Thinking outside the (newspaper) box: Lessons from N.J.

Previously published at the Nieman Journalism Lab.

Local news is the lifeblood of communities. But with traditional models of paying for local coverage no longer working, residents of too many cities, towns, and neighborhoods find themselves with little of the information they need to be informed, involved citizens.

Last week, the Local News Lab, launched by the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation with funding from the Knight Foundation, issued a progress report on its first 18 months of working with community journalism projects in New Jersey. (Nieman Lab’s Joseph Lichterman laid out some of the findings here, focusing on the lessons for philanthropists; you can download a PDF of the full report here. And, full disclosure, Knight is also a funder of Nieman Lab.)

The report is chock full of interesting ideas about collaboration, community engagement, and the role of philanthropy. Some of those ideas are so old that they’re new again. To wit: A $5,000 experimentation grant that was used in part to purchase newspaper boxes, thus saving New Brunswick Today some $300 a month.

Over the weekend, I interviewed the report’s authors, Molly de Aguiar, Dodge’s director of informed communities, and Josh Stearns, Dodge’s director of journalism and sustainability, over email. What follows is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation.

DAN KENNEDY: What is the most important takeaway for someone who reads your report and is thinking about starting a community news project?

JOSH STEARNS: For someone just starting out with a local news project, the most important takeaway from our report — and our work in general — is that we are stronger working together than we are working alone. And, frankly, this is the same advice I’d give to new startups and legacy newsrooms alike.

This idea plays out over and over again in our report. So many people starting up new newsrooms feel isolated (this is true of entrepreneurs in a lot of sectors), but by developing smart partnerships, by inviting people in, and by finding networks to plug into, journalists can develop new layers of support and strength. Jim Brady of Billy Penn describes this as huddling together for warmth. But this is true outside journalism too. Researchers point to community ties and neighborhood networks as the heart of resiliency in the face of crisis.

Professional networks like NJ News Commons and the Institute for Nonprofit News are critical for sharing lessons, testing ideas, and leveraging economies of scale while retaining the unique character of each individual community site. Partnerships like the Center for Investigative Reporting’s local/national work give local journalists access to expanded capacity, unique tools, and resources to tell stories in new ways. Finally, you need to build community around your work from the very start. Invest in your community and they will invest in you.

KENNEDY: In your section on $5,000 experimentation grants, we learn that in addition to using the money to build apps and engage with social media, one of the grantees used part of it to buy newspaper boxes. It made me wonder if we all tend to have too much of a knee-jerk orientation toward technology and innovation in reimagining local journalism.

STEARNS: You are right that we tend to have a vision of innovation that is biased towards technology solutions and platform approaches. Too often, innovation means pursuing a moonshot. But the way we approached innovation was focused on strategic changes rooted in community needs. Sometimes those changes were big and tech driven — new apps, creative social media experiments — but sometimes they were small and decidedly analog, like the newspaper boxes you mentioned.

For the experimentation grants, we worked closely with journalists to assess their newsrooms’ capacity and identify community needs. We defined innovation as something the newsroom could undertake that would change the way they serve community and help them approach revenue in a new way. Innovation doesn’t have to be about trying something never done before; it can simply be about applying an old idea in a new way or in a new context. What might be a failed strategy for some could be a game-changer for others.

When the goal is to shift culture in small newsrooms that are already stretched thin, sometimes you have to tackle a lot of small changes that together can add up to a newsroom that looks fundamentally different from where you began. Focusing on incremental innovation allows you to prototype ideas, fail safely, learn, and try again.

KENNEDY: You discuss ways in which crowdfunding and what we used to call public (or civic) journalism — in its simplest form, just a matter of listening to the community — can be effective ways of building an audience for local news. Could you discuss the challenge facing journalists who are dealing with fractured communities that, increasingly, have not cared all that much about local affairs?

: Communities that appear not to care much about local affairs probably actually care a great deal about local affairs but don’t feel empowered to participate in local decision-making in meaningful ways. We know from Pew’s Local News in a Digital Age report that residents in Macon, Denver, and Sioux City have a high interest in local news — and high dissatisfaction with local news coverage. People don’t see their lived experiences or their concerns reflected in their local news sources. The challenge for journalists, therefore, is building relationships with community members from all backgrounds and earning their trust, which is both time- and labor-intensive. There are no shortcuts.

