Whither Northfield.org and citizen journalism?

rob-hardyYesterday Northfield Citizens Online board member Rob Hardy added a post titled Citizen Journalism to his Rough Draft blog:

Since its inception in the 1990s, Northfield.org has evolved into more of an electronic community bulletin board than an outlet for the reporting of local news. A few years ago, Griff Wigley, one of the founders of Northfield.org, spun off to create his own group blog, LocallyGrown, which—along with its companion radio show and podcast—does feature hard news and commentary about local issues. Earlier this year, LocallyGrown teamed up with reporter Bonnie Obremski to provide local Representative Journalism.

But LocallyGrown doesn’t solicit content from its readers. In that sense, LoGroNo isn’t true citizen journalism that involves local citizens in the collection and dissemination of news and information. It’s a civic-minded group blog with a thriving comments section that invites both controversy and connectedness.

What would true citizen journalism in Northfield look like?

I’m glad Rob launched the discussion.  I’ve been wanting to discuss the state of citizen journalism in Northfield for a while, and especially the role of Northfield.org.

I’ll start with these issues:

  • I don’t understand why Rob posted his comments on this issue to his personal blog and not on the main blog at Northfield.org. It seems to me that the main N.org blog could be used for so much more.
  • Why is there so little information forthcoming from the NCO Board about the organization’s activities, plans, goals, results, etc.? There are seldom any announcements about upcoming Board meetings, and seldom any information/minutes about what was discussed/decided at Board meetings. I’d really like to see more transparency from the NCO board.
  • I disagree with Rob’s statement that “LoGroNo isn’t true citizen journalism.” It might be just semantics but I think LoGroNo is citizen journalism, just  like Rob’s blog is citizen journalism, and all the other blogs that make up Northfield’s Civic Blogosphere are citizen journalism. I think it’s more accurate to say that LoGroNo is NOT a community blog, since only 3 of us can blog there.

I think Northfield.org plays a valuable community role right now in two areas: 1) citizen submissions about upcoming community events, and 2) the RSS feed aggregator.  I think they could be/do much more so I hope a discussion here  and/or on Rob’s blog post can help make it happen.

44 thoughts on “Whither Northfield.org and citizen journalism?”

  1. Thanks, Griff. I’ll begin the conversation by responding briefly to your bullet points.

    1. I had considered posting to Northfield.org, but since a large part of my blog post was promoting my wife’s cousin’s non-local citizen journalism, I didn’t think it entirely met the criteria for inclusion on Northfield.org’s main page.

    2. I agree with you, and I think Northfield.org is interested in having this discussion.

    3. Again, I agree. I should have made the distinction between the broader category of “citizen journalism” and the subcategory of “community blog.” LoGroNo isn’t a community blog. The questions are: Is there a place for a true community blog in Northfield? Can Northfield.org fill that role? What changes would need to be made to Northfield.org in order to fill that role? Finally, how do we provide all interested citizens with the skills needed to contribute content? There are still plenty of people who find it technically difficult to submit content. We need to address that.

    In a sense, our right sidebar blog feed aggregator already makes Northfield.org a kind of community blog. All you have to do is click a link to have access to a variety of Northfield voices. (Adam Gurno used to run an occasional “This Week in the Northfield Blogosphere” feature. Should we revive that?)

    Northfield.org is currently working on plans for its annual meeting on Thursday, January 22, 2009, at the Grand. We would love for that meeting to be a forum to continue the discussion of the issues raised here. I’m happy you brought this up, Griff, and I look forward to the continuing discussion.

  2. I decided long ago that N.org is simply a new “upcoming events”. Once I realized that and came to grips with that conclusion, I felt a lot better about the “no opinions on Northfield.org” rule. It’s not an interactive, thought provoking blog. It is a better way for St. Olaf and other entities to get the word out about events. It is what it is.

    It really does serve a purpose (think the movie “Babe”).

    It could be so much more. We do have LoGroNo and it fills the need for us wonderful Northfielders to express opinions, further information, and just communicate in general. It’s exciting, and I love LoGroNo (although I was thinking it had become a clearinghouse for radical right opinion via commenting… until I stepped back and realized that liberals like me were posting a lot, too. Insert smile!)

