The Forum serves Deerfield and three other small New Hampshire towns that lie beyond the coverage area of any daily paper or broadcast. About a dozen people who came to know each other while working on local elections confronted the news vacuum by applying for a J-Lab grant to launch a citizen web site. With no journalism experience, the voting members of The Forum - who agree to contribute $25 and 100 hours of work annually - got the site up and publishing in August 2005. Founding managing editor Maureen Mann said about half a dozen remain regular posters, and two have joined her in the editing cooperative, which screens or edits every post. It spends a large portion of its budget publishing site content in a print edition three times a year for the benefit of citizens who are not online, and to urge readers to post to the site. More than 70 people had contributed to the site by its one-year anniversary.
The Forum, which takes a straightforward and earnest tone, published the only detailed coverage of the March 2006 municipal elections. “We got enormous positive feedback on our candidate profiles and explanations of what the issues are,” Mann said.
A group of citizens in Northfield, Minnesota, who had been running a local issues discussion board ventured into citizen journalism in January 2006 when they launched Northfield.org, which invites postings from anyone in the community. At the six-month mark Doug Bratland, chairman of the site’s volunteer board, said about a dozen posters dominated the site. Members of the board of Northfield Citizens Online share the task of screening all posts that go to the site’s front page and editing for grammar and code errors. The most popular content is the photo galleries.
A part-time managing editor was hired to multiply citizen posts and diversify voices and to increase the ratio of newsy items to P.R.-style event announcements. To keep a part-time paid editor the site needs 500 people in the town of about 17,000 to become members by paying $20 a year.
Rye Reflections was initiated by former Boston Globe editor Jack Driscoll, now editor-in-residence at the MIT Media Lab. Once a month the site publishes about 16 news and feature articles written by, and of interest to, people living on the New Hampshire seacoast around the town of Rye. “Very few in Rye have any kind of writing experience or computer experience but they have a loyalty to their community,” Driscoll said. “This is a way they can express themselves and share the wisdom they have built up about the area.”
Contributors (all volunteers) gather weekly for story meetings, and Driscoll runs tutorials on how to conduct interviews and other practical skills. There’s a six-member editing cooperative, and three people edit every piece.
“We’re a community without a newspaper,” Driscoll said. “We are writing about the most important issues and breaking new ground because the political leadership has operated without scrutiny for years.” That said, he notes the site could use more contributors who want to tackle news and news analysis in addition to recipes and travel pieces.
The two-year-old non-profit ArborUpdate.com in Ann Arbor, Michigan, is run by individuals who, in the words of one collective member, “have no structure and no accountability to one another,” but whose goal is to host an alternative news site for original posts, commentary and links to other media coverage. The only cost is minimal site hosting fees, which one member pays out of pocket. About ten people have posting privileges, but any Ann Arbor citizen can e-mail and obtain guest-poster status.