We saw this play out very successfully with our partners at The Lo-Down, whose crowdfunding campaign raised more than $27,000 and was, in many ways, the culmination of years of important neighborhood coverage that gave a voice to community members concerned about gentrification and the loss of locally-owned small businesses. We wrote a blog post about it here.

KENNEDY: I detect a tension in one part of your report. On the one hand, you say philanthropic support should be used to pay for infrastructure and experimentation, not operating costs. On the other hand, you call for local donors and foundations to support journalism in their communities. Where exactly would you draw the line on grant money and local journalism? At a time when advertising is on the wane, doesn’t it make sense for philanthropies to step up and provide some direct funding on an ongoing basis?

DE AGUIAR: Actually, the report notes that “philanthropy’s most valuable role is to nurture networks, and provide a blend of operating support with experimental dollars.” We do provide operating support to nonprofit and public media in New Jersey, and have a long history of that. However, the work we describe in the report is primarily focused on the for-profit local newsrooms we are currently working with. And in their case, we are providing experimental dollars, not operating support, in order to help their businesses become stronger. We do not want to set a precedent of providing ongoing operating support to for-profit newsrooms.

We think the two most important messages to local donors and foundations in this section of the report are:

  • Many “mom and pop” for-profit local newsrooms are mission-driven community anchors that could benefit significantly from some short-term experimental dollars to strengthen their businesses and better serve their communities.
  • While funding a specific beat is a common strategy, there are many overlooked opportunities for supporting local journalism that foundations might consider — for example, funding infrastructure (legal support, web development, ad sales, etc.) that can substantially strengthen the entire field. There is no one right way — just many underappreciated options.

KENNEDY: What are the next steps for the Local News Lab?

DE AGUIAR AND STEARNS: We’ve got some exciting experiments and projects ahead regarding new revenue streams and community engagement.

With respect to the community-engagement bucket, we launched a number of projects last year that we introduced in our report — Hearken, The Listening Post, News Voices: New Jersey, Neighborhoods to Newsrooms, among others — and this year is really about giving those projects the space and time to blossom and document what we are learning. We are going to be looking at a few very different ways to bring communities into the reporting process and foster their investment in local news, including creative uses of art, theater, community organizing, and citizen journalism.

On the business side, we are looking at how newsrooms can create collaborations like PRX’s Radiotopia in the podcast space, to combine audience and reach bigger advertisers. We are also exploring how small local newsrooms can build profitable events strategies on a shoestring budget. But to some extent one of our next steps it to simply keep doing what we are doing — mentoring and coaching newsrooms to help develop more revenue streams, deepening their engagement with community, and further strengthening collaboration across the New Jersey ecosystem. We’ve made some amazing progress, but there is still a lot left to learn.

And we are going to be focused on further documenting and sharing all our work, not only in reports but also in concrete guides, sample materials and trainings.

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Thinking about the future of local journalism

Recently I had a chance to interview three smart people about the future of local journalism:

  • Josh Stearns, director of journalism and sustainability at the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, who is studying six digital startups in New Jersey and New York. (You can see my full interview with Stearns by clicking here.)
  • Meg Heckman, a University of New Hampshire journalism professor whose master’s thesis at Northeastern University was on the role of women at digital startups — and why women are more likely to be involved in hyperlocal sites than in larger national projects.
  • Tim Coco, the president and general manager of WHAV Radio in Haverhill, a mostly online community station (it also has a weak AM signal) for which Coco is seeking a low-power FM license.

I don’t get to make videos that often, but I wanted to scrape some of the rust off my skills for the benefit of my graduate students, who are currently making their own videos. My philosophy is that every journalist needs to know how to make a decent video with the tools at hand — in my case, an iPhone 5S, a portable tripod that I bought five years ago for less than $20, and iMovie ’11, also known as iMovie 9. (The newer iMovie 10 strikes me as slow and kludgy, but maybe I just need a faster computer.)

The one luxury I indulged in was a Røde lapel mic (known in the trade as a lav mic), which I bought for well under $100 just before I started this project. It made a huge difference — the audio is of far better quality, with much less interference from outside noise, than in previous videos I’ve made.

What I should have done, but didn’t, was use a better app than Apple’s built-in Camera so that I could lock in brightness and contrast. That way I could have avoided the sudden shifts from dark to light and back that mar my interview with Stearns.

Still, it’s useful to know that you can shoot a decent video without spending many hundreds of dollars on a professional camera and Final Cut Pro. I think there’s a tendency at journalism schools to believe that we’re selling our students short if they don’t get to use the latest and greatest technology. And yes, they should have a chance to use the good stuff. But they also need to know that many news organizations, especially smaller ones, expect their journalists to make do with what’s available.