    N.org could simply make a few rule changes (and get rid of a few of its board members who broke the blog) and it could be spectacular…

    Citizen journalism? Yes, LoGroNo is citizen journalism, and not just Bonnie’s stuff, but all the blogger news is citizen journalism. Commenters add to the pot, too. It is not a community blog per say, but it is, too. Our community, but not our techie community. And control is in the hands of three or four instead of the many.

    I believe too much time is spent defining “citizen journalism.” We should instead teach our kids to take three different sources of information to find common theme before fact is considered fact. If they can’t tell where the information came from, etc., it might not be held with the highest regard.

    Blogs and other potentially first-hand news sources are oftentimes a person’s guess at what happens, just as the history books ultimately are… but the history books, and professional journalists at, say, the Startribune, hold themselves to very high standards of accuracy. They check sources, make a lot of calls, and try not to publish what could be false insinuation. Not so with blogs… so watch for inaccuracy. Blah blah blah.

    Some day, if the NNews has trouble and doesn’t make it (as the Strib seems to be “not making it”) the only news in Northfield could be the blogs. Wouldn’t that be interesting?

    There are blogs who are banking on that idea– that they will become the primary source of news once the Strib fails, etc. If it does. (My family is a Strib family and so I’m not for any Strib failure, BTW). What those blogs forget is that there will be hundreds of blogs, someday, or at least a lot of good competition. Writers will have to be good, news will have to be worthy, editors will have to be paid… etc. And where’s the money? You tell me…

  3. Holly: One thing with which I have to disagree. I don’t think any board member has “broken” Northfield.org. (Well, there was the episode with Brendon, but we fixed it.) The mission of Northfield.org hasn’t changed. Any citizen can publish a story on Northfield.org. It isn’t the role of the board to generate stories. We are not like the Triumvirate. Northfield.org isn’t our blog, it’s a community blog. We’re simply facilitators.

    Here’s a story about the Northfield Public Library published on Northfield.org by Holly Cairns in 2006: Our Library.

    Here’s a story about the Northfield Public Library published on Northfield.org by Rob Hardy in 2008: Books, Bytes, and Bricks.

    You and I seem to have the same idea of what Northfield.org can be used for, Holly. The trick is to get the community at large to use Northfield.org in that way: as a forum for user-generated community news and information.

    One idea I’ve been pursuing is to get a local youth liaison to the board who would help us connect to the youth community, and perhaps solicit stories written by Northfield’s youth. Northfield.org will also have a St. Olaf intern working with us in January to generate more stories (as opposed to events listings). Perhaps that will help to get the ball rolling again.

  4. Good one, Rob. However, I wrote a story about a professor who mentioned that ethanol wasn’t so good and I also mentioned the people that would feel it the most were the poor… and it was denied. It contained opinion (and spelling errors, as is my usual). Sorry Rob, N.org is what it is.

  5. And I believe you can’t break a blog except by doing things that go against logic — if you find something that attracts viewers, you should do that or a variation of that, instead of saying “We’ll do it like we did before or like this new way which doesn’t attact viewers.” Bloggers being rude to commenters is not such a good thing, either.

    But I think I’m done with this topic for the rest of my life. If you disagree with me about N.org, then I stand corrected. 🙂

  6. But if you want my help in making N.org more interesting, agree to publish posts which contain opinion. I’d even be glad to publish a few posts on Minnesota Majority, etc.

  7. All,

    There is a group on LinkedIn, the professional networking site, called Northfield, MN.

    If you want to join, you can do so at http://www.linkedin.com/e/gis/94094

    We’ve not done anything with it yet, and haven’t done any active recruiting either. But, this utility does allow any member of the group to start their own discussion.

    So, Rob, it’s not a true community blog, but it is a place where any member can post a blog-like discussion piece.

    And, there is no anonymity behind which to hide.

  8. Holly: I’ve only been on the board of Northfield.org since January, so I don’t know how things were in the past, and how they have changed for the worse or better. You clearly have a history with Northfield.org that I don’t know about. I certainly hope I was never rude to you. If I was, I was unaware of it, and I owe you a cup of coffee or something to apologize!

    Northfield.org’s guidelines (written before my time on the board) state: “Your story should be factual and, in general, devoid of adjectives and tone that reflect your opinion.” We want factual stories and information; reportage, not opinion. But we do aggregate citizen blogs (mine included), which are often highly opinionated. I like to think of the aggregated blogs as our Opinion section.

    LoGroNo is full of opinions, and those of us who don’t mind wading into controversies flock here. This is great for you and me, but it’s not what everyone wants.

