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J-Lab Report: Citizens Too Busy to Do Community Journalism

J-Lab evaluated 55 of its community journalism projects and here is a very important take away posted by J-Lab director Jan Schaffer:

One of our biggest learning curves is this: It doesn’t pay to train whole classes of “citizen” journalists. While you’ll be doing wonders for advancing digital media skills in your community, you won’t end up with a reliable corps of contributors for your news site. Ordinary citizens, armed with good intentions, are just too busy.

Citizen journalism turns out to be a high-churn, high-touch enterprise – one that requires a full-time community manager. The most successful New Voices projects, like the Twin Cities Daily Planet, LINK have advanced other ways to tease out and nurture good contributors, and these are profiled in the report.

Here is more:

The report focuses on 10 key takeaways. They include:

  • Engagement, not just content, is key: Robust and frequent content begets more content, but it’s the engagement with users that make sites successful.
  • Sweat equity counts for a lot: Projects built on the grit and passion of the founders have created the most promising models for sustainability.
  • Community news sites are not a business yet. Income from grants, ads, events and other things falls short, in most cases, of paying staff salaries and operating expenses.
  • Demand for start-up funding is high. We had 1,433 applicants for the 55 projects that were funded.

Read the full report here.

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