Josh Stearns on local journalism and sustainability

Last week I had a chance to sit down with Josh Stearns to talk about his new job as director of the Journalism and Sustainability Project at the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation. Dodge has received a two-year, $2 million grant from the Knight Foundation to study new ways of paying for local journalism, with an emphasis on civic engagement.

After a long stint as policy director of Free Press, whose headquarters was just a bike ride away, Stearns is now commuting from Western Massachusetts to New Jersey, where the hyperlocal sites he is working with are located. We talked on July 15 at his home in Easthampton.

Net neutrality and the future of journalism

This article was originally published by the media-reform organization Free Press and is posted here by permission. Josh Stearns is the journalism and public media campaign director for Free Press. You can follow him on Twitter at @jcstearns.

Josh portraitBy Josh Stearns

Tuesday’s court decision, which struck down the FCC’s open Internet order and threatened the future of net neutrality, has huge implications for the future of journalism and press freedom.

According to the Pew Research Center, half of all Americans now cite the Internet as their “main source for national and international news.” For young people the number is 71 percent. While we are nowhere near stopping the presses or tearing down the broadcast towers, the Internet is increasing how we distribute and consume the news today.

The future of journalism is bound up in the future of the Internet.

That is why net neutrality is so important and why the court decision this week should worry digital journalists and publishers. For newsrooms the decision means that a company like AT&T or Verizon could decide where their users can go for news and what stories get buried or blocked online. Verizon could strike a deal with CNN and hamper their users’ ability to access alternative news sources. Comcast could slow access to Al Jazeera, because it wants to promote its NBC news offerings.*

That’s why, in 2010, U.S. Sen. Al Franken argued that “net neutrality is the First Amendment issue of our time.”

No journalist or publisher should be held hostage by the commercial or political whims of an Internet service provider. In the end, however, the biggest media companies aren’t likely worried about this court decision. As Stacey Higginbotham wrote:

In many ways this will be a win for the large content companies such as Disney or Viacom. Yes, they might have to pay for prioritization on the broadband networks, but they have deep pockets and such a move would help them ensure their content continues to reach consumer eyeballs as the television industry fragments online. It’s possible we could see the emergence of a pay TV bundle of content that is either exempt from caps or just delivered with pristine quality while YouTube videos sputter.

But it is not just sputtering YouTube videos we need to worry about. It is people’s ability to access the independent journalism and diverse voices, which have thrived on the Web.

In 2009 a coalition of nearly 50 online journalism innovators sent a letter to the FCC, calling on the commissioners to protect the open Internet. “Net Neutrality ensures that innovative local news websites and national nonprofit reporting projects can be accessed just as easily as legacy media sites,” they wrote. “Net Neutrality encourages journalists to pioneer new tools and modes of reporting and lowers the bar for citizens to participate.”

Net neutrality is about creating a level playing field for all voices.

In an ironic twist, when it argued against net neutrality at the federal appeals court, Verizon claimed it actually had a First Amendment right to block and censor Internet users. And while the court largely ignored Verizon’s First Amendment claims, its ultimate decision essentially gave Verizon the green light begin “editing” the Internet.

As more and more news and information moves online, we need to ensure that the flow of online information is free and unencumbered. Traditional battles over press freedom are critical, as the recent Committee to Protect Journalists report so clearly showed, but today we also have to understand that keeping the Internet free goes hand in hand with keeping the press free.

The court decision this week is bad news for the Internet and for independent media, but it is not the last word in this debate.

The Federal Communications Commission can reclassify broadband as what it is: the fundamental communications infrastructure of our time. That simple action would re-establish its legal authority and ensure that its can protect consumers and journalists from online discrimination. Protecting freedom of the press can’t stop online.

* Because of the conditions placed on their deal to buy NBC in 2011, Comcast has to abide by net neutrality principles until 2018 regardless of this court case.

An innuendo-laden attack on Greenwald

Edward Jay Epstein has written an innuendo-laden column for The Wall Street Journal in which he strongly insinuates that filmmaker Laura Poitras and/or journalist/blogger/lawyer Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian criminally assisted Edward Snowden in leaking National Security Agency documents.

Epstein’s toxic brew of archly worded questions leads to the inescapable conclusion that he believes the two journalists ought to be investigated and possibly charged under the World War I-era Espionage Act.