    So, do I owe you a coffee?

  9. Hey Rob, nope but coffee would be fun sometime.

    Good luck with your project. If you did add opinion, your trouble would be the targeted audience, which is “small town.” You could carefully craft rules about that (we’d like another point of view on this, if anyone else would care to submit an opinion piece on that professor’s lecture we’d be glad to review it). Oh yeah, and your second problem is that you all work for free…

    Ah, well, so it goes. Good work volunteering Rob!

    Oh Thanks David K, but I have to pay now for LinkedIn additions and so I don’t generally go that route. Is there a facebook group? 🙂

  10. Holly, I’m not sure I understand why you have to pay for LinkedIn additions? I’ve never paid a penny on LinkedIn and have found it to be a great networking tool.

    Hope that others will join, if for no other reason than to learn more about each others’ work.

  11. Hi David, unless I am mistaken, you get free connections until a certain point, and then you pay a monthly or yearly fee? I suppose we can look it up if we want.

    Take care

  12. No, it can be entirely free. I think that I have 720 connections, or so, which link me to 4 million others in “my network”!

    Come join us!

  13. Thanks for the substantive replies, Rob.

    In preparation for the Jan. 2009 NCO annual meeting, can the minutes from the Jan. 2008 annual meeting be published along with whatever goals/outcomes were set for the year?

  14. I’m coming in rather late to this discussion but I have strong opinions on this matter. As a former board member of N.org, I will say that I joined the board because of what I saw Griff doing. I was really excited about his “reporting” and generating discussion on current affairs in the community. (I did not realize he was no longer with the board initially) I left the board because I moved out of town but was relieved anyway because NCO had too many challenges and not enough people or time to address these challenges.

    In my opinion, Locally Grown has become what NCO could not be because it essentially has “paid” staff. NCO could do the same but probably not with volunteers.

    Locally Grown is citizen journalism. Griff, Tracy, and Ross are citizens. Just because they don’t allow everyone and anyone to post stories does not change this. In addition, the discussion LG encourages on current issues is very healthy – despite some of the controversy or perhaps including some of it.

    N.org is more an event notification or press release site. If it wants to become more than this, I think it will need paid staff or someone (like Griff) who pretty much lives online.

    It’s great if NCO has this discussion at their annual meeting. The board is already aware of my opinion, so I won’t be there and anyway I believe in letting the people doing the work, decide the future. There are some great folks on the board and I’m sure they will want to be inclusive of all reasonable ideas. Meanwhile, both sites are serving a worthy purpose.

    1. Hi Cynthia, good to have you back in Northfield for a bit… if only virtually! Thanks for your kind words.

      I’m confused, tho, when you wrote:

      In my opinion, Locally Grown has become what NCO could not be because it essentially has “paid” staff.

      What did you mean by “paid”?

  15. Cynthia: Thanks for chiming in! We miss you! You make an excellent point about one of the significant differences between Northfield.org and LocallyGrown. Northfield.org is run entirely by volunteers, none of whom currently is able to make the huge commitment of time and energy that Griff makes to LoGroNo. But again, I think the point of Northfield.org is that its content is generated by the community at large, not by a closed inner circle. At the moment, that means we’re an electronic bulletin board for community events listing, but we could be an outlet for citizen journalism—for actual reportage, as opposed to press releases. But we need our users to generate the content.

    Because we are a volunteer organization, and our current board members are stretched in a hundred different directions (for example, at least one of us was recently elected to the school board), I don’t see how we could also branch off into community access television! But perhaps other board members have other ideas.

  16. Look, if N.org wanted to be more than a glorified upcoming events all it would have to do is make rules and then stick by those rules.

    The problem, I feel, is the idea that the board feels it needs to edit or review contributions. Just change your idea about what you want to be (online magazine? Ick, unless you get super writers) and become a site for community interaction and citizen journalism. You could be an online mag, but you’d need a lot of passion about generating content and finding revenue. I just don’t see it happening.

    To make it less time consuming, agree to remove posts if necessary but don’t sit around and worry about the occasssssionnnall spelling errors, etc. Make sure people use their real name and have a group of about ten people who watch for trouble (but not with a worried attitude). Have an e-mail available to report abuse.

    Tell what kind of environment you want and remind people to read rules before they post or comment. Be sure to say bloggers and commenters should stick within the law, etc.

