On creating a vibrant online eco-system for civic engagement in Northfield

emerging news ecology chartEarlier today I linked to and excerpted from an article in today’s Wall St. Journal (pointed out to me by Ross) titled: All I Wanted for Christmas Was a Newspaper; Bloggers are no replacement for real journalists.

Paul Mulshine, opinion columnist for the Newark Star-Ledger, misses the point when he argues that citizens aren’t likely to voluntarily ‘cover,’ for example, city council meetings for their blogs in the same way that a reporter does for a newspaper.

Yes, it’s valuable to have Suzi Rook at the Northfield News, Dusty Budd at KYMN, and RepJ’s Bonnie Obremski sitting through public meetings and then reporting on them.

But it’s more valuable for their stories to be published in an eco-system of civic engagement where the media, public officials and citizens are all involved in the effort to inform so that better public outcomes can occur.

Imagine a year from now that a version of the above chart (from last summer’s JTM New Pamphleteers conference) is happening here in Northfield. For example:

  • City Hall puts up the digital video of a council meeting, complete with ‘annotated markers’ that allows citizens to view just the segments of the meeting they’re interested in.
  • Two citizens post to their blogs about a Council agenda item that they viewed online.
  • Locally Grown links to those blog posts and starts an online discussion about the issue.
  • Two councilors and one City Hall staffer post to their own blogs about the issue and the pingbacks to Locally Grown add to the discussion. One of the councilors decides to open up comments on her blog and so now, there are two places for citizens to engage in online conversation about it.
  • The RepJ reporter does an in-depth story about the issue, interviewing others, linking to the blog posts and discussions, etc.  Councilor bloggers and citizen bloggers link to that story, and further discussion ensues.
  • When the City Administrator and staff prepare the Council packet (digital only; printed packets ceased in Feb. 2009) for the next City Council meeting, all of the elements of the issue’s ‘eco-system’ are summarized and linked for the Councilors.
  • Citizens and reporters have online access to the Councilor’s agenda packets.  Further discussion about the City Administrator’s summary occurs online prior to the next Council meeting
  • Some citizens show up at the Council meeting open mic to voice their opinions about the issue.  Their comments are streamed live online as well as included in the next online video of the Council meeting.
  • Repeat as necessary

This eco-system of civic engagement can’t easily exist in a town whose citizens don’t blog or discuss issues online, whose media reporters don’t link, whose public access cable TV station only broadcasts analog video at select times, and whose public officials aren’t regularly making an effort to be more transparent and engaged with citizens.

In Northfield, I think we’re getting closer to a civic engagement model that really works.

  • In place: Bonnie Obremski’s RepJ stories, an active civic blogosphere, and vibrant online discussions here on Locally Grown, some other blogs, and at times, on Northfield.org and Northfieldnews.com
  • On the horizon: a new crop of elected officials who are open to blogging and participating in online discussions
  • On the horizon: streamed, archived, and annotated digital video of City Council meetings
  • On the horizon: a KYMN radio station that offers more opportunities for citizen-produced shows and which selectively amplifies those participating in the local blogosphere and online discussions

(Not yet on the horizon: a Northfield News newspaper that selectively but consistently links to, excerpts from, and gives credit to local civic bloggers and online discussion participants in both the print and online versions of its stories.)

I don’t quite have the Vision Thing perfected yet but I’m getting closer.


  1. David Ludescher said:

    Griff: I would dispute your suggestion that better public outcomes occur where there is greater civic engagement, especially if the engagement comes from a narrow market segment, such as the on-line community.

    Experience with issues such as the rental ordinance and the Comp Plan have convinced me that greater civic engagement usually results in poorer decision-making because most of those engaged in civic engagement have their own narrow interests at interest, not the interests of the broader community.

    December 27, 2008
  2. John S. Thomas said:


    I respectfully disagree with your comment that Newspapers should “selectively but consistently links to, excerpts from, and gives credit to local civic bloggers and online discussion participants in both the print and online versions of its stories”.

    I do so because I firmly hold that there is a difference between professional journalism, and citizen journalism. Blogs should never be used as a single source of the news, and the BASIS OF FACT. To do so, frightens me. Many times, blogs are one persons opinion, or belief, and do not contain the fact checking, utilization and verification of multiple sources, and the discretion that a professional newspaper practices.

    On several occasions over the last two years, the Star Tribune has used you for comment on local news stories, and used your comments as the single source for information on stories that you only had basic knowledge about. They did not do any further research. I do not blame you for this, I blame the reporter for not digging deeper.

    Please do not get me wrong, as I really think the RepJ project is an awesome thing, and Bonnie is doing a great job with it. However, to have a newspaper quote your blog (which many such as the Star Tribune and others have) as a single source, without doing further fact checking is doing a disservice to its readers.

    I like the concept of an eco-system of civic engagement, but I do have to strongly agree with Mr. Mulshine’s remarks. He comments: “is [sic] the writer in question is performing a valuable task for the reader — one that no sane man would perform for free.”

    I firmly believe that you get what you pay for… what pays for Griff? Bonnie is getting paid by a grant for what she does. The NNews is getting paid for what they do… but what drives Griff and his blog? Is it purely the love of the technology?

    My other point is… at what cost? What is it going to cost me as a taxpayer to have the city provide to you, and a select audience, content for your blog? You want everything in an electronic format. This should only be a benefit of another project, and not the primary reason for City hall to upgrade an existing system or process. We can already see how well our $85,000 was spent on the city website. It is faltering because it had big dreams, but poor implementation, training, and content management.

    I like your dream sheet, but how can this get accomplished and still remain within the realm of complying with the public record? You will counter with the concept that the city will receive a “cost savings of going digital” and I will counter with the cost of training and labor.

    I will take several newspapers, television and news magazines for a variety of sources for the news and the facts. I will utilize multiple sources to try to neutralize the bias of the source.

    I will take all of the blogs for opinion and rumor.

    I will take LoGroNo for its humor, fluff, and photos, as well as its commentary by the Triumvirate.

    I will take Bonnie’s postings, because they are damn good.

    If blogs that want to use the citizen journalism model would instill more methods utilized in professional journalism, do the fact checking, and attempt to remain neutral, I would be more comfortable with them as a news source. At this point, most blogs are opinion.

    All of these have their place. How we integrate them together, while still having some clear boundaries will be interesting. I look forward to participating.

    Thank you for what you do…

    December 27, 2008
  3. Anne Bretts said:

    The only problem here is that you’re not operating in a vacuum. And so you decide to build your system of public dialog and KYMN does and the News does and NTV and Northfield.org create their own systems. Who will pay for all the City Hall staff time and technology needed to keep all these various systems going? How are part-time councilors going to manage this additional responsibility? Who decides which systems are monitored and how much discussion in one blog constitutes a breach of open meeting laws?
    I’m in favor of having the council packets available online and having meeting video streamed and stored online. I am in favor of having all public discussions and e-mails with officials run through city hall’s e-mail system and website to maintain a transparent public record. I’m not opposed to having a councilor answer a question or do a podcast, but there are some real questions right now about how new technology applies to public record issues.
    You are not a public or community organization but a private enterprise with an agenda and profit motive. That’s great, but you are no different from KYMN or the News in your role in community newsgathering. You don’t represent the community, you represent your vision of what the public should want.
    I’m in favor of having a short-term task force of all local media to make their requests and see what kind of cooperation is possible and reasonable. The report would then be considered by the council and a budget prepared for consideration as part of an overall public information plan. That budget would be incorporated into the overall city budget.
    I think Locally Grown is interesting, but I don’t think the city/school/county should be subsidizing your experiment, even in a modest way, without determining public demand or need.

