Tag Archives: CT News Junkie

CJR reviews “The Wired City”

The new issue of the Columbia Journalism Review includes a favorable review of “The Wired City” by Michael Meyer. Here is my favorite section:

“The Wired City” doesn’t have anything resembling a central thesis. (This isn’t a flaw. Way too many “future of journalism” books and reports waste their time trying to argue grand, overarching theses that almost always fall apart on closer analysis.)

One of my goals in writing the book was to return to the sort of in-depth, close-up reporting that drew me to journalism in the first place. Yes, I do some opinionating in the book, but mainly I try to let the story tell itself. I appreciate Meyer’s recognizing that and seeing it as a virtue rather than a shortcoming.

Meyer is critical of my argument that nonprofit news sites like the New Haven Independent tend to be better funded and capable of more ambitious journalism than for-profit sites — at least in these early years of the post-newspaper era.

Though I agree with Meyer that I could have done a better job of quantifying that observation, I nevertheless believe I was describing a situation that’s real. For-profits like The Batavian and CT News Junkie are doing better all the time — better than they were when I was researching the book.

But it’s still a hard slog. Given the low value the marketplace has assigned to online advertising, that’s likely to continue.

Book notes and upcoming appearances

Christine Stuart and me at last Thursday's book event in New Haven. Stuart, who runs the online news service CT News Junkie along with her husband, Doug Hardy, was the first person I interviewed for "The Wired City."

Christine Stuart and me at last Thursday’s book event in New Haven. Stuart, who runs the online news service CT News Junkie along with her husband, Doug Hardy, was the first person I interviewed for “The Wired City.”

Many thanks to Paul Bass, editor and publisher of the New Haven Independent, and Will Baker, director of the Institute Library, for a terrific event for “The Wired City” last Thursday. It was great to catch up with folks I hadn’t seen in quite a while and to meet new people. The Independent’s Thomas MacMillan covered the event here; the New Haven Register’s Randall Beach and Melanie Stengel here.

Closer to home, Will Broaddus of The Salem News interviewed me last week for his book column.

I’ve got three events coming up during the next week that you might be interested in.

• On Wednesday at 6 p.m. I’ll be part of a panel that will discuss the New England premiere of “Corporate FM: The Killing of Local Commercial Radio,” directed by Kevin McKinney. It’s not cheap, but it’s for a good cause: The event will benefit WHAV Radio, an independent online-only radio station based in Haverhill. The screening will take place at Chunky’s Cinema Pub, 371 Lowell Ave., Haverhill. You can find out more here.

• On Thursday at 6:30 p.m. I’ll be doing an event for “The Wired City” at the Globe Lab, which works on new technology projects for The Boston Globe. The lab is located at the Globe, which is at 135 Morrissey Blvd. The event is free and open to the public.

• Next Monday, June 24, I’ll be sitting down with Emily Rooney to talk about “The Wired City” on “Greater Boston,” on WGBH-TV (Channel 2).

Photo by Thomas MacMillan for the New Haven Independent.

In Chicago, too much hyperlocal competition?

A couple of friends today sent me a link to Mike Fourcher’s ruminations on what he learned running the Center Square Journal, a hyperlocal news site in Chicago that he started three years ago. He offers 21 lessons, and they’re not without value. But what stands out from my reading of them is that he simply faced too much competition for advertisers and readers. And that, in turn, was a consequence of his making an unfortunate choice of location.

Screen Shot 2013-01-15 at 4.07.11 PMThe sites I profile in “The Wired City” — mainly the New Haven Independent, but also The Batavian, CT News Junkie, the Connecticut Mirror, Voice of San Diego and Baristanet — have very different business models, but they all have one thing in common: a niche that was being woefully underserved before they came along to serve it.

New Haven illustrates my point. Paul Bass launched the Independent in 2005 to provide city and neighborhood news that was largely being ignored by everyone else — including the region’s daily paper, the New Haven Register, which tended to focus on the suburbs around New Haven. Eight years later, the Independent and the Register still serve different audiences. They compete for certain types of city news, but mainly they stay out of each other’s way. And because the Independent is a nonprofit, they’re not competing for scarce advertising dollars.

The Batavian is very different from the Independent, but it has similar advantages. The for-profit site was launched in Batavia, N.Y., by the GateHouse chain in 2008 as a pilot project. In 2009 it was acquired by Howard Owens after he was let go as GateHouse’s director of digital media.

The Batavian was up against two established news organizations: The Daily News and WBTA Radio. Owens formed a partnership with the radio station and competed fiercely with The Daily, as the locals call it. Unlike Fourcher’s experience in Chicago, though, there really wasn’t anyone else.