    Tell people what you are looking for: “We’re looking for Raider parents to cover teams. Please let us know if you’d be willing to post about what happens during this year’s season. We’ll take more than one parent. Here’s the guidelines about mentioning kids’ names and what you can say about kids. We’re looking for honest opinion, but not one that embarrasses or destroys any one person.” Use connections, who knows a Hiliner parent? I’M THE CAPITAIN’S MOM! 🙂 Super proud, you betcha… but not as active as other moms (for shame).

    Blah blah. It’s just so tiring to see people argue and hem and haw over dumb things, like can we post this library post? I’m not sure, since I don’t like the take on it. I want more at the library… and I don’t like where it is, and if you take out this line about how there are a lot of resources…. and get rid of that link. It just doesn’t go there. Whatever.

    I could talk about the Bratland connection, but I’ll let that go. .. okay, just one poke (I can’t help myself… damn!): Was someone talking about a blog killer? It might not be Brendon. In fact, pictures of Brendon should bring ’em in.

    I imagine folks like Brendon have high standards. Maybe he and others (like Mr. Zorn over here at LoGroNo?) could remember the community in general might post irritating work (things that irritate the excellent writer). Perhaps if we take the stance that there is value and benefit in learning from many types of writers. There are many types of genius, and some of us can’t see an “i” next to an “l”.

    It would be fun to see Brendon post parts of a play or even to read his take on anything. I’d eat it up. Although I’d have to have some kind of advertising about this change since I’ve already dismissed N.org and seldom go there.

  17. Rob, I wasn’t suggesting that NCO “branch off into community access television.”

    Rather, I was suggesting that the same funds used to fund NTV can be used to fund NCO activities. For example, you could hire someone to conduct community-ed type classes on how to submit content to N.org, to conduct web-forums, to run a blogger users’ group, to create community videos, to create podcasts, etc.

    Why not pursue this?

  18. I apologize in advance for the length of this, but this is a complicated topic.
    Rob, I think you have hit upon most of the ‘problem’ with Northfield.org, and with NTV and most community media efforts.
    Journalism is darned hard work and most people aren’t able or willing to work for free. Think about it. How often do you write a letter to your parents? And I’ll bet you still have a box of photos of old relatives that you’ve been meaning to ask your grandmother about. If you don’t write about your own life, you’re unlikely to be motivated to write about the park board or sewer capacity or even a soccer game you attended.
    People write because they love to write or because they have a personal or professional stake in getting information out to people. Northfield.org is mainly an events calendar because people who are hosting events have a stake in getting people to attend them. They don’t feel the same sense of urgency in telling everyone what happened after the fact…after all, the people who cared were there…
    Northfield has a lot of community journalism but shows up through a lot of communities that aren’t defined by the city limits. Bruce Anderson writes about environmental issues, some of the churches maintain blogs, sports groups keep up their own sites. And who could overlook Brendon Etter’s creations? Northfield.org has a giant blogosphere of content, but you have to click through to get to it. I think it’s more a matter of format, like a newspaper where the community calendar is the front page and the stories are on the back page. Perhaps if it were formatted more like the Huffington Post, it would highlight the great stuff that’s already there.
    Locally Grown works because Griff is dedicated, and because he gains clients and professional status from his efforts. No offense to Tracy and Ross, but if anything happened to Griff, it would be impossible for them to continue their careers and maintain the site at anything close to its current level. And to add original reporting required a grant to pay for a reporter. Students are contributing stories because they get a grade.
    Same with the News. People write guest columns about topics that matter to them, but they don’t volunteer to write on a regular basis.
    Northfield.org tried raising money to maintain staff, and I held that part-time position during the experiment. The dedication of the volunteers was phenomenal, but getting people to subscribe was nearly impossible, and getting people to contribute stories was just as hard. Holly, I can tell you that there were only about three or four stories that were held for rewriting or rejected over the course of a year, largely because we couldn’t coordinate between volunteer authors and editors to get the glitches worked out in a timely way.
    There is a professional newspaper in town for the same reason there are professional restaurants. You can get volunteers to come once in a while to put on a church supper, but you aren’t going to get and keep enough volunteers to run a community restaurant when there are professional ones available.
    Northfield residents should rejoice in the variety and quality of all the professional and citizen journalism being done here. It doesn’t have to be on one site or in one form.
    I agree there’s potential for NTV and Northfield.org to cooperate on content, but I question whether that’s a function of government funding. Perhaps Norhfield.org could provide events information to the News…
    There are lots of opportunities for cooperation in this town that aren’t being pursued because parties have their own interests, agendas and personality conflicts. On one level that’s frustrating, but it also presents lots of options for residents, visitors and those who stumble through online.