Josh Stearns, who serves with Greenwald on the Freedom of the Press Foundation board, has some thoughts about journalism and the Espionage Act. He writes:

The First Amendment and press freedom questions that haunt the Espionage Act are particularly important right now. Changes in media and technology have put the tools of journalism and media making in the hands of more and more people, challenging old assumptions about who is a journalist and how journalism is done. Increasingly, independent journalists, nonprofit news outlets and citizens are playing critical roles in newsgathering and reporting on the most important issues of our time.

I don’t think Stearns gives sufficient weight to the idea that merely publishing leaked documents is, in fact, a violation of the law, and that investigative journalism depends on the hopeful notion that the government won’t use its authority. Otherwise, though, it’s a useful guide to the issues at stake.

More: Greenwald responds to the Epstein column in this Storify involving (mainly) Jeff Jarvis and Michael Wolff.

Breaking news, social media and verification

Josh Stearns of Free Press and Catherine Cloutier of Boston.com
Josh Stearns of Free Press and Catherine Cloutier of Boston.com

Last Saturday I had the privilege of moderating a panel on “Covering Chaos,” a look at how nontraditional journalism and social media responded to the Boston Marathon bombings and the aftermath.

Panelists were three people who covered the events as they were unfolding, Andrew Ba Tran of Boston.com and Northeastern University students Taylor Dobbs and Brian D’Amico; Boston.com producer Catherine Cloutier; and Josh Stearns of Free Press, an expert on social media and verification.

It was a terrific event. Everyone, including me, learned a lot about best practices in reporting from the scene, in aggregation and curation, and in verifying the accuracy of on-the-ground reports in real time.

Cambridge Community Television, which organized the event, has posted a Storify by Cambridge media activist Saul Tannenbaum on our panel and the three that preceded it, which dealt with alternative online media in Cambridge, legal issues and new forms of digital storytelling.

In addition, Stearns, the hardest-working man in media reform, has published his keynote address as well as a blog post on misinformation and verification following the marathon bombings.

Photo (cc) by Christian Herold and published under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Panel to discuss citizen media and the marathon

This Saturday, May 4, I’ll be moderating a panel at the main branch of the Cambridge Public Library on how nontraditional journalism and citizen media responded to the Boston Marathon bombings. Titled “Covering Chaos,” the panel will be held from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. and will include:

  • Josh Stearns, journalism and public media campaign director for the media-reform organization Free Press and an expert on verification and trust with regard to citizen media.
  • Taylor Dobbs, a journalism student at Northeastern University whose coverage at the finish line and again in Watertown was featured on the website Medium. Dobbs wrote about what he learned in a recent guest post for Media Nation.
  • Catherine Cloutier, a producer for Boston.com, the Boston Globe’s free website, which was a crucial source of information in the aftermath of the bombings. Cloutier was among those posting to the site’s live blog.

The panel will close an event being sponsored by Cambridge Community Television and other organizations called “Filling the News Gap in Cambridge and Beyond: Citizen Journalism and Grassroots Media.” It begins at 9 a.m. and looks like it should be well worth your time. More information here.

Friends of Media Nation reflect on the tragedy

I’ve seen a lot of worthwhile, heartfelt commentary written by friends and colleagues in the last day and a half. I’ve retweeted some, “liked” others, but I thought I should try to pull some of them together here. The following is a highly idiosyncratic list; the only unifying principle is that I am friendly with the writers. I’m probably forgetting a few, but I can always post more later. Click on the names to read their essays in full.

Amy Derjue: “As I’m about to get on the train or back in the car after visiting my Mom, she says she puts me in a bubble when I leave. In the bubble, nothing bad can happen to me when I’m out of her sight. It’s how she can deal with me riding the subway to work, living in a city, driving a car. We all put ourselves and our loved ones in these bubbles every day. Boston’s bubble doesn’t feel very strong right now. But we’ll be OK. We’ll keep going about our business and doing what we love because a life lived in all-encompassing fear isn’t life.”

Taylor Dobbs: “The bombs sounded like fireworks. The screams sounded like the cheers that had poured through my open window for hours. It wasn’t until I saw ‘explosion at the finish line’ on Twitter that I took out my camera bag, snapped on my zoom lens and ran out the door, shoes untied and sockless.”

Azita Ghahramani: “Finally, safely at home, I made the mistake of turning on the news to hear updates on what had happened. When someone reported that the first casualty was an 8-year-old-boy, I heard my son gasp. A child, not much younger than him, hadn’t been spared the nightmare my son thought he had narrowly escaped. That gasp is the other moment I’ll never forget.”

