...]

  3. Jill Says:

    That is outstanding – congratulations. :)

  4. Notes from a Teacher: Mark on Media » Friday squibs Says:

    [...] Talking Points Memo’s Polk Award a Major Step Forward. This is not a journalism award for a blogger, it is a journalism award for a journalist whose primary platform is his blog. Subtle distinction, perhaps, and still a “major step forward” in validating the work that goes on outside the big media tent. More good news abut the new possibilities for journalism: Witt’s Representative Journalism Funded for $51,000. [...]

  5. Mindy McAdams Says:

    This sounds excellent, Len! Congratulations!

  6. Representative Journalism - Blog - Making PBS a National News Powerhouse Says:

    [...] to fill because it has no strong nonprofit tradition. However, Ruth Ann Harnisch was good enough to provide funding via the Harnisch Family Foundation so we can give the print piece a test in [...]

  7. Where’s the Innovation in Business Models? | Chris O’Brien Says:

    [...] Representative Journalism: Leonard Witt’s plan to have a community pool its resources to hire a journalist to cover it. [...]

  8. Traveling in Atlanta: Excited about Future Business Models « DigiDave – Journalism is a Process, Not a Product Says:

    [...] equally excited to read about Leonard Witt’s newest venture. We have talked about Representative Journalism before and I think its time is coming soon. I [...]