  19. Holly: Part of my original blog post that Griff didn’t cut and paste was about The Examiner.com, which is kind of a national citizen journalism franchise with websites for several major cities (including Minneapolis). The Examine hires local people to write and post about their areas of expertise: education, arts and culture, politics, restaurants and food, etc. It’s an intriguing possibility: to set up for Northfield.org a similar network of local contributors (Bright Spencer on restaurants? Bruce Anderson on the environment? etc.) to contribute regular posts to the site. Again, the blog aggregator does accomplish this to a certain extent, but you do have to be alert and click through to get there.

    Griff: At a minimum, it would be good to have more opportunities to educate Northfielders on how to post to Northfield.org.

    Anne: You’re right that Northfield.org could use a bit of a face-lift, and that’s something we’ve talked about on the board. For a tech semi-literate like me, it’s also difficult to figure out how the site works from the inside with all of its cryptic modules and such.

  20. As a board member with almost one year under her belt, I’ve been trying to get a feel for where northfield.org fits into the community media, print, radio, tv and virtual. For various reasons, the board has not had the kind of discussion Rob has launched, which I’ve really appreciated as I expect other NCO board members have, too.

    At our December meeting, the NCO board agreed to invite a panel, representing the various Northfield media, to talk about how Northfielders can become involved in local media. This may be a broader discussion of the issue of citizen journalism than is implied in this thread. However, I think it will be interesting to hear both the short statements of the assembled panel, and to see what questions the audience raises, and how they are answered. Put Thursday, January 22 on your calendars for the Annual Meeting of NCO at the Grand.

    Another NCO development is our work with a St. Olaf journalism intern, Amy Sack, who will develop stories for northfield.org during January. I agree with Anne, that journalism is hard work. Local, non professional journalists seem to fulfill their journalistic instincts through personal blogs. For that reason, and because at the present time, at least, northfield.org doesn’t have staff to do the work necessary to produce regular content, we’ve had more events posted than stories. I’m hopeful that Amy’s work will stimulate others in the community to see northfield.org as a vehicle for reporting on things in their worlds and we can achieve a better balance.

    Finally, we’re making a modest attempt to help people overcome the difficulties in posting stories on the site. We’ll have a hands-on training session in February, probably on the 13th, in the computer center at the Senior Center where people will have access to computers.

    Like so much in the cyberworld, northfield.org is dynamic – has gone through changes since it was created in the ‘90s, and will continue to do so. If there is an appetite in Northfield for the kind of “citizen journalism” our mission statement calls for (“. . . We support this mission by publishing stories and event listings from any and all members of the community . . . ”), and if we can lure closet journalists to tell their stories on northfield.org, perhaps we can balance the event listings with content which many of us would enjoy reading and would enrich Northfield’s already active media world.

  21. Jane, I mentioned Huffington Post as a quick reference, but I think it really bears some consideration. HP produces some copy, but most of its content is just a first paragraph or two and link to a blog carrying the full story. As I said, most who write do it for their own blogs, so asking them to post to Northfield can be a hassle. Having the aggregator makes it easy to miss things. We had good luck in testing this summary/link process at one time, so it might be worth another look. It gets stories started on Northfield.org, then drives traffic to the individual sites. Everyone wins.
    Glad you’re doing the media panel, and the training. I also think cooperating with the News to add reader content to both sites can be a good thing.
    As I said, this city has a lot options for readers, and that’s a great thing.

  22. Griff, have you looked at Open Salon, on Salon.com? It has an interesting format, a combination of blogging and commenting, all melded together…more flexible than Huffington, and very intriguing.

  23. I do like the Open Salon format, Anne… thanks for the pointer. We’ve offered guest blogging spots on LG but haven’t had many takers, so maybe their approach would be worth a try.

    Jane, it’s good to have more info about what’s being planned by the NCO board. An Observer’s Report!

