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RESEARCH

Having Impact

In these and other ways, citizen media sites are adding valuable information to their communities, which may be an important indicator of their sustainability.  There is little doubt that sites are having significant impact. Site operators say they know elected officials and community leaders are following along - in part because officials often join in, in part because governments are using sites as a way to communicate real-time information (reports on road blockages or temporary changes in garbage collection schedules), in part because community journalists are getting their calls returned immediately. They know journalists are mining their sites for tips and sources, and in towns such as Greensboro, joining in the conversation.

When asked what they found valuable about the citizen media sites they read, 82% of our survey respondents said they provide local information not found elsewhere; 77% said the sites supplement what local media can provide; 74% said the sites build connections to the community.

When asked to describe the impact their sites have had in their communities, 82% said they provided opportunities for dialogue; 61% said they watchdogged local government; 39% said they helped the community solve problems, 27% said they increased voter turnout and 17% said they increased the number of candidates running for office.

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Lise LePage said, “I felt successful when we were at a meeting last night with 100 people in the room and someone said, ‘Where are we going to find out this information?’ And someone said, ‘ibrattleboro.’”

Among the wealth of evidence that sites are expanding coverage, prompting change or influencing events in their towns, here are a few examples:

In coastal San Mateo, California, the local weekly paper began to cover breaking news on its web site after Coastsider was launched.

In San Diego, VoiceofSanDiego.org pursues a strategy of cherry-picking an important undercovered issue and “throwing people at it.” It claims credit for influencing debate on the development of a new airport and for prompting The Union-Tribune to add reporters to the City Hall beat.

In New Haven, a youth initiative partly directed at giving teens something to do grew out of a New Haven Independent campaign.

In Madison, Wisconsin, 50 citizens have received journalism basic training and have begun to break stories on MadisonCommons.org, including one about tainted water.

In Deerfield, New Hampshire, coverage of upcoming elections at forumhome.org led to a significant increase in candidates.

In Northfield, Minnesota, in the wake of a hailstorm that damaged virtually every car parked on the street, citizens flocked to Northfield.org  to compile accounts of crop damage, to exchange tips on how to prove damage to insurers, and to share videos and 180 photos documenting damage.

In Rye, New Hampshire, which falls outside a major market, citizens heavily covered problems in the construction of a municipal building and the debate over proposed construction of a 400-person assisted living center for RyeReflections.org.

New West in the Rocky Mountain region produced a six-part series on sex crimes that “had a huge impact on the many people involved and in the community,” according to site owner Jonathan Weber.

In Olympia, Washington, citizens convened at OlyBlog.net to discuss how to respond to an upcoming Nazi rally. “There was a long and detailed discussion about whether they should be ignored or confronted, which went on for a long time with strong positions on both sides,” said site-owner Rick McKinnon.

In Toledo, workers concerned about working conditions and other issues at a local Jeep plant held discussions at ToledoTalk.com and posted excerpts on a company bulletin board.

In Greensboro, the city council refused to endorse a 10-year plan offered by the Coalition to Fight Homelessness. A coalition member posted clarifying details on Greensboro101, a council member read it and re-introduced the plan, which was adopted.

In Maine, reporters at Village Soup exposed violations of open-meeting rules. And a citizen contributor helped police find an elderly man who went missing for two days after he recognized the man’s car from a photo police posted to the site.

In Santa Fe, a local store put brown wrappers on a magazine that featured a breast-feeding woman on the cover. “Eight hundred comments later,” FreeNewMexican.com editor Stefan Dill said, “the (company) president announced in our comments that due to public pressure, they were going to take the wrappers off.” In celebration, women posted numerous photos of themselves breastfeeding, and the site became a hub of breastfeeding tips.

In Denver, Travis Henry, the editor of YourHub.com, says the greatest impact of community sites is hard to quantify. “It’s allowed people to have voices who didn’t have voices before.”

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