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Blog Features Representative Journalism highlights both and Representative Journalism in an online feature aimed at describing alternative business models to underwrite quality journalism.

Here is what reporter Douglas MacMillan wrote about Rep J and its Locally Grown project in Northfield, Minnesota:

Rather than sponsoring a story, what if you allowed readers to sponsor a reporter? In July, the rural town of Northfield, Minn., “hired” Bonnie Obremski to cover local topics like crime, education, and events on an existing blog called Locally Grown. Obremski’s assignment is the pilot phase for a program being developed by Leonard Witt, a professor of communication at Kennesaw State University in Atlanta. Currently, Obremski’s salary and expenses are paid for entirely by a grant from The Harnisch Foundation, but in coming months, Witt plans to raise enough local support from Northfield residents to pass the entire cost on to them. A community of 1,000 potential contributors, he says, each paying between $1 and $2 per week, would be sufficient. People in the community understand that eventually they’ll be asked to ante up.

Two-Way Conversation

Obremski is confident the experiment will work, judging by the way she’s gotten her readers involved in her reporting. “I invite my readers to participate in all parts of the story-making process online,” she says. “Readers understand that I’m engaged with them in a two-way conversation. They see how I get my information and how I process it.”

Witt’s larger vision, a project he calls Representative Journalism, is to bring this model to a hundred or more different communities in the country, both geographic and topic-centric. For example, one group of people with an interest in endangered species in Florida might sponsor its own journalist to write stories specifically focused on that topic. “We have this assumption that news is free,” Witt says. Unless people become willing to pay, “We’re going to reach a critical point where we’re not going to have the kind of news we want anymore.”

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