From IVP Wiki

This wiki is running notes by Bill Densmore of the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute on the proceedings of the event "Block by Block," bringing together some 70 local online news community (LONC) operators from around the U.S. and Canada.


A large chunk of Friday is devoted to breakouts with circle-round discussion among LONC practitioners. But setting the themes for the day are two panels, “Making Community Engagement Work” and “The ABC’s of Local Advertising.”

Morning session: Making community engagement work

Panelists: David Cohn of (and a 2010-2011 Donald W. Reynolds fellow), Tracy Record, co-owner of West Seattle Blog, Andrea Neatta of The Terminal (Birmingham, Ala.) and moderated by Susan Mernit, founder/editor of Oakland Local.

‘’(We’ll add some running commentary of the first 45 minutes of this session later. Picking up midstream here. )’’

Thinking about training and tools

  • “In terms of training, sitting in a circle is immensely better than an hour an a half of panels,” says Cohn. He lauds barcamps, where the agenda is set up by the people who show up. “You tap the resources and knowledge of the people who are there – cross pollenation.”
  • Record: “In terms of tools, we use all of them,” she says. “Do not ignore the good old fashioned telephone.”

Journalistic integrity and engagement

  • Mernit gives the example of how do you lead the community on a serious issue (the impending sentencing in a celebrated criminal trial in Oakland) without abandoning your standards of objectivity. Do people in the audience have stories to share about that? Where do you draw the line?
  • Natta: “I come at it from a very weird perspective,” he says, because he was formerly a city official before starting his LONC. Now running the LONC, he says: “To do that effectively you sometime have to (respectfully) disagree with the establishment.” But you can be a watchdog and still have a positive attitude.
  • Cohn: Says where you draw the line isn’t as important as what follows. ” Pick a line and stick to it. . . . Whereever you do decided to draw it, make it transparent. Be open to that and be willing to hear people out on that. Make sure there is a place on your site where you are able to articulate that . . . be public about it and be willing to be engaged about it.”
  • Record: “You do need to draw a line if you want to be taken seriously. You need to reiterate it over and over.” She makes it very clear they can’t take freebies – even meals. “It is up to us to find a tactful way to explain that and not offend people.” Anytime they mention a sponsor on West Seattle Blog, in any context, the always mention they are a sponsor.


Jan Schaffer: Where do you draw the line between privacy and transparency?

  • Tracy Record: She says they will typically withhold the names of people arrested – even though they are made public by police -- until they have been formally charged by the court – typically in West Seattle that’s a couple of days.
  • Howard Owens: They have a policy that when the police put out an arrest report, they publish it. “There’s a commercial aspect – people just love reading that stuff . . . publishing everything you can about the police is a matter of transparency. The public plays a lot for that service.”
  • Polly Kreisman: “The police blotter is our most heavily visited section.” She says the police blotter in Scarsdale, N.Y., is “hysterical.” They have begun a semi-humorous “crime of the week.” A crime involving business leaders in their community – she has chosen not to run their arrest mug shot – but they do put it in the police blotter. With mug shots “the damage can be great.”
  • Q: A young man returning from Afghanistan who was flamed on his Facebook page. Is that a public situation that should be written about? Is Facebook public?

Is Facebook public?

  • Show of hands: A strong majority in the room agrees with the statement: “Facebook is public.” However, David Cohn cautions that some folks who use Facebook may not understand it is public; some sensitivity might be exercised as to their intentions.
  • Lisa Williams: Pretty soon their might be anyone left to hire or date because of Facebook.
  • Test articulated by one speaker: If the matter on Facebook is on a site with just a few users, that might not be perceived as public by the Facebook owner. But if the Facebook user has posted something that has gone to hundreds of friends – that ways in favor of it being public.
  • ”You can really make a serious mistake if you pull something off Facebook and use it.” Follow Journalism 101: Check it out.
  • Mernit: “While I don’t consider Facebook to be private, it’s not public either, it’s in that gray space.” She says she would be furious if someone took something off her Facebook page and published it without checking with her. “I don’t see Facebook as being a public library.”

Small operations: Time management

  • Anne Galloway: (moving off the Facebook topic) – If you are a tiny operation and don’t have a lot of time, how do you manage social media time?
  • Record: It has to be something that you can do simultaneously. The LONC operator “is swimming in multiple streams at once.” Her husband has nine separate windows open on their office computer, monitoring police scanner, Facebook and Twitter feeds and multiple other sources.
  • Natta: You need to recharge and unplug at times. If it adds value, you have to try ot do it.
  • Cohn: “I used to say the Internet doesn’t sleep so I can’t either.” But he says it is important to try different methods that allow you to break away. Example: Only answer emails in the morning and at night and during the day, turn it off. “Try to find a way to use these things as tools rather than chores – a lot of it is a mental switch.”
  • Mernit: She is a fan of what she calls “bursty work.” She says don’t do everything at the same quantity or pace all the time. First thing when she gets up every morning is updating Oakland Local.

Splitting time among web, social media and public engagement

  • Tony Moore, Yahoo: Percentage of time spent on each thing. Balance community engagement, a quality site and social media (three items)
  • Natte: Spends more time on the Twitter and website, but he wants to focus more on off line.
  • Cohn: Not a zero sum game. He doesn’t compartmentalize mentally.
  • Record: They cover every community council in West Seattle – there are 13 or 14 of them.
  • Mernit: Divide the labor.

What happens when Facebook shuts you down

  • Facebook shut down his account and he had 2,000 followers. They never told him why. He lost hundreds of photos, thousans of fans. “What’s your backup?”
  • Answer from audience: Make Facebook your backup. Keep your jewels on your own servers and services.

How does coopetition work with the Seattle Times

  • Rusty Coats: Asks Tracy Record to talk about the networked journalism initiative in Seattle in which the Seattle Times legacy daily has partnered closely with a network of a dozen or more blogs and LONCs.
  • Record: The collaboration is voluntary, non-contractual and the Seattle Times never publishes anything from the LONCs – they just link out to the news blogs.

GO TO: Session Two: The ABC's of local advertising