    December 27, 2008
  4. kiffi summa said:

    Griff: Have you completely lost sight of a factual, principled based journalism which informs, not opines?
    I was amazed to read your idea of an “eco-system of civic engagement”. Where is the basic fact filled, fact checked story/reportage?
    You seem to have created a swirl of opinion that you claim will better inform … and yet the de-emphasized is the factual.
    This is exactly my complaint with the Northfield News; the defining questions that the paper should be asking, getting the answer to, and reporting on , are seldom apparent.
    Example: One of the editors writes a staff column about ‘the checks still flying out the door’ ( this being relevant to the council’s decision to pay the former administrator’s legal fees upfront)
    I felt she was put in an embarrassing position in her staff column, because if the city hall reporter would have reported on all the hours and hours of discussions on this subject through the end of the summer and the early fall, and brought up the questions asked by council members who did not agree with the payment position which ultimately prevailed, the editor would have not been so amazed in her stated position.

    Again,there is an absolute need for the fact based journalism which also asks the pertinent questions.
    It looks to me like that’s ‘buried’ in your model.

    Another problem is the council opinion in your model; you forget that that these people … striving to make a good decision for the community … are also often operating on their personal opinion, unless the issue is very, very clearcut.
    Often the decision the council has to make is actually realized by their opinion, and that of the staff that has brought the issue to them for consideration, because either they(council) do not get the defining information in a completely unbiased way, or they do not define a guiding policy for the staff to implement.

    We have virtually no deep policy discussion at the council level; a problem I fervently hope the new council will address.

    The Comp Plan and the Transportation Plan attempt to be that, but the real guiding policy discussion for the Comp Plan occurred in the Planning Commission work sessions.

    What you have described just seems like a blog with more input; not necessarily a more informative news/reporting environment. Just look at your diagram … it looks like a maelstrom!

    December 28, 2008
  5. Kiffi – “factual, principled based journalism” always, but “not opines?” Not so fast there… Advocacy journalism has a solid place, where taking a stand is implicit.

    December 28, 2008
  6. Leonard Witt said:

    Hi Griff:

    Interesting post. Indeed the post is a reflection of what you want for the future not only in concept but in fact.

    You post an idea and others come to it and deliberate around it. The more deliberation the most robust the idea becomes.

    You have laid out a form of open-source journalism.

    Here is something I wrote earlier as part of an op-ed piece:

    Citizen journalism, which goes by many names including networked journalism, We Media, distributed journalism, and open-source journalism, is a direct outgrowth of the open-source software movement, about which Eric Raymond wrote in his book “The Cathedral and the Bazaar.” The cathedral being the old top-down model and the bazaar being the almost out-of-control street market model. Much to his surprise and almost everyone else’s the chaotic bazaar model produced better and more rigorous software than the rigid top-down model. In the end, this open bazaar form of citizen created journalism will produce a better informed public and a more rigorous public square.

    We still will need professional journalists, but rather than working in isolation they will be in the community immersed in an open bazaar of ideas and opinions.

    However, for this to work best you have to pay special attention to David Ludescher’s critique above and ask how can you ensure that all the voices of the community are heard, especially those unheard in the past.

    December 28, 2008
  7. Tracy Davis said:

    David L., you said,

    …greater civic engagement usually results in poorer decision-making because most of those engaged in civic engagement have their own narrow interests at interest, not the interests of the broader community.

    Saying something (over and over and over) doesn’t make it so. What evidence do you have to back up this assertion? Do you think that Northfield’s elected officials are the only people who consider the interests of the broader community ahead of their own? Are “mere” citizens incapable of doing so?

    December 28, 2008
  8. David Ludescher said:

    Tracy: It is human nature for people to promote their own self-interests.

    Staff usually has the least bias opinion given their professional training, inability to determine the final outcome, and the possible loss of employment for poor decision-making. Elected officials, being obligated to obligated to promote other people’s interests above their own, and having the advice of professional staff should be able to make every decision without reference to the citizenry. That is the purpose of a representative democracy.

    In this case, creating a more vibrant on-line community benefits those who already have the most and best access at the expense of those who don’t have on-line access or who rely on more traditional methods.

    If you want an example of greater civic engagement resulting in poorer decision-making, I refer you to the new rental ordinance – discriminatory, confusing, expensive, cumbersome, and untested – all marks of poor legislation. The ordinance reflects the continuing pressure exerted by a relatively small number of citizens promoting their own interests.

    December 28, 2008
  9. David Koenig said:

    David L, what is the self-interest for each individual who has suggested alternatives for how the city might evaluate the decision to build or license a new liquor store?

    Can you list one self-interest for each contributor including yourself?

    I can see how maybe one or two of the folks who have commented have clear/semi-clear self-interests, but I struggle to see the self-interest for nearly all who engaged.

    Tracy is spot-on with her comment. Some people actually just care that we have a better community and want to contribute to that goal in multiple ways…one being civic engagement.

    December 28, 2008
  10. Leonard Witt said:

    Tracy and David:

    Are each you familiar with the Lippmann Dewey debates from 1922? It is often quoted in public journalism circles and mirrors each of your arguments.

    Here is something I found on the web, but there is plenty more in-depth writing on the topic, which is definitely worth reading. Here are two introduction sentences from the website:

    In 1922, Walter Lippmann published an influential book entitled Public Opinion. In this book, Lippmann was very suspicious and critical of any model of democracy that placed excessive faith and power in the hands of the public.

    John Dewey, in his response to Lippmann, first in a review published in The New Republic (1922), and later in his book The Public and its Problems (1927), contended that democracy should not be confined to the enlightenment of administrators or to insiders like industrial leaders, and highlighted the importance of public deliberation in political decision-making.

    Here is more from the website about Dewey , who thought public participation was hard work and would not just happen willy-nilly:

    Dewey suggested that Lippmann gave up on participatory democracy mainly due to a lack of political imagination and to a lack of faith in the role of progressive education to forge a democratic public. Dewey argued that his position was not about idealizing people’s knowledge, skills and attitudes, or their capacity for self-government, but about nurturing democratic institutions in which people would gradually educate themselves into the processes of deliberation and decision-making. He rejected Lippmann’s contention that it was an impossible task, but admitted that it was indeed a very difficult enterprise.

    December 28, 2008
  11. Felicity Enders said:

    Bruce, how about using Leonard’s post as the basis of a Politics & a Pint discussion? I’d definitely like to hear more about that.

    Thanks Leonard!

    December 28, 2008
  12. kiffi summa said:

    David L: Given your example above in # 9 of what elected officials “should ” be able to do, with the added expertise of staff to help them, how do you account for what you seem to evaluate as a total failure in the development, and final form, of the rental ordinance?

    December 28, 2008
  13. Jerry Friedman said:

    I’m not clear why there’s a controversy.

    The major media, when it’s working as it should, has paid staff who are professionally trained journalists. The power of the press to report cannot be matched by individuals. The press has an illuminated history in the U.S., something that unprofessional “citizen” journalism can’t consistently reach. Would Deep Throat have called Bonnie or the Washington Post?