  24. Rob, you’re talking to a GBT (geezer battling technology) so anything past the comment field does me in. Some people might not want to give up their own blogs, so the Huffington Post format would be good for the home page. (The Salon homepage is a cleaner, simpler version). Then you do like salon and click into the blog group for those who want to have blogs there. Salon does offer the best of both worlds, selected stories and open contributions. The nice thing about the Open Salon feature is that there’s less pressure to write something new each day, because everybody can take turn, so to speak.
    The technology is the trick. That’s why I thought the cable money might be good for creating a common blog/contribution/photo content bank that any media could link into or cut and paste.
    As I said, you’re on your own on the tech piece.

  25. It seems to me that applying a term like “citizen journalism” to LoGroNo works in some ways, and not in others. Certainly Bonnie O. is doing journalism, but she’s paid by a grant–so is she merely a citizen journalist, or is she a professional? Certainly some of the posts from Griff, Tracy and Ross could be characterized as journalism, but as often (or sometimes more often), what happens is that GT&R are simply framing certain topics they believe worthy of discussion, and people discuss. This is not journalism, but community discussion. You might distill from it something that could be written up in a news piece, but opinion is part of the fun; it’s not just about what happened, but how it matters to people.

    I’m aware that some define citizen journalism as including comments from readers, but this is spotty and often not what you could characterize as journalism. Might be a misnomer in some applications. Sometimes it’s more like fun remarks from the peanut gallery, or more like a David Letterman opening act than journalism.

    One way around what Holly describes as an obstacle for news at Northfield.org might be for citizens to interview and quote people with various viewpoints. If there is balance, and if the opinions are not so much those of the journalist as they are the accurate quotes of certain people, then it’s a fact that a council member or NCC director or pastor or police officer said a certain thing. I don’t know if N.org would allow that, and I tend to think only students in a journalism class and professional journalists would want to do that kind of legwork.

    But perhaps some of the untapped potential of Northfield.org would be to do more with student journalists.

    At the Northfield News, you have editors and writers who decide what they think is newsworthy. Here at LoGroNo, you have Griff, Tracy and Ross deciding what they think is worth discussing, and sometimes commenters hyjacking topics via thread drift and steering them toward what the hijacker (for good or for ill) believes worthy of discussion. At Northfield.org, you have volunteers who make similar editorial decisions about whether something is objective enough, and meets the standards of the site, and these may, at times, seem like decisions about what is or is not newsworthy, when in fact, they may be more strictly about standards or guidelines.

    If you get student journalists involved in writing articles, you broaden the number of voices controling the decisions about what is newsworthy, and what is worth discussing. That could be a good thing–or it could mean that Northfield.org would begin to be dominated by stories of value to students and the young. Some might prefer to ghettoize them at their school web sites so as to keep Northfield-proper safe for the rest of us. Decisions, decisions.

  26. The journalists I know consider their work to be a profession.
    They have proud and elegant standards governing the quality of their work, as well as the broadness and objectiveness of their research.

    Opinion has its place, and journalism … I hope … will never give up its place.
    Why confuse the two?
    Equating journalism and opinion degrades journalism, and seeks to elevate opinion.

    I don’t see the benefit, except maybe for ‘wannabees’. Can’t we encourage the preservation of true, professional journalism without demanding an equal validity for opinion?

    Opinion is interesting, sometimes informative, sometimes fun… but in my opinion, it is not journalism.

  27. Yes, I am proud to say journalists are professionals, but let’s not wax too nostalgic here. The world’s first journalism degree wasn’t granted until 1913, and lots of older journalists today don’t have degrees in the field. Newspapers were the key to discovering and exposing Watergate, but they just as eagerly bought into the propaganda of World War II and the Cold War (and Iraq). And I personally know editors years ago who had to go to the publisher’s office to get approval for any stories about City Hall — and wait for the publisher and mayor to make the decision together. (And these were generally good papers).
    As for opinion, American journalism is rooted in political opinion — and anonymous writers. In ‘The Rise of the Blogosphere,’ author Aaron Brown points out that many early pamphleteers were rabidly political and used pseudonyms to protect themselves from their enemies.
    Here is Barlow’s description of Ben Franklin’s role as a leading publisher — and politician — of his day:
    “Franklin, of course, would not have defined himself as a journalist, but that’ s not the point here. Franklin saw himself as part of the world, as an actor in it, not merely an observer of it. Following his example, participation in the world (of politics, at least) would be the hallmark of American newspapers for a full half-century after the Revolution, in part because of Franklin and his attitude, but also in part because of another man, an immigrant to the colonies just before the Revolution who took up the cause in print, and with great passion: Thomas Paine.”

