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Evergreen State College Professor Rick McKinnon launched OlyBlog, devoted to discussions of Olympia, Washington, politics and news, in August 2005. The site was an answer to the unmoderated discussions rife with “negative, hateful comments” on the web site of the local daily, The Olympian, McKinnon said. “There was a space to have an online conversation that was more carefully moderated.”

McKinnon devotes hundreds of hours of unpaid labor to the site each month and pays the $40 server bill. He’s designated half a dozen volunteers as moderators who promote posts from registered users to the front page, delete comments from discussions and generally “keep track of the site.”

The site gets enough posts to be self-sustaining, McKinnon said. The greater challenge is economic: How to finance what he calls a nascent nonprofit civic network of linked sites devoted to such topics as Olympia arts and the environment. “We also want to think about how we might get one integrated wireless system in all of Olympia.”

John Sawvel runs Toledo Talk, the discussion site he founded in 2003 as a non-profit community public service. In 2005 he began to learn about community journalism and decided to start attending and writing about public meetings on the arts and municipal issues, as well as the monthly sessions of a “new urbanism” group of citizens, developers and politicians who chew over downtown issues.

Sawvel is encouraged that other contributors now cover school board meetings and link from the site to video and audio coverage of events on their blogs. But as the site grew more popular in the last year he felt compelled for the first time to “put the brakes on” by reviewing items before they were posted to the front page and moderating discussions. “It was getting wild,” he said. He’s looking into organizing the site as an LLC, with its attendant liability protection. “I don’t want to say to my wife, ‘We’re going to lose our house because I started a web site.’”

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