    In the ever-present cliché of the tendency of power to corrupt, major media and journalists sometimes neglect or forget their duty to journalism and they publish lies. This is where citizen journalism is especially important. After watching a recent documentary on the JFK assassination, I was sad to see that Peter Jennings lied about events depicted in the Zapruder film before the public had access to it. Jennings, who was reporting for CBS, said JFK’s head went forward after he was shot but the film clearly shows it going backward. This was a calculated and material lie made to assure the public that there was one shooter: Oswald. Suffice to say, Jennings’s lie would still be believed if the Zapruder film was never subpoenaed in a court case (People v. Shaw) and leaked to the pubic. Imagine if people were blogging in the 1960s. CBS wouldn’t have dared publish lies for they must have believed they had a monopoly on the information.

    So I see a necessary interrelationship. We need major media for its resourcefulness and professional training. We need citizen journalism to help keep major media honest. And we never know when citizen journalism will become the next major media. Every news service had a humble beginning.

    December 28, 2008
  14. john george said:

    Jerry- I think you have expressed a very valid perspective on the issue. Interraction between people tends to clarify what some refer to as “facts.” Ever since I took a propaganda analysis course in college more years ago than I like to admit, it has ruined me of believing every “fact” I read in any publication. I think one of the characteristics of any communication is that it all has a bias. Some of the comments posted here seem to imply that “professional journalists” are somehow free from any bias. I just don’t believe this is true. When I find a publication that I feel is “unbiased,” if I am really honest about it, I’m just saying that I agree with the bias of that particular publication. That being the case, I think blogs like LGN are healthy in that they allow me to discuss issues with others of similar and different biases. In my opinion, the advantage of this type of venue is that it allows interraction. Publications are hard to interract with. I can send an “editorial comment,” but if it is not published, I have no way of knowing if it was in fact ever received, let alone considered, and I never get a response from the publication. The internet allows us to process newsworthy events in an entirely different way than has ever been possible. That in itself has to affect the whole landscape of reporting events.

    December 29, 2008
  15. David Ludescher said:

    David K: I am trying to challenge the myth that greater civic engagement always produces better public results. If that greater civic engagement consistently comes from the same segment of society, the more likely result is that those engaged citizens get their way at the expense of the less engaged.

    The liquor store siting is an example. I can understand why a new downtown liquor store is appealing. But, it is not intuitively obvious that it is the only choice. Given that an offer has been made to give land valued at $0.9 million to the City, it would seem that even those interested in a downtown site should take pause, and should be ask that the matter be revisited – in the best interest of everyone.

    Greater civic involvement doesn’t mean hearing more and more from the same people (like me). It means hearing more and more of what everyone wants or needs.

    December 29, 2008
  16. Leonard Witt said:

    Hi David L:

    You write:

    If that greater civic engagement consistently comes from the same segment of society, the more likely result is that those engaged citizens get their way at the expense of the less engaged.

    You are right. You have recognized a legitimate problem.

    In the past, all you could do is complain about the lack of full scale involvement. Now with more interaction possible, you — and I do mean you, David — can take steps to ensure more voices are heard, more segments of the population are represented.

    So what would you do to make that possible? What advice do you, and the others reading this post, have to ensure the triumvirate and Bonnie are more inclusive?

    December 29, 2008
  17. Jerry Friedman said:

    John: For the reasons you expressed, I often prefer to take college classes than read books. Classes allow interaction and easier access to questioning authority. Books don’t allow that.

    David(s): I agree with David L. that greater public involvement does not *always* lead to better results, but as an expression of democracy, it is still a necessary element of government. Best case, citizens know what’s best for them. Worst case, citizens should go through the process of discovery and debate even if the result is bad.

    As a former candidate for public office, I was prepared to facilitate public discussion on city projects, and to work hard to bring all of the relevant facts to these discussions. If the residents of my ward largely desire for something that I think is a bad idea after a full exposé of the facts, I would not trump their desire. (There are a few exceptions, for example I would always vote against things that offend human rights.)

    I believe that government is elected for a narrow purpose, generally to facilitate society moving forward. As facilitators, government needs to learn from the people what “forward” means. Sometimes the people make mistakes, but government is not immune from mistakes and taking the people out of government decisions is not democracy.

    December 29, 2008
  18. Griff Wigley said:

    John T (comment #3), yes, local journalists should seek out many sources, not just online ones.

    But the Nfld News never allows their reporters to include anything from any local blogger in any of their stories. They never point their readers to any place online where important civic discussions are happening.

    I think that’s a disservice to their readers, a betrayal of their mission to help keep the community informed, and I think it will hurt their business in the long run.

    December 29, 2008
  19. Griff Wigley said:

    Kiffi (comment #5), you may have missed it where, in my itemized vision list, I wrote “The RepJ reporter does an in-depth story about the issue.”

    That’s the “factual, principled based journalism which informs” that you mentioned.

    December 29, 2008
  20. David Ludescher said:

    Leonard: The problem can be approached two ways. One way is to have more voices. I have tried to do that on the Chamber’s behalf.

    The more effective way, in my opinion, would be for those who are currently the most vocal to be less participatory, and/or more community-oriented in thought and deed.

    For example, I don’t care for cookie-cutter houses. I live in a 98 year old house on purpose. But, it irritates me to no end to hear a deliberative body like the Planning Commission suggesting that it has any legitimate interest in telling people what their houses should look like.

    When I raised my voice in protest, it felt like a hogpile on Ludescher. I have continued to try to put a different voice out there. Frankly, many of the people, especially business people, refuse to comment because of the possible ill-will created.

    So, the short answer to your question is that the public debate should be more exclusive, rather than try to be more inclusive. We already have far too much debate, too many studies, and too much participation. It is interfering with the real work of government. Colleges are the places to debate, study, and participate; government is the place to act.

    December 29, 2008
  21. David Ludescher said:

    Griff: You might be right; but you don’t own the newspaper.

    December 29, 2008
  22. Griff Wigley said:

    John T (#3), the City of Eden Prairie went to paperless council packets in 2004 for a number of reasons that I think are more valid now than ever, 4+ years later:

    In addition to cutting personnel and supply costs, the new paperless packet process will allow us to make changes to our information more quickly and to update the Council with new information at the meeting easier. We will also be able to post the Council Packet on our website so that it is available to the public in its entirety, for free at their complete convenience.

    December 29, 2008
  23. Anne Bretts said:

    So Griff, let me get this right…the Northfield News should pay a reporter to plug your site, while you have a nice grant subsidizing your reporter and are trying to raise local money to keep her on salary. You skim off the stories that interest you while they stretch to do the in-depth coverage as well as all the routine items readers demand and you wouldn’t or couldn’t do.
    They would have to be crazy to subsidize the competition, and you are competition. I agree they should have been ahead of the game and led the way in online interactivity, and they are playing a weak game of catch-up now. They are interested in building their own conversations, not yours. Of course, the same few people are commenting there, so it kind of blows your idea that there’s a huge unserved audience out there dying to participate. The people who like to talk online are pretty much doing so. The people who like to write are on Northfield.org or writing guest columns or stories for the News or their own blogs or organization blogs.
    And there’s nothing stopping you from being mentioned in the News. You just buy an ad.

    December 29, 2008
  24. Griff Wigley said:

    Anne (comment #4), I don’t understand where you got the idea that I think the city/school/county should be subsidizing my ‘experiment’ as you put it, or anything that I wrote about in my vision.

    The citizen engagement landscape has changed forever and public officials need to figure out how to work with it… both for their own effectiveness as well as for the common good.

    Corporations of all sizes are gradually figuring out that the era of the informed/engaged/networked consumer requires a major shift in mindset and strategy. I think government at all levels needs to do likewise.

    And that’s why when we launched the Northfield civic blogosphere effort back in 2004-05, we made a big effort to get leaders blogging, not just citizens.