William Bradford: “I have lived in Boston for almost four years now and this was the first time I had decided to be a spectator of the marathon, and to partake in the revelry of Patriots Day. In truth, I did not really want to go downtown. When you stand butt-high to the average citizen, crowds tend to be an annoyance. But there were two of my people running in the race and I wanted to greet them at the finish line. It was to be a monumental day: the first time in race history that two people with dwarfism would not only be qualified to run the race, but also finish it. Or so I hoped. I am the Senior Vice President of Little People of America, the nation’s largest support and advocacy group for people with dwarfism, and it was a proud moment for our organization. I felt a duty to be there in solidarity. As it turned out, it was the solidarity of strangers, Good Samaritans, that bore me through a time of crisis.”

Josh Stearns: “I have no doubt that my sons will have to confront violence in our media and our world, but I see no benefit to introducing it at such a young age. Children under the age of six witness media coverage of disasters as live events, happening before their eyes (ears) and so to children, the ongoing repeated coverage feels as though the disaster is in fact happening over and over again. At a time when the news stories can shift from budget debates and bombings, the news is full of emotional landmines.”

Charles P. Pierce: “Ultimately, many of the lost and the confused and the separated found themselves and their loved ones at the Boylston Street end of the Public Garden. There was a general milling about and, for a moment, it almost seemed as though the spirit of the day had been recaptured, until you realized that a lot of this joy was about finding out your wife or your son wasn’t maimed, and until you saw the people sitting alone, their backs against the trees, staring up through the branches as if they were hanging prayers on every one of them.”

Lloyd Schwartz (added Wednesday): “More people have lost their lives at stampedes at other sporting events in other parts of the world. But I’m heartbroken about the eight-year-old boy killed returning to the stands after running into the street to greet his father who was crossing the finish line. For the new amputees, some of them runners. For the dancer who sustained critical leg injuries. For Boston. It’s heartbreaking.”

Steve Krause (added Wednesday): “I’ve heard a lot in the past two days about how tough Bostonians are … and how resilient. I don’t know if we’re any tougher, or any more resilient, than anyone else whose city has been torn apart by a terror attack. The dichotomy of all this is that the most depraved acts we can think of often result, in their aftermath, in some of the most astounding examples of human kindness and nobility of spirit. I’d like to bottle it up if I could and let some of it out down the road when the shock wears off and people return to acting the way they normally do.”

Michael Jonas (added Wednesday): “Yesterday, as was true a dozen years ago, the security drill struck me as a fairly desperate effort to bring at least a thin veneer of order and security to a world with risks we simply are not able to eliminate. But once the office buildings are secured, what about the shopping malls? Downtown Crossing at midday? My Red Line ride home? Or anyplace, for that matter, where a dozen people might congregate close together, an inviting ‘soft target’ for someone bent on the mayhem that transformed the scene at the Boston Marathon finish line in an instant from a celebration of human perseverance to a sidewalk killing field.”

MuckRock.com and the potential power of crowdfunding

Screen Shot 2012-12-18 at 7.58.38 PMThis interview was previously published at the Nieman Journalism Lab.

The first time I heard of Michael Morisy and MuckRock.com was in 2010, after the site was targeted by a bureaucrat working for Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick.

It seems that MuckRock, using the state’s open records law, had obtained information about how food stamps were being used in grocery stores. The data, which did not name any individual food-stamp recipients, had been lawfully requested and lawfully obtained. But that didn’t stop said bureaucrat from threatening Morisy and his tech partner, Mitchell Kotler, with fines and even imprisonment if they refused to remove the documents from their site.

They refused. And the bureaucrat said it had all been a mistake.

Now Morisy is preparing to expand MuckRock’s mission of filing freedom-of-information requests with various government agencies and posting them online for all to see. The just-launched Freedom of the Press Foundation has identified MuckRock as one of four news organizations that will benefit from its system of crowdsourced donations. The best-known of the four is WikiLeaks.

The foundation’s board is a who’s who of media activists, including Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, Electronic Frontier Foundation co-founder John Perry Barlow, Josh Stearns of Free Press and the journalist Glenn Greenwald, now with the Guardian.

