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Trained Citizen Journalist Sites

Madison Commons

Madison Commons, which launched in March 2006, draws content from three sources: local publications that “partner” by providing story links, the work of students trained in the citizen journalism program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and citizens of Madison who have undergone reporting and writing workshops. Some 50 citizens, recruited from Neighborhood Planning Councils, were trained as of summer 2006. About 10 became contributors, said journalism professor and project director Lew Friedland. Friedland’s intention is for citizens to provide grassroots coverage of Madison neighborhoods, meeting a threshold for fairness and accuracy in everything they write. All citizen posts are edited.

The site, however, is dominated not by citizen content but by professional material drawn from the city’s two newspapers and other publications. Friedland believes the site needs 30 to 50 “hard-core” community contributors to be considered truly citizen-driven. He estimates it could take three to five years to train enough citizens to achieve that balance. Beyond the support of the university, Friedland says, the site needs to raise about $25,000 a year to pay editors and expand training workshops to include photography and videography as well as writing. Ten months after its launch, Madison Commons’ small toehold leveraged a prestigious $100,000 Baldwin grant to expand the model into a Wisconsin Commons.

Geoff Dougherty is an investigative reporter who launched the non-profit Chi-Town Daily News in December 2005 after leaving the Chicago Tribune. He calls it an online newspaper by and for Chicago residents, and his intention is to raise enough money to hire and pay reporters (including himself), to continue to run articles produced by Medill School of Journalism students and to train citizen reporters to write for the site. Dougherty runs informal night-at-the-pub training workshops for anyone who’s interested. “One of the unfortunate things about Chicago is there are a lot of economically disadvantaged neighborhoods that are never covered at all,” he said. “Ultimately we want fairly consistent contributors covering neighborhood events and hyperlocal stuff, because that’s the stuff that doesn’t get covered.”

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