    December 29, 2008
  25. Griff Wigley said:

    David L, when you raised your voice in protest at the Planning Commission open house, I was the one who invited you to be on our podcast a few weeks later so that your viewpoint would get wider attention. 

    And we all spent considerable time discussing it (132 comments) in the subsequent weeks.

    And then we had City Planner Dan Olson on another podcast a few months later.

    So I don’t get why this kind of civic/citizen engagement was bad for you, the Chamber, your viewpoint, or the process.

    December 29, 2008
  26. kiffi summa said:

    Griff: re: your comment #20 … I didn’t miss it.
    We (you/LG) may not always have a RepJ reporter to do in-depth reporting; you must be aware that I have often stated that Ms. Bonnie does a far more thorough job than the NFNews does on a comparable story, for example the 530 Ac. annexation process.
    My concern is for a base of pure journalism which is factual, presents all sides of an issue, and further explores by questioning.
    Then the public opinion, and perhaps add’l info is very useful … but there must be a firm and reliable base providing the underlying information.

    December 29, 2008
  27. kiffi summa said:

    David L: You continue to bemoan the Comp plan process and how you felt the 250 people who showed up to participate were not those whom YOU consider to be representative, and that the 250 members of the Chamber were not well enough represented … but, David, where were the Chamber members that day, if they wished to be heard?

    And to both David L. and Mr. Witt : Respectfully , how would you engage those who do not wish to publicly engage?

    There is a responsibility to make your opinions known when there is a public process that solicits those opinions. For those that do not wish to speak in public, there are written comments that can be submitted in most processes, but the rest of the public will never hear them, or possibly even know they have been given.

    It is difficult to measure the voices of those who do not speak.

    What I think you might not understand , Mr. Witt, is that there are many people in Northfield who cannot bring themselves to speak in a public venue. I don’t know why; people make jokes about Lutherans being unwilling to sit in the front pews in church.

    At any rate, when you have a town that is full of opinions, but not full of people willing to voice their opinion in a public setting that solicits it … whose fault is it if those ‘silent’ opinions are not heard?
    We do not count votes that are not voted. (except in my home town of Chicago, the states of Ohio and Florida, maybe?)

    David L: you have been disturbed about this issue ever since the Comp Plan meeting, but I don’t recall public support from other Chamber members for your POV on this issue. Have they just been too silent?

    December 29, 2008
  28. Anne Bretts said:

    Griff, I don’t know what there is to misunderstand.
    All I and the others here are saying is that there’s a cost involved in the things you are seeking, and no demonstrated public need for some of it. It’s what you think the city should do and what you think the public should want. You may be right, but you have no constituency, no research, no broad community-driven plan. I think the city could benefit from having a public information officer and I could do the job really well, but that doesn’t mean just hiring me is a rational public decision.
    Maintaining blogs, responding to comments and managing multiple staff and council discussions with the public also could jeopardize the principle of having one public record and one place for official public discussion.
    It’s one thing to have the weekly staff report available online and another to have each department head maintaining a blog. Even at a couple of hours each per week, it’s time the officials don’t have. And it’s money that isn’t in the budget. Let’s face it, there are just a few people who want that level of information and their ability to demand immediate online responses from every department head and councilor could be a real drain.
    I guess Scott Neal can address the costs and legal limits on these issues, since Eden Prairie is ahead of the game. Perhaps the costs aren’t that high.
    As I said, I can see having agendas and public documents online and streaming council meetings, etc., using cable access money. I can see having a place for public comments and questions on the city website. Beyond that, there needs to be a ‘technology infrastructure’ discussion and budget to determine what’s needed and how much of the cost the city can subsidize. You have a list of things you want, and other media will have their lists. There needs to be a public discussion and a plan and a budget for the council to consider.

    December 29, 2008
  29. Leonard Witt said:

    David L:

    You write:

    …the short answer to your question is that the public debate should be more exclusive, rather than try to be more inclusive. We already have far too much debate, too many studies, and too much participation. It is interfering with the real work of government. Colleges are the places to debate, study, and participate; government is the place to act.

    If you believe what you say about debate and participation, why are you participating here?

    December 29, 2008
  30. David Ludescher said:

    Griff: I will give credit where it is due. You graciously invited me onto your show so that my viewpoint could get wider attention. And, except for religious concerns, you do seem to have a much more critical approach to the issues.

    December 29, 2008
  31. john george said:

    Leonard- Do you suppose it is this scenario we are experiencing here that the framers of the constitution hoped to overcome when they set us up with a representative government rather that a strict Greek pattern? Just wondering what your take is. In this day and age of instant messaging and instant distribution of information, IMHO, there is a temptation to sidestep the process our framers put in place for just these scenarios. The Atheneans could have this inclusive involvement because of their small size. Now, even with the technology we have at our fingertips, size is still the stumbling block in the whole process. There still has to be one person to take responsibility for what is “official published material.” I think Anne did a good job of supporting this theory in her example.

    December 29, 2008
  32. David Ludescher said:

    Leonard: I participate because I haven’t found a 12 step program for bloggers.

    December 30, 2008
  33. Leonard Witt said:

    George in #33 you wrote:

    Now, even with the technology we have at our fingertips, size is still the stumbling block in the whole process. There still has to be one person to take responsibility for what is “official published material.”

    On the new technology, none of us know what it will mean to our democratic process. But in our small way that’s what we are all trying to figure out here. It’s healthy collectively and for us as individuals.

    On the “officially published material,” yes someone has to take responsibility, but there is a big difference between that happening behind closed doors and it happening with full transparency.

    Of course, Wikipedia is a great example of what can happen unofficially, collectively. Does it have its problems, yes, but does it have more benefits than deficits, yes.

    Finally, overall with all the cacophony do you feel better informed today than you were 10 years ago? I do. Do you feel you have more input into the electoral process than you did 10 years ago? I do.

    December 30, 2008
  34. john george said:

    Leonard- Thanks for your reply. I agree with your conclusions, and I agree that we have yet to see how IT is going to affect our lives. One thing I sense in my own life is that the time it takes to do something seems to have been compressed. Decisions can be made more quickly, but fallout from decisions based on wrong evaluations is felt faster.

    David L.- This is a 4-step program, not a 12 step. Type in your name, type in your e-mail address, type in your post, click”post comment” and you are done. Just 4 steps. And then you are hooked forever!

    December 30, 2008
  35. Leonard Witt said:

    Hi All:

    Just FYI: The Pew Internet & American Life Project just released a report on POST-ELECTION VOTER ENGAGEMENT

    It might help inform this discussion –or then again it might not.

    December 30, 2008
  36. Mona Obremski said:

    If the perfect news story, as Jon Freidman once opined, has both contradiction and conclusion, and also an ample supply of drama, surprise, controversy, irony, money, history, nostalgia, idealism, scandal and an underdog triumphing over the system, then, except for scandal, I’d say the story of Bonnie as Representative Journalist is shaping up to be a great journalism.

    December 30, 2008
  37. David Ludescher said:

    My daughter had an interesting comment about the value of civic engagement. She noted that the Coleman/Franken contest will likely be decided by people who can’t even color in a circle.

    In my opinion, a large part of civic engagement in Northfield is what is called lobbying on the federal level. More lobbyists will make government worse, not better.

    The solution to too lobbyists isn’t to engage more lobbyists from the other side. As Jerry Friedman noted, we have a lot of SAACC’s (Self-appointed associate city councilors). Many of these folks think that they, individually, should report to, and be reported to, by the City Council.