“The Freedom of the Press Foundation can be a first step away from the edge of a cliff,” writes Dan Gillmor, author of “We the Media” and “Mediactive.” “But it needs to be recognized and used by as many people as possible, as fast as possible. And journalists, in particular, need to offer their support in every way. This is ultimately about their future, whether they recognize it or not. But it’s more fundamentally about all of us.”

What follows is a lightly edited email interview I conducted with Morisy about MuckRock, the Freedom of the Press Foundation, and what comes next.

Q: Tell me a little bit about MuckRock and its origins.

A: I’d been really frustrated that we hadn’t seen much innovation in newsgathering generated by journalistic organizations. You see lots of innovations in how stories are told, but they’ve been generated by companies like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram — all wonderful organizations, but ones which generate news as a byproduct, and where the journalistic function is by far secondary to business considerations. My co-founder and I wanted to create a startup where creating news was a core part of the business, and where the news was both user-generated and -directed as well as verified.

Since requests on MuckRock come from — and are paid for by — our users, we are able to align our business and editorial goals almost perfectly. We don’t sell advertising, we don’t put up paywalls. We just help people investigate the issues they want to, and then share those results with the world.

We’ve know been growing as a business and as an editorial operation for three years, with a part-time news editor and two fantastic interns.

Q: What sorts of projects are you involved in today?

A: Our biggest project to date is a partnership with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) called the Drone Census, which has broken a lot of major stories around the country. We let anyone submit an agency’s information and then we follow up with a public records request. So far we’ve submitted 263 requests to state, local, and federal agencies, the vast majority of which were suggested by the public. And it’s helped shed more light on a program that police departments and drone manufacturers are very purposefully keeping quiet.

We’ve also gotten to cover some really interesting local stories, such as getting the late Boston mayor Kevin White’s FBI file and taking an inside look at the timing of a drug raid, as well as national stories.

Q: What is the nature of your relationship with the Boston Globe?

A: MuckRock was invited to be part of the Globe Lab‘s incubator program a little over a year ago. We’ve received free office space and, most important, a good mailbox to receive the dozens of responses we get back every day. It’s also given us a chance to bounce ideas back and forth with their technology and editorial teams, and we’re in the early stages of a collaborative project with them.

They also recently launched The Hive, a section focused on startups in the Boston area. Given my experience running one and my editorial background, when they were looking for someone to manage and report for that section, I was a natural fit and thrilled to be invited to cover startups in the area. It’s a dream job, and it means I now have two desks, and often wear two hats inside the same building.

Q: How did you get involved in the Freedom of the Press Foundation?

A: Trevor Timm has been our main point of contact with the EFF working on the drone project, and he’s been absolutely great to work with. He reached out to us about a week ago and said that he was working on a new venture to help crowdfund investigative journalism projects, and we were honored to be thought of. It turns out he is the executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, so we got lucky to be working with the right people.

Q: Do you have a goal for how much money you’re hoping to raise through the foundation? What kinds of projects would you like to fund if you’re successful?

A: We’re kind of going into this with an open mind and a hopeful heart. Any amount raised is greatly appreciated, but this will help jumpstart several new projects similar in size and scope to the drone effort, which has had an amazing response, including nods from the New York Times and many other outlets. It may also give us the flexibility to fund important stories that maybe are not as sexy. We were really interested in funding an investigation into MBTA price jumps for the disabled, for example, but our crowdfunding efforts on Spot.us are essentially dead on arrival. Having a reserve will allow us to take gambles on stories like that without having to choose between making rent and breaking news.

Tracking social media with Storify

Next semester, I plan to devote some time in my Reinventing the News course to using Storify, a tool that lets you search and pull together content from across a wide range of media — news stories, tweets, videos, photos and the like — in order to tell a story.

There’s an art to doing it well, so don’t take my first attempt (below) too seriously. Instead, you should have a look at Josh Stearns’ compilation on journalists who have been arrested at Occupied protests around the country. His piece was just recognized (and justly recognized) as the “Storify Story of the Year.”

I also think Storify works well for breaking news when there’s lots of citizen media to sift through. Here is an example from the Valley Independent Sentinel, in Connecticut’s Naugatuck Valley, following a summer storm that moved through the area this past August.

For my first Storify story, I decided to take on the subpoena served on Twitter by the Suffolk County district attorney’s office, which could force the social network to reveal the identity of “Guido Fawkes,” whom the Boston police want to question in connection with something (what, exactly, is unclear) that took place in connection with Occupy Boston. Here’s what I came up with:

View the story “”Guido Fawkes” and the secret subpoena” on Storify]