This past Fourth of July, while most of us were basking in the rich ultraviolet rays or elbow-deep in potato salad doing our part to celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence, K. Paul Mallasch decided to post a declaration of his own and launched munciefreepress.com.
Launching a citizen journalism site is not in any way an easy or certain undertaking. It requires a tremendous amount of effort and heart. And, as anyone familiar with growing a community project knows, it requires superhuman patience.
We emailed K. Paul and asked him to tell us more about Muncie, Indiana’s newest information source – for and by the people:
Q: You’ve been interested in the citizen journalism movement for some time. What finally spurred you to start munciefreepress.com?
Well, to be honest, the final push was being downsized (a consolidation of the Online Manager position) at The Star Press in Muncie, Ind. It is a Gannett newspaper. I wanted to eventually jump off the corporate cliff and try something on my own. Instead of jumping, though, I was kinda nudged. I’m just trying to make sure it’s a controlled dive and not a belly flop. ;)
Also, this is, for me and the world I think, the time to do it. Yes, it’s still the very early stages of citizen media, but the world wide web has been around awhile now. This wave of journalism experiments may fail, but I want to be a part of it and live the lessons firsthand.
Q: What other sites, if any, did you model this after?
There’s not any one site that I’m trying to replicate. Typically when working on websites, I scour the web for similar sites and try to take the very best idea from each site. After compiling these, I try to emulate as many of the best points as I can.
Kuro5hin.org is a site I’ve been looking at for a while, though. It runs on Scoop, which is what I chose for Muncie Free Press (with a couple twists, though.) I really like H20Town and BackFence, for different reasons. Also, there are a lot of great citizen journalism blogs out there with a wealth of information (you guys included. ;) I’m watching the Pegasus News folks closely as well.
The thing is, I think all of the small players at the moment are trying it from slightly different angles. This is good, though, because we can learn from each other as we go on. I really enjoy the “in the trenches” feel to the work I’m doing now. Journalism is exciting again.
Q: What do you hope to achieve with MuncieFreePress.com?
I hope Muncie Free Press gives the citizens a voice, helps them come together as a community. They have terrific stories to tell, but need a little coaching on how best to do it. I hope Muncie Free Press is able become a reliable and trustworthy news source in the community - with a mix of meta-moderation and a group of human editors.
While giving the community the tools to tell their stories and communicate, I’m sure they’re going to teach me a lot as well. Hopefully, this knowledge will be helpful in the next stage of my saga.
If nothing else, I’m hoping start-ups like this make big media realize that the citizens, truly, are the most important part of the operation. If they don’t, may Muncie Free Press be the nudge for other journalists out there sitting on the fence about starting up their own thing.
Q: How many hours a day are you working on the site and how many peple have begun to help?
42 hours a day. No, wait. :) Seriously, though, a lot. I have my camera with me a lot now and am always “looking” and “watching” for a story. I’m trying to find the best mix for revenue/marketing/coding/design/content time wise.
Including myself, we have 14 users that are “local” and not dupes, etc. Of those, I’ve made one an “editor” on the site, with extra ability to moderate. His name is Jeff Foster. The others have commented here and there, but haven’t posted any blogs or stories. I’m working on simplifying it without losing any of the functionality. I also found one person posting photos of local events to image shack or somewhere. He’s not signed up, but I’ve been posting his photos with his permission (and name/credit). I’ve talked to one freelance photographer and a student photographer, but neither have showed up, yet.
There’s another group I’m working with in real life to cover the news together. (They may end up being my first podcasters or I may just buy them a small audio recorder with a USB plug. On that note, there’s another local podcaster I’ve seen, but haven’t talked to about this yet...)
Anyway, it’s not growing as quickly as I’d like, of course, but I can see it spreading, via word of mouth, viral and gonzo marketing, soon. Hopefully. ;)
I don’t strip out my own pageviews (and I’m on the site a lot), and these are visits, not uniques. Uniques so far this month are 522. MSN.com is sending me traffic for some of these hyper-local events, while Google is being cautious with adding me to the top SERPs (Search Engine Result Pages). ;)
There is also some revenue, although I can’t/won’t (at this time) give that out. It’s on the low side, but a decent for the number of uniques so far.
I’m also keeping a journal of sorts about the whole thing over at J-Log, although I haven’t grouped them together yet.
Heh. There’s probably many more I forgot to mention, but I really liked Barcelona Reporter, a site I don’t think a lot of people know about yet.