  28. Hear! Hear! Let’s hear it for Ben Franklin, Thomas Paine, Woodward and Berstein and all journalists including my father who disseminated news (part of the dictionary definition of journalism) with courage and distinction throughout the life of our young country.

  29. Thanks for the alert, Griff. I find it interesting that LoGroNo on the Internet called my attention to a story in a section of the Sunday paper I had not yet read, so I read it online first. According to the story, Andrew Eklund’s subject was the “tough question: Is our growing addiction to the Internet and its social media tools (Facebook, Twitter and so on) throwing our home lives out of proper balance?” Eklund finally says he decided to give a moratorium on the Internet “while my duties are to be full-time father and husband.”
    I might ask also how would one find time to read this new “adventure in blogging” (20 volunteers and counting) at the Star Tribune when I can’t even find time to read all of the daily newspaper? Thank heavens I gave up the New York Times when I moved from New York (luckily the Strib uses some N.Y. Times stories) or I would never leave my place of residence. If my daughter had not given me a CD of Obama reading “Dreams from my Father” (which I became interested in after writing about Obama’s 1999 visit to Carleton in my Dec. Northfield Entertainment Guide column), I would not have felt I had time for that, either.
    I guess one just has to be selective, and keep LoGroNo at the top of the Internet “favorites” list, of course.

  30. A specific possibility for introducing a controlled amount of opinion / journalism into N.org:

    Could N. org try out a system where a user who posts an event on N.org can post one summary of it afterwards, with no restrictions on whether opinion could be included in the summary? I’m a St. Olaf student who organized an event, advertised it on N. org beforehand, and hoped to post a summary/follow-up (with my opinions) about it afterwards – sort of like the library article. Before submitting the summary I realized that opinions in stories weren’t allowed.

    I understand the restriction, but I disagree with Anne B. in that I think I am not alone: there are others who would also like to tell about their events after the fact. In my case, the event was meant to spark a conversation between the city and the college, and posting a summary on a community website would be a great way to encourage that conversation (even if comments to such a summary were prohibited). Perhaps, if summaries were permitted, they could be placed in their own section or published at the bottom of events’ pages.?

  31. John VdL: If you are one of the producers of the forum on the annexation of 530 Ac. adjoining St. Olaf lands, then I thoroughly support your further engagement of the public, in any way you can do so…

    After the meeting, I was speaking with Pete Sandburg and Gene Bakko, and we were discussing how you could ‘speak’ to a larger segment of the Northfield community who seriously need to be availed of the kind of information and perspective your group was presenting.

    They were philosophically supportive of a large public meeting, possibly at an in-town venue like the Grand, where you enlarged on the areas of discussion, mapping etc., that you presented at your campus forum. Mssrs. Sandburg and Bakko felt it needed to be in town, not on campus, to attract the maximum audience… and that it should have somewhat of a town meeting atmosphere , maybe even a ‘social’ component, after the factual presentation.

    Go for it! you did a good job initially; we could use a lot more…

  32. Personally, John, I would like to see more stories following up events that have been posted on Northfield.org. Events in Northfield sometimes include clashes of opinion. A story that reports those clashes would, I think, be fine.

    I just finished reading a book about the role of ordinary Americans in shaping the Constitution in the 1780s. It was a good illustration of Anne’s point about the role of highly opinionated citizen journalism—pamphleteers, pseudonymous editorial writers (like Madison, Hamilton and Jay, who wrote The Federalist Papers under the name “Publius”)—in making America. There should be a place in the landscape of citizen journalism in Northfield where such a time-honored democratic tradition can be followed. Right now, it’s on the personal blogs of Northfield citizens.

  33. Just a clarification, when I was in involved in Northfield.org we had almost no submissions that covered events after the fact. It wasn’t a matter of suppression, just lack of interest. Folks with strong opinions usually put them on their own blogs, which is why that community blog roundup section makes sense.
    We discussed having an opinion page, which would be a perfect way to handle submissions with an opinion. Those stories could start on the homepage with the opinion or commentary tag at the top and then be categorized in the opinion section.
    There also was discussion of a fiction/poetry/art section…still good ideas.