    December 30, 2008
  38. Deep Throat didn’t call the Post. He arranged to meet a specific reporter he thought he could trust. The reason Deep Throat knew about that reporter’s work is because he read his local paper, just like most other people did at the time. Now, people get their
    information from many more sources than the local paper. People are perhaps more critical of those media sources, too. In some cases, the criticism could be well deserved because papers are finding it hard to maintain the old model of journalism in the current economy. Fewer people know their city or town reporters anymore, if those reporters are there at all. And those reporters have fewer resources.

    Today, reporters can build their own reputations online. They’re not answering to big corporations or advertisers. They’re answering to you.

    People will gravitate to reporters they can trust and find it easy to develop a personal-seeming relationship with them. (Example of the power of today’s online social networking: Raise your hand if you’re Facebook buddies with Barack Obama).

    December 30, 2008
  39. Randy Jennings said:


    With all due respect, blogger/journalists lack the one thing that made the reporting of the Watergate scandal so powerful and ultimately successful: an editor (or several). Woodward and Bernstein were not allowed to publish until *after* they had properly sourced independent confirmation of the information they received from Deep Throat and proved the reporting to the standards of their editor and the legal beagles at the Post. Only then were they allowed to take the story public. That kind of sustained investigation and the high hurdle of proof is what distinguishes journalism from speculation and from the community conversation that goes on here.

    To be fair, it’s not just a problem with bloggers. You are absolutely right about the decline in reporting resources in the traditional media. Print and broadcast journalists seem to have less and less guidance from editors. That’s lead to a real loss of quality, particularly at the local level.

    When I see the green text of the questions attached to a story you are developing, they strike me as markers of a job half-done, not as a valuable invitation to become part of the story. So far, the RepJ experiment has been too much rep and too little j for my taste. I suspect that others more actively engaged in the conversations on this site will feel otherwise.

    As a parent, I appreciate your mother’s cheerleading (#38), just as I have appreciated the spirit of your effort to understand the quirks of this community. I particularly liked your first pieces that Prof. Witt described as more “newspaperly.” But, for the most part, what goes on here on Locally Grown is not journalism, it’s community conversation, just like you’ll find in coffeeshops, bars and church basements. To the people who follow this particular forum, that’s a valuable thing, but to the larger community, they are not the same thing.

    December 31, 2008
  40. kiffi summa said:

    Bonnie : I could not agree more strongly with what you say in your above post about people gravitating to reporters they can trust.
    But isn’t that what it’s all about in almost every life situation, i.e.TRUST?

    I often don’t ‘trust’ what I read in the NFNews because it does not match what I have actually seen and heard when I am at the meeting on which they are reporting; Not that the information is wrong per se, it is that they report so selectively that the report alters the ‘reality’ . There is also a major problem with the NFnews reporting in that they usually fail to ask the cogent question, thereby failing to illuminate a possible problem that should be addressed.

    On the other hand, I’m not sure what you mean by a “personal-seeming relationship”, and the value of that? Is this again with reference to ‘trust’ ? i.e. are there council people who ‘trust’ the city hall reporter because they are favored by that reporting?
    If there is a “personal seeming relationship” which actually favors what I call selective reporting, then that is a disservice to the efficacy of news.

    Trust is to me the most valuable quality of any relationship, be it personal, civic, business, etc. Trust as an essential of one’s information from their gov’t, be it local or national, is the difference between …well, let’s just put it in the simplest terms … good, or bad, government.

    December 31, 2008
  41. Randy,

    Thanks for your thoughtful response! What you see as “half-done” I see as transparent. No news story is ever complete. I hope that every skeptical reader still has questions after reading a story. I’m open to hearing them, and letting my readers know the questions I have so they can see where I’m headed as a story evolves. At some point, a story ends as other stories arise. But, I think we should move away from the idea that good journalism ends in a case-closed report.

    I agree with the importance of editors. I do have collaborators and an editor. My scrupulous editor Linda Seebach has excellent credentials and the only way grammar mistakes slip through is when I miss one of her “red pencil” marks by accident. Linda has voiced similar concerns as you have about posting information that does not seem complete. However, this experiment is trying to develop a new way to report news and engage the community.

    I am making direct contact with the sources in my stories to get primary information, just as a reporter for a newspaper or magazine would. I believe that “newspaperly” ethic is visible in my early stories and the newer ones as well. In some cases, I am even posting that primary information directly, so readers can interpret the information for themselves. That kind of presentation isn’t possible in the newspaper format, which has limited space and perhaps a limited way of thinking about how the Internet can enhance journalism, if used in the right way.

    December 31, 2008
  42. Mona Obremski said:

    #41 – Mr. Felt was dismayed and uncomfortable with his Washington Post juiced-up sound bite moniker, (who wouldn’t be?), despite the perceived editorial mastery at the Post, hollywood-hype, shareholder-driven political slant and editorial misconduct happens, even at the New York Times.
    One difference between a RepJ reporter and a journalist, for example a Bill Moyers, is that Moyers receives twenty million annually in public funds for his work with PBS.
    You are of course correct that a solitary reporter does not have the same support staff as a mass media corporation, but I disagree that integrity is the sole possession of media giants, and not of a person.

    December 31, 2008
  43. kiffi summa said:

    Mona : You are completely accurate in your implied statement of integrity being linked with a person, not a media giant.
    And thank you very much for raising a person of integrity, one who has been of real benefit to our local journalism scene, not only for her personal integrity, but for the level of hard information she brings to the community, on those issues she has worked to address.
    I often make it clear how dissatisfied I am with the level of ‘journalism’ exemplified by the political reporting of our local paper, and Bonnie’s writings have done a lot to show the difference to those who care to compare the quality of each presentation.

    December 31, 2008
  44. David Ludescher said:

    Bonnie: I think Randy’s descriptions are accurate. Even the “news” shows on television are more about entertainment than an unbiased presentation of the facts.

    December 31, 2008
  45. Jerry Friedman said:

    David L: Subtle correction. You attribute this statement to me:

    “As Jerry Friedman noted, we have a lot of SAACC’s (Self-appointed associate city councilors).”

    I coined the acronym. However, I don’t know if we have “a lot” of SAACCs or a few. I have attended too few city meetings to judge.

    December 31, 2008
  46. Jerry Friedman said:

    Bonnie: Don’t overlook the reputation and circulation of “The Washington Post”. I think it’s an incomplete analysis to consider only the journalists’ reputations and overlook the newspaper’s. Comparatively, no blog today has the reputation nor circulation of the “Post”, the “Times” (either city’s), or even “U.S. News”. If I was Deep Throat Jr., I’d look to these papers, not citizen journalists, no matter how well reputed they are.

    Another consideration are the paper’s resources. Some big stories may tempt big consequences. Could an independent journalist defend herself in a massive libel suit, or could she resist a subpoena to reveal her confidential sources? Major media, for all its faults, has the resources to fight libel lawsuits and to keep on salary its unfairly jailed journalists.

    December 31, 2008
  47. The journalism industry is undeniably changing on all fronts. I am not trying to be the Washington Post. I
    am trying to create a brand-new method of reporting local news. The model will hopefully be one that communities across the nation will want, especially communities that have lost other local media outlets.

    When I was an intern reporter for the LA Times, television monitors in view of our cubicles continuously displayed the Tribune company’s stock. When the stock went down, cutbacks increased. Those cutbacks that all newspapers are facing are influencing the quality and quantity of content. Journalists everywhere are trying to figure out what needs to change.

