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Monday, April 11, 2005

The New Media Revolution is Gaining Important Momentum in Unexpected Places

The Professor has about as comprehensive an update as I've seen anywhere in a long time on all of the new citizen's journalism projects springing up all over the country. Take for example Debbie Galant who is overseeing Barista of Bloomfield Avenue, a hyper-local application of Internet possibilities to reporting in an area of New Jersey.

Here's how PressThink's Rosen describes Galant, who he nominates as somebody who ought to be invited to future think-think panels on how to develop a profitable economic model for news on the Internet:

"One I would certainly invite is Debbie Galant, the Barista of Bloomfield Ave, who can tell us how it's working in the New Jersey Towns--Glen Ridge, Montclair, and Bloomfield--where she's synthesizing the formula for hyper-local blog-style news coverage and comment.
"Galant was Jersey columnist for The New York Times for five years; she's done Big Journalism and now she's gone small and independent. Baristanet is doing well on growth. It has a
second writer (journalist and NYU grad Liz George) and a business manager.
"And ads. It has a columnist, and classifieds, and listings. It knows when the Superintendent of Schools is about to be dumped, and when there's a car fire around the corner."

And there is Jim Zellmer, who started the School Information Center. Having overseen coverage of a major public school system in one of the Washington, D.C. region's inner suburban counties, I can attest to this assessment by Zellmer of why SIC has been a touched a live nerve in Madison, WI:

"The epiphany for me was a 2004 Madison School board Candidate Forum where one of the three local tv stations was present. The result on that evening's news was a 10 second clip-- 'There was a school board candidate forum.' No substance. The newspaper folks generally cover these, but they remain encumbered by the traditional 300-500 words with no media, or perhaps a photo.
"SIS gives voice to parents, teachers, taxpayers and citizens. Further, SIS uses the latest tools to provide depth (links, video, mp3 audio, surveys) to important issues such as boundary changes, budgets, referendums, curriculum, local elections and events (protests, fine arts rallies, election events)."

Public school systems are among the most vital institutions in our country and yet they generally get either fawning coverage by MSMers who depend too much upon the word of teacher unions and school bureaucrats or only scanty or virtually no coverage at all. As a result, parents generally have no idea about the true state of learning in their local public schools and the attitude often is "ours are fine, the problems are all in the other districts."

Don't Miss Philly Future, either. Frankly, I think sites like this one created by Jason Calcanis that seek to be the hub of a local area's online activity are a significant step towards the "newspaper" that will be taken for granted by the grandchildren of the Boomer Generation much as their parents in turn took the traditional deadwood daily for granted.

This summary of a must-read PressThink post would not be complete without mention of Josh Marshall and the idea of using a blog to do things like ask congressmen on the record how they voted on critical issues that were decided on voice votes.

The Professor describes Marshall's effort in this area as "Open-Source Muckraking," which sounds like something very close to my heart:
"'Open source muckraking.' Potentially a big deal. But not a big business deal. Marshall has the traffic, the user interest and the political savvy to make it all work. He's a talented journalist, and he plots his moves carefully. It's been fascinating to watch him discover what work TPM can do."

This exactly the kind of thing I mean when I talk about blogging government. Members of Congress, federal judges and career civil servants in the executive branch do so much that begs for public exposure and discussion, yet it is never covered by the MSM because there simply isn't room between the ads, celebrity profiles, weather and "business-news-you-can-use." Marshall is a Lefty but I hope he succeeds beyond his wildest dreams in getting other bloggers to start asking questions like this.