Like Paul Bass in New Haven, Owens carved out a niche by going more local than his competition — one county for The Batavian versus three for The Daily. It turned out that the business community was vibrant enough to support a daily newspaper, a radio station and a community website. But if there were, say, a half-dozen websites all trying to turn a profit, it’s not likely any of them would be able to make money.

Fourcher, a refugee from the robo-news operation Journatic, is now trying something interesting. He’s called a community meeting for Jan. 31 to see if his readers like the Center Square Journal enough to help him continue it in some form, or possibly to take it over in its entirety.

What’s evident from his 21 lessons, though, is that he fell short of making the Journal a vital part of his readers’ lives — possibly because there were already too many other voices competing for people’s time, attention and dollars.

Taking a look at Connecticut budget coverage

Gov. Dannel Malloy

Compared to Greater Boston, the decline of traditional news organizations in Connecticut is considerably more advanced. The Hartford Courant, a venerable statewide daily that traces its founding to 1764, is owned by Tribune Co., which is in bankruptcy. As a result, the Courant has had to cut back on its Statehouse coverage in recent years. Other largish dailies, such as the New Haven Register, no longer even have a full-time Statehouse reporter.

Yet Connecticut has also proved to be a place where digital-media experiments have arisen to fill in some of the gap. Two that are focused on state government are the Connecticut Mirror, a well-funded non-profit, and CT News Junkie, a scrappy for-profit that also functions as the Statehouse bureau for the non-profit New Haven Independent.

With Gov. Dannel Malloy having reached a tentative agreement with the state’s labor leaders on Friday, a deal that could prevent the layoff of nearly 5,000 employees, I thought this was a good time to check in on how the old and new players covered it.

Hartford Courant

  • Lede: “Capping months of secretive talks, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and state-employee union leaders reached a deal Friday to save $1.6 billion over the next two years in exchange for a promise not to lay off unionized workers for the next four years.”
  • When: Time-stamped at 10:11 p.m. on Friday; published in Saturday’s print edition
  • Length: About 1,600 words
  • What: A densely reported story that is full of details but is a little bewildering if you’re not an insider. Perhaps the one-must read if you’re a stakeholder, but loses points for quoting the chairman of the Republican State Committee as calling the budget “unconstitutional” without offering (or demanding) an explanation.
  • Reported by no one else: “At the end of his prepared remarks in announcing the deal, Malloy’s speech said, ‘Finally … so much for Friday the 13th being an unlucky day!’ But Malloy never delivered that line.”

The Connecticut Mirror

  • Lede: “Negotiators for state employee unions and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy tentatively agreed Friday on a two-year $1.6 billion package of concessions and other labor savings that will help Malloy balance the $40.1 billion biennial budget without 4,700 announced layoffs.”
  • When: Posted on Friday with no time-stamp, but first comment posted at 2:29 p.m.
  • Length: About 1,400 words, plus a 1,100-word sidebar analyzing the implications of the deal for future budget planning, posted later on Friday
  • What: As with the Courant, the Mirror’s main story is densely reported and filled with details of interest mainly to insiders. The sidebar, though, provides needed perspective by demonstrating how difficult it will be for Malloy to hold on to savings in the face of demands that he undo program cuts.
  • Reported by no one else: “With over $19 billion in bonded debt, Connecticut ranks among the top three states in the nation in terms of debt per capita, and debt as a percentage of the taxpayers’ personal income.”

CT News Junkie

  • Lede: “Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said that after months of negotiating he has reached a deal with labor that saves the state $1.6 billion over the next two years and $21.5 billion over the next 20. However, at a 3 p.m. press conference there was little Malloy could say about the agreement until negotiators have had time to brief union members.”
  • When: Friday at 6:12 p.m. (final update); initial post at 2:20 p.m.
  • Length: About 900 words
  • What: As the site’s name suggests, CT News Junkie is mainly geared toward political junkies and insiders. It doesn’t get any more insidery than this: “Also the retirement age will be raised from 60 to 63 for Tier II employees and 62 to 65 for Tier IIa employees, however, those changes won’t kick in until 2022.” But the shorter length makes for a somewhat zippier read without sacrificing much in the way of needed details.
  • Reported by no one else: “In 2009 the last time a the [sic] SEBAC contract was reopened it took the state employee unions three weeks to complete the ratification of the contracts.”

The New York Times

  • Lede: “Threatened with nearly 5,000 layoffs, representatives for 45,000 unionized state employees agreed Friday to $1.6 billion in concessions over two years to help balance a budget that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy says includes pain for everyone: record tax increases, substantial program cuts and worker givebacks in health care, pension benefits and wages.”
  • When: The Web version of the article says it was “published” on Friday; it appeared in print on Saturday
  • Length: About 900 words
  • What: The Times covers major Connecticut stories as part of its New York local report. The story, which cites the Courant for some details, offers a more sweeping view than the others, going with fewer details and seeking to place Malloy’s conciliatory approach with the unions in a broader political context.
  • Reported by no one else: “And while the confrontational approach has made Governor Christie of New Jersey a hot property, there is no early indication that what Mr. Malloy calls ‘shared sacrifice’ is working as well for him. A Quinnipiac University poll in March put his approval rating at 35 percent.”