    I won’t debate the reputation of the Post and Times, or how many editors or how much money it takes to make a good story. My goal right now is to do the most with what I have for Northfield. What helps me is to hear how I can adapt the model I’m experimenting with to better inform and engage the community.

    January 1, 2009
  48. Anne Bretts said:

    Bonnie, this discussion isn’t about you personally, but about the concept and the process of repJ. I have to agree with Randy that there are some problems for me in the way the stories feel unfinished, not transparent. Maybe there are some people who don’t understand how a reporter gets information, but I don’t really need to know in your main story that you went to Scott Davis’ office and had to call him back later because he was with a client. I just want to know what he said. I don’t want to read a story to find out that you went to the jail to interview someone and didn’t have a list of questions prepared and hadn’t talked to his lawyer first and so didn’t get to ask him anything. I do need to know what other cities the size of Northfield have done with their cable access fund and whether experts think technology has made cable television production obsolete. And I want to know whether our cable fees are in line with other cities.
    Perhaps you can start your pieces soliciting any questions from people, write your story and then have a link into your reporter’s notes for those people who really need all the process information.
    Most news bloggers tend to do a series of short pieces, each linking to the ones before, with the ability to scroll down and find them as well. This lets me read just the fresh information but catch up if I came into the story late. Perhaps it’s the type face on this site, but it makes the stories seem overly long.
    As for editing, I’m not as concerned that you have someone fixing grammar as I am that you have an editor like Woodward and Bernstein’s, someone who will challenge your assumptions, make sure you have that list of questions and that every answer is verified and meaningful and really moves the story forward.
    I also want to clarify that while the technology is new, community journalism isn’t. The big newsrooms may have been somewhat isolated from ‘regular people’ but beat reporters knew their areas so well they let regular people feel like insiders at the theater, the courthouse, the locker room.
    And I can tell you that there’s no place more connected to the community than a small town newsroom. The News and papers like it are involved with families in every birth and death, every church supper and garage sale. The editor gets hundreds of e-mails each day and dozens of phone calls. Most are from total strangers who feel it is their paper and their right to ask the editor for a story about their mom’s salt shaker collection or why the city hasn’t plowed as neatly as they would like.
    Unlike Locally Grown, where you have three online colleagues, the News has a whole office and printing plant full of ordinary people from every church and school in town who share information and opinions from the people on their bowling leagues and their kids’ daycare provider and their parent’s nursing home staff.
    Jaci Smith is involved in community theater. Sam Gett, the publisher, is involved in Rotary. They are exhausted and exhilerated by the constant feedback they receive. People can comment on stories online, writer letters to the editor and guest columns to be published. They do surveys and solicit reader input.
    I know the editor and publisher in Tower, MN and their office is the hub of that small town. And it was the same in the small town where I started reporting in a tiny little paper back when we typed on typewriters and edited with a red pen and developed pictures in trays of chemicals.
    Let’s face it, the difference now is technology. This site is a much higher tech version of a good old party line telephone system or the beauty/barber shop or coffee hour after church.
    Everything changes. Technology has destroyed record producing, but lets every garage band post its own music and videos online. Technology is killing book publishing but websites mean writers don’t have to suffer rejection letters but can publish their own books.
    And universal access means that I can get 10 opinions on the liquor store issue, but there isn’t one major television news reporter covering Iraq. And why the four Twin Cities new divisions are talking about sharing one photographer and helicopter for breaking news and why big papers are making reporters carry cameras with them. I can tell you, trying to get a good photo while taking notes on what someone is saying isn’t the way to do either well.
    I know technology makes my work as a reporter amazingly easier and more thorough than ever before. It also has made reporting a commodity and created a world where there so few paying jobs almost all of us are citizen reporters.

    January 1, 2009
  49. Jerry Friedman said:

    Bonnie: I’ll repeat what Anne said, that my remarks and the discussion generally have nothing to do with you personally. Further, I very much like the idea that you and Griff are promoting.

    From my first post on this subject, I opined that major media and citizen journalism each have their strengths and of course weaknesses. This dichotomy in the media is the same in so many other industries. Large corporations have resources that individuals cannot match; individuals have freedom that cause large corporations to retreat.

    Do you remember the story some years ago about Fox reporters in Florida who wanted to air a story about unhealthy levels of BGH (bovine growth hormone) in milk, but BGH-producer Monsanto was a major advertiser for Fox and got the story killed? Comparatively, if you broke a story about poison in milk, could any advertiser force Griff or you to kill your story? The freedoms of citizen journalism cannot be ignored.

    So please, don’t be like the Washington Post or either Times. I’d rather that you fill, develop and exploit the gaps left by major media. As Heinz (of Heinz ketchup) purportedly said, do something ordinary (journalism) in an extraordinary way.

    If anyone happens to criticize you personally, rest assured that everyone has critics. Everyone who tries to change or improve things has more critics. And those critics are often wrong. Work hard, every day, at being a stalwart professional, and your work will be appreciated.

    January 1, 2009
  50. Thanks Anne,

    Someone emailed me directly with a few similar concerns and below was my response, more or less:

    True, most writing benefits from having more resources available. However, one of the goals of the RepJ model is to create a low-cost, easily replicated way for communities to get some local news. Linda is a copy editor, but she also takes on the role of other kinds of editors. She points out information I need to gather and helps me see where the story could go.

    I think updating stories is a critical part of the process, making the story come alive and keeping interest high. When I put an initial story on the Web, I have made phone calls, performed interviews, attended meetings gone file-searching in City Hall.

    I’m taking journalism and bringing it to the powerful and growing blog movement–forces combined. Some people will hopefully see my product as valuable because it’s affordable, fun, participatory and also has a reporter and editor to act as gatherers and presenters of factual information. Just like any product, it’s not going to appeal to everyone’s taste.

    Anne, I suppose I am being defensive of our project and I hope not overly so. I think a lot of the points you and others are bringing up here are valid. We’re trying to do something very new and different, testing things out to see what works and what doesn’t.

    Maybe one day, RepJ Web sites can have a more newspaperly presence, listing the obits and weddings and everything else that’s in a paper. However, we have to start with coming up with a product that sets us apart from all other media. I, or any other reporter, could write articles in standard format and put them up on the Web. That’s just not our goal here.

    Thanks again for everyone’s input!

    January 1, 2009
  51. Jerry Friedman said:

    Bonnie: In my opinion, skip the standard news services of obits, etc. That’s for newspapers, not journalists. (Unless the obit is related to a larger story.)

    January 1, 2009
  52. Mona Obremski said:

    #42Kiffi – Here is a lens on parenting Bonnie.
    Bonnie: Mom I’m going to blaze my own trail into the jungle, onto the river, over to the glacier, swing into Spain, sail the caribbean and be a journalist when I get to Minnesota.
    Me: No. You can’t do that. No one we know has ever done that. Or something more colorful.

    That never worked.

    January 1, 2009
  53. Anne Bretts said:

    Bonnie, I guess I wasn’t clear. I don’t expect you to do obituaries. That isn’t what this site is about. I’m just really, really tired of talking about this like it’s some wild new adventure that no other reporters have done before. It’s just journalism with a different and interesting technology. The News is talking to people, living in the midst of the community, listening to readers and hearing their questions and they have circulation figures that show clearly when people are happy or bored or angry.
    Every media source has been begging ordinary people to participate in stories for years…and it’s working. There are tons of options out there for me to participate in stories or create my own.
    Locally Grown has decided what civic journalism should be in Northfield, but is there any measurement that indicates how many people really are interested in this or sold on this as the best way to serve the city? You’ll find out when you try for donations, so it’s definitely worth a shot.
    For me the different journalism options are the difference between ordering a meal at a restaurant, going to a potluck or buying a sack of groceries and watching the Food Channel to learn how to make my own dinner.
    I don’t always want to make my own dinner, or watch you make my dinner, or add my contributions to a dinner by committee that might or might not work out. Mostly I’d like to have a good meal served to my table — and for the most part I can go online and get that meal free any time of day or night. And when I don’t want to be around other people, I can get free room service, so to speak.
    As a reader I love this new system. So keep doing this, and good luck with it. You are building on a strong foundation. It will be interesting to see whether people will pay to take potluck or sit in the kitchen and help the chef.