  34. Kiffi: In your first comment, you write: “Equating journalism and opinion degrades journalism, and seeks to elevate opinion.” Then you tell John to “go for it” when he wants to post an admittedly opinionated story that you happen to agree with. So, I think we do need to be clear about what is unbiased reportage that tells both sides of a story, and what is opinion that advocates a particular point of view. As much as we may want to, we can’t have liberal, anti-development editors filtering out “stories” they don’t agree with. But I do like the word “conversation” that you used in your last post. Can (should) Northfield.org provide a forum for community conversations about important issues—conversations initiated by citizens at large, not just by a Triumvirate?

  35. Kiffi – glad to hear that you attended the forum; thanks for your words of support! I like your idea of an in-town event with both social and informational components. If school allows, other students and I may try in the spring to pull together something like that.

    Rob and Anne – thanks for the clarifications. Writing a story in a journalistic style that describes the clash makes more sense for a summary on N.org than does posting an opinion that favors one side over the other. And to Rob, regarding Kiffi’s “Go for it”: I think Kiffi was encouraging me to stimulate conversation through a community meeting, rather than through a story on N.org.

  36. Rob : sorry, I guess I wasn’t being very clear in my comment to John VdL; I wasn’t referring to his comments about Nfield.org and how he should/shouldn’t handle his article there…

    I was only commenting on how successful their forum on annexation at St. Olaf was, and that they should do an expanded forum for the whole Northfield community; that’s what I was saying “Go for it” on.

    I really have no opinion on how Northfield.org should structure itself… I think it’s up to that board to decide along with it’s most fervent users.

    Anyway, Rob, Neither of my comments (30 or 36) was specifically about NF.org; the first(30) was general ,and the second (36) was specific to the student forum at St. Olaf. So I guess I need to apologize for ‘thread drift’…
    Hope that explains your finding me inconsistent; it’s a failing of mine to write off the top of my head and not go over it.

  37. Today’s WSJ: All I Wanted for Christmas Was a Newspaper; Bloggers are no replacement for real journalists.

    Now we’re hearing the same thing about the blogosphere. “When enough bloggers take the leap, and start reporting on the statehouse, city council, courts, etc. firsthand, full-time, then the Big Media will take notice and the avalanche will begin,” Mr. Reynolds quotes another blogger as saying. If this avalanche ever occurs, a lot of bloggers will be found gasping for breath under piles of pure ennui. There is nothing more tedious than a public meeting.

    The common thread here, whether the subject is foreign, national or local, is that the writer in question is performing a valuable task for the reader — one that no sane man would perform for free. He is assembling what in the business world is termed the “executive summary.” Anyone can duplicate a long and tedious report. And anyone can highlight one passage from that report and either praise or denounce it. But it takes both talent and willpower to analyze the report in its entirety and put it in a context comprehensible to the casual reader.

    So if you want a car or a job, go to the Internet. But don’t expect that Web site to hire somebody to sit through town-council meetings and explain to you why your taxes will be going up. Soon, newspapers won’t be able to do it either.

    Over the past few weeks, I’ve watched a parade of top-notch reporters leave the Star-Ledger for the last time. The old model for compensating journalists is as obsolete as the telegraph. If anyone out there in the blogosphere can tell me what the new model is, I will pronounce him the first genius I’ve ever encountered on the Internet.

  38. Griff : I have to make some assumption by your copying and presenting this long comment from the WSJ article that you are somewhat in accord with it? or are you just trying to stimulate discussion?

    I think much of its basic presumption (That true journalism cannot survive in its existing form) is incorrect. If we no longer care about the structures that govern us, our “rule of law” whether it be local or national, then we live in anarchy.

    Tedious or not, town/council meetings, and their outcomes, should be important to all who live in the community. The lack of interest, and the lack of reporting by a local paper are two facets which contribute to after-the-fact dissatisfaction with one’s gov’t.

    Do newspapers have a responsibility inherent in the word ‘reporting’?

    Do they have responsibilities inherent in the word ‘journalism’ to question and investigate, and then present a clear analysis for the public to evaluate or question further?

    I say, absolutely …If they do not, and if it is all to be left to individuals to ask the questions, and do the ‘reporting’ … then why don’t we just do away with the news media that has such a hard time supporting itself with its advertising?
    Obviously we would be left with a lot of opinion; everyone would have to do their own research on each issue OR accept the opinion presented by individuals not held to a journalistic standard.

    We cannot let our newspapers ‘go away’; if they need to develop a new model to be bottom line successful, then so be it. But we, as citizens, must have access to the presumptive good journalism that the profession of journalism has set its own standards for, and that an informed citizenry requires.

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