Meet two young media entrepreneurs

Christine Stuart

Connecticut Magazine has released its list of “40 Under 40″ — that is, 40 Connecticut residents under 40 who are making a difference. And it turns out that two of them have been the subject of video interviews on Media Nation. Among those named were:

  • Christine Stuart, 33, who runs the Hartford-based Statehouse news site CT News Junkie (she doubles as the New Haven Independent‘s Statehouse bureau chief).
  • New Haven’s Ben Berkowitz, 31, co-founder of SeeClickFix, an interactive website that uses mapping and discussion boards to connect citizens, government and the media to deal with community problems.

You can see my interview with Stuart here. Berkowitz is here.

 

Covering the Annie Le tragedy

annie_le_20090914The discovery of a body believed to be that of missing Yale student Annie Le occasions a check-in on one of the more interesting non-profit online news ventures — the New Haven Independent.

Both the Independent and the city’s daily newspaper, the New Haven Register, lead with extensive coverage. The Register’s story, though, includes not a single link, either to its past coverage or to other resources. The Independent, on the other hand, features:

  • A link to a story Le wrote for a campus magazine earlier this year (above). The sadly ironic subject: how Yale students could protect themselves from crime.
  • A link to Le’s Facebook profile (protected, and thus of limited value).
  • Links to previous stories, including one by an affiliate site, CT News Junkie.
  • Videos of statements given yesterday by New Haven assistant police chief Pete Reichard and Yale president Richard Levin.

In addition, there are 13 comments appended to the Independent’s story and nine to the Register’s. I can’t say that either comment thread adds to anyone’s understanding of this tragedy, but comments are an important part of creating a community.

Both outlets did a good job with the basic journalism. The Independent, though, was much more effective at making its story more than that.

Earlier: “Non-profit journalism in New Haven” (video).

Non-profit journalism in New Haven


Last month I took two reporting trips for my book-in-progress about online journalism and community participation. I took advantage of the opportunity to shoot several video interviews, which I am now editing and posting on YouTube.

My first stop was in New Haven, where I spent some time with Paul Bass, the founder and editor of the New Haven Independent. I also interviewed his managing editor, Melissa Bailey, and Mark Brackenbury, managing editor of the daily New Haven Register. If you don’t see my video (above), click here. I apologize for the sound quality; I should have interviewed Bass somewhere other than a loud coffee-and-bagel shop, but he’s a busy guy.

The Independent is a non-profit community news site that’s similar to Voices of San Diego and MinnPost. Bass, an award-winning New Haven journalist and former editor of the alternative New Haven Advocate, tools around the city on his bicycle with a notebook and a small video camera.

In March I interviewed Christine Stuart, whose state political site, CT News Junkie, serves as the Independent’s Statehouse bureau.

A visit with CT News Junkie editor Christine Stuart

Find more videos like this on Wired Journalists

I spent last Wednesday with Christine Stuart, the editor of CT News Junkie, which covers Connecticut politics. Stuart, who’s based at the Statehouse in Hartford, posts two to four times a day, often covering hearings on important but secondary stories that the mainstream media ignore.

CT News Junkie is a media partner with the New Haven Independent, one of the more interesting experiments in non-profit, Web-based community journalism. Projects such as these are crucial as we seek to grope our way forward through the economic crisis that has befallen the news business. (CT News Junkie is technically a for-profit company, but Stuart is looking into ways of taking it non-profit.)

I visited Stuart as part of a long-range project. But while I was there, I shot some video and put together a six-minute documentary. I hope you’ll take a few moments and have a look.

Some technical notes. After spending about an hour trying to edit my video with iMovie ’08, I gave up and used iMovie 6 instead. The lack of precision for coordinating audio and B-roll with iMovie ’08 is a source of constant frustration, and I’ve finally given up. I can’t believe I subjected my students to it last semester. Maybe iMovie ’09 will be a better solution.

I also was unable to post the result to YouTube, even though the format (MP4), the length (well under 10 minutes) and the file size (under 100 MB) all meet YouTube’s guidlines. Vimeo didn’t work, either. I finally posted it successfully to Wired Journalists, which uses the Ning platform designed by Netscape founder Marc Andreesen.

If anyone out there has some thoughts as to why this proved to be YouTube-unfriendly, please drop me a line or post a comment. I’d still like to get this up on YouTube.