    January 1, 2009
  54. Leonard Witt said:

    Hi Everyone Who Participated So Far:

    I am loving every word of this conversation. As the person who came up with the Rep J idea I should talk a little about my vision.

    In the best of Rep J worlds there would be 100 Rep Js. Rep J would be a full service hub, providing the editing, the insurance, and all the other resources of a newsroom of 100, which is a little larger than MPR’s newsroom is. That Rep J hub would build in the support systems that Jerry talks about in #48.

    One Rep J would be a Bonnie in Northfield, another might be covering endangered species in Florida, maybe another is covering manufacturing in the Midwest, others are pure investigative reporters.

    The pitch in my mind is you pay $2 a week for the Representative Journalist covering your issue — in this case Northfield — but you get 99 others for free.

    So when you click on Locally Grown, you get everything you have now, plus Rep J headlines feeds to interesting stories happening around the country and maybe around the world.

    On the community TV story, it would be easy for Bonnie to put out a feeler to other Rep J communities, which would answer some of the questions that Anne mentions in #50.

    And speaking of Anne and #50, the technology is here. It is not going away; neither are its disruptive powers. But technology tends to disrupt long sustained models because the new models are usually cheaper, faster, smaller and more convenient to use. There is nothing wrong with that.

    In fact, a Rep J hub would be much less expensive than traditional news operations, which are really manufacturing plants that just happen to put news on paper and drive it around in trucks. In the Rep J model, we would only be producing the journalism. Distribution would be digital.

    In the traditional model, advertising paid for abut 80 percent of the journalism costs. Those of us who love journalism were getting a free ride. That day is waning fast and will be over very soon. So if we want the high quality journalism, which we all are talking about here, we will have to pay for it.

    I use this ethical/philosophical question: If the journalism we do has no value (audiences won’t pay for it), then why do it?

    One more thing about my Rep J vision. I never saw it as us producing an electronic newspaper and throwing it on digital doorstep and then going away.

    I conceived of Information Communities, with the journalist providing the glue to help hold the community together. In this case the glue is Locally Grown and Bonnie. In my vision, it is a membership community. Everyone who is in the community has some ownership, financially as well as structurally as well adding to the pool of information.

    Dan Gillmor, author of We the Media: Grassroots Journalism by the People, for the People, has a mantra: My audience knows more than I do.

    No matter how much Bonnie digs, if she does it by herself, she can’t get as much information as she can by being part of an active information community.

    Her job though is to dig and dig and dig, providing that informational glue that the community won’t get without her.

    How she does that reporting, in part should not be a decision made by her or Rep J, but by the entire information community. Maybe one community just wants traditional reporting. Okay, that’s what they would get. Maybe another likes the idea of stories in progress, that’s what they get.

    However, one thing they don’t get is to infringe upon the reporter’s independence to report the news without fear or favor. It is a fine balance.

    I have written enough. My questions to all of you to think about, or to try to answer here, are: Does the idea of an information community have any appeal? Would enough people put up that $1 to $2 a week to have the first Rep J information community, with the plausible promise that if other communities saw it work here, they might well jump on board too and there would be 100 and everyone would have a membership ownership in it.

    When you think about it don’t think about it in the present, image a few more years from now, when there is no Star Tribune and no Chicago Tribune and
    maybe even a weakened Northfield News.

    And Bonnie is not here and maybe the triumvirate at Locally Grown, just can’t afford the time anymore.

    Do you want to wait until then or do you want to take action now?

    January 1, 2009
  55. kiffi summa said:

    Leonard: Congratulations and Thank You for ‘birthing’ the RepJ idea and picking NF as a site of exploration.

    I would personally pick up on the ‘pay for news’ idea at the $4-8 a month rate; the idea of that is acceptable to anyone who now pays for a newspaper subscription. But my satisfaction with that plan would very much depend on the quality of the reporting.
    Why? you might say; isn’t Kiffi the person who often complains about the NFNews, and their level of ‘reporting’?
    Yes, I am that person, and Yes, I do complain about the NFNews, and Yes, I do subscribe to that paper although I am almost always annoyed by their reporting, or what I consider to be lack of it.
    People ask: Why do you subscribe to that paper? it’s so bad… My answer is : that’s a way to see ALL the contents for less $$ than if I picked up a copy out of the news boxes on the street, or at the store. I certainly wouldn’t want to pay twice as much by buying it copy by copy vs the cost of the subscription.

    Let’s now look a bit at the ongoing (slow?) death of the newspaper as we have known it.
    Most businesses … and that’s what papers are criticized (unfairly?) for having become, find a need to change or die. Won’t this ‘Economic Downturn’ put the papers into an even more dire position with their reliance on advertising?

    Why would they not seek a new model for survival IF their motivation is to BE ‘the fourth estate’ ? How important is that classical and meaningful designation?

    What I am asking here is this: Is there a burning ambition to be a guiding light of the Fourth Estate, or has the newspaper business just become a failing business model?

    Are there enough people inside of the news business to both work for a change that is economically viable while remaining held to principled and professional standards … and people ‘outside’ to support that changing picture.

    I would contend that without that ‘dying gasp to survive’ by evolving the product (and now we’re back to your RepJ plan) newspapers as we have known them will for the most part expire.

    However, there is an image of what newspapers can do for a community that I do not see being fulfilled by a picture of each single citizen, in their home , looking at a electronic screen.
    I am thinking of the great photos of newsboys/ newsstands displaying papers with Mega-point headlines screaming “WAR!”.
    Here in NF, I am thinking of the chairs on the sidewalk in front of the coffeeshop; you might see a row of people reading the paper, others talking about the latest city hall scandal as the paper lies on their lap.
    Or even the bright red newspaper boxes, scattered all over town, and the people you see stopped on the sidewalk, peering in to see if the headline is intriguing enough to warrant the purchase.

    Obviously, my conclusion is that the physicality of the newspaper has something to do with its ‘power’.
    Has that illusion evaporated in a pixillated world?

    January 2, 2009
  56. David Ludescher said:

    Leonard: Randy’s criticism of RepJ is well-taken. How do you improve the quality of the “news” reported so it isn’t just a community conversation? It appears that your solution is to enter the capitalist model and charge. Then, you will be able to hire more reporters to do “real” journalism, and yet maintain the air of being “community”.

    An additional criticism of RepJ and Locally Grown as news sources is that they only appeal to a small percentage of the news audience. I don’t think that I would pay $1.00 or $2.00 a week for that information. I would sooner spend that money on the Northfield News which has a much broader, and in my opinion, more fair coverage.

    As an example, MPR holds itself out as public radio. Everyone needs to remember that it receives substantial subsidies from the government that put it at a competitive advantage against stations like KYMN who have no choice but to advertise to stay in business.

    January 2, 2009
  57. Randy Jennings said:

    Prof. Witt,

    There are lots of embedded assumptions in your vision of an information community that deserve examination, but on the central question of whether or not readers will pay to see the RepJ experiment sustained against the coming death of traditional media, I’d have to say “no.” That’s not because I think Bonnie isn’t working hard, isn’t smart or doesn’t have her heart in the right place. She’s doing fine within the limited definition of journalism you and she have described. I just won’t buy (literally or figuratively) the central premise that community knowledge will replace the current practice of journalism, and I don’t see the direct financial support of a journalist to be a business model that this or any other community will sustain. Just because Gillmore is right that the audience knows more than he does, that doesn’t mean the audience is capable of (or interested in) synthesizing and presenting that knowledge, nor that that audience will pay for the privilege of having a personal journalist to do it for them. (For those audiences with the means, the profession of public relations is alive and well. I’d be interested in your thoughts on how representative journalism and public relations differ….)

    There used to be an axiom in the business world that anything can be made better, faster and cheaper, but you can only choose two of the three at any time. That’s changed in the manufacturing of, say, consumer electronics, where we routinely get better quality, faster processors and lower prices. But in an endeavor that can’t be commoditized, that requires detailed investigation and documentation, rigorous analysis, thoughtful interpretation and skillful writing (which I suggest are the hallmarks of good journalism), I’d argue we still have to choose. Choosing a “cheaper” form of journalism just isn’t something I want to spend money on. And frankly, I am really uninterested in reading 99 other versions of Northfield’s problems. To (badly) paraphrase Tolstoy: every happy community (if there are any, other than Celebration, Florida) is the same, but every unhappy community has its own misery. It’s enough to follow our own foibles.

    So far, to me the “new” media seems to be more about speed than quality. In truth, there are very, very few local stories that need immediate reporting, so being faster but incomplete isn’t an advance. If you and your RepJ braintrust can figure out a way to provide consistently better information and a viable business model to sustain it, it would be great. I applaud this experiment, but it hasn’t yet been compelling enough to claim the money spent on subscriptions to other periodicals and broadcast media.

    January 2, 2009
  58. Anne Bretts said:

    OK, so you would need 500 people to cough $1 a week to pay even a minimum starting salary and probably no benefits.
    Who hires the reporter? How on earth do you get 500 people to agree on what stories to write and when? Say 300 want more soccer game coverage and 100 want stories on education and 40 want stories on faith issues. What if the readers want an investigation into the NDDC or the best value in blogging consultants or the charter commission?
    And if you add in the costs of surveying subscribers, editing and maintaining the website, and interacting with subscribers, now you have one part-time reporter doing maybe one or two stories a week for $52 a year when I can get dozens of stories plus sports and all the other stuff for $57 a year — and free if I just read online.
    I’d like to hear more about the logistics of this. You say the reporters will do environmental news, but environmental groups and publications are doing that. Every profession has quality publications and sites covering related news. Churches have their own news coverage. Can you give me some examples of stories that would be compelling enough to get 500 very diverse people to buy into it?
    It would seem that this idea might be more viable as a grant that allowed you to work with the newspaper to speed up its evolution to online and add more community components.

    January 2, 2009
  59. kiffi summa said:

    David L: I won’t argue your use of the term “fair” with reference to the coverage provided by the NFNews; that is obviously opinion based for both of us.
    But when you say the NFNews coverage is “broader”, I could only agree on the general basis of topics/sections, but certainly not on the comprehensiveness of what might be termed local ‘hard news’.

    For instance : Before the 12.15 council meeting there was a little reception for the councilors who are ending their term.
    There was also another kind of ‘reception’ as an elected official, a councilperson, was served with ‘papers’, and presumably there at city hall because as in previous instances of this councilperson being served at city hall, the process server was not able to ever find the subject at his recorded, sworn to place of residence despite numerous tries … and the NFNews has never reported this although the same elected official has been in the paper before as the subject of reports on thousands of $$ of non-payment of rent , as well as questions of actual residency.

    So, with that one example of omission of what most NEWSpapers would consider very ‘hard’ news, how can you say that the NFnews has comprehensive coverage?

    January 2, 2009
  60. Leonard Witt said:

    Hi Randy:

    In #58 you write:

    I’d be interested in your thoughts on how representative journalism and public relations differ….)

    That’s fairly simple. If you hired a PR person, he or she would write about what’s good about Northfield – even when things might not be so good. A Rep J is a journalist and writes about the good, the bad and the ugly. Warts and all, but in a way that is fair, transparent and reflexes the complexity of issues at hand.

    From the Rep J hub, we would make that clear upfront. We are not a PR firm, if you want PR, go hire a public relations specialist. We will also say upfront that at some point in the journalism process, we will write things that get you angry and about which you will disagree. However, unlike the past, your voice will be heard as loudly as the journalist’s.

    You also write:

    Choosing a “cheaper” form of journalism just isn’t something I want to spend money on.

    I don’t want a cheaper form of journalism. Indeed I have often said I want to smarten up journalism rather than dumb it down. The cheaper I was talking about is the cheaper form of distribution of news; delivery systems which are fast, cheaper, smaller and easier to use. You have probably heard the A.J. Liebling pronouncement that: “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.” Now we all have that freedom, that’s the cheaper I am talking about; the cheaper that liberates us, if we want to be liberated from news being delivered from on high with the likes of you and me having little or no say over it.

    Furthermore by saving money on all the trappings that are killing newspapers and big broadcast operations, we can concentrate all income into producing journalism. Hence better journalism.

    You also write:

    If you and your RepJ braintrust can figure out a way to provide consistently better information and a viable business model to sustain it, it would be great.

    Careful what you say about the Rep J brain trust because now that you have joined the conversation you are a vital part of the brain trust. I am not smart enough to do this myself. Neither, I would guess, are you and any one of us here. However, collectively we can create a better form of journalism.

    So when you write:
    I don’t see the direct financial support of a journalist to be a business model that this or any other community will sustain.

    You might be right. Most start-up ideas fail, but some stick and grow. If it is not this financial model, then what will it be?

    If there is no financial model, I contend there will be no watchdog journalism, no journalism to help you better understand life in Northfield, life in the USA and life in the world. Plus the journalism I worship helps me better understand the human condition, how we can make ourselves become better human beings.

    So now, Randy, as a de facto part of the brain trust, got any ideas for a better financial model?

    January 2, 2009
  61. Anne Bretts said:

    Are we really part of the brain trust? What real say do any of us have? Griff didn’t consult us before he got this grant. We didn’t have a slate of reporters and vote on who got the job. We aren’t deciding which stories get done. We don’t evaluate the stories to determine what worked and what didn’t and whether a follow-up is needed. We don’t even know who ‘we’ are, beyond the names of the handful of people who comment.
    There is no community advisory board. There is no business plan for subscribers/investors to review. Will you really do a story that upsets the triumvirate? How will you get David L. and Carol Overland and Victor Summa and me to agree that a story was fair, or even what stories to do?
    Right now, we are making comments, which we can do at any news site.
    I’m not being critical, I’m just fascinated to hear how this really is going to work. Please, fill us in. Give us a measurement of how many stories have been done, how they have differed from (and have been better than) what is available elsewhere and tell me what’s ahead for rest of the year. I’ve got about $50 in my coin jar on the counter, so make me want to cash it in and fork it over.

    January 2, 2009
  62. David Ludescher said:

    Leonard: If you are looking for a successful financial model, have you considered partnering with KYMN Radio, and the Northfield News?

    Rather than competing with these organizations, the RepJ journalist could put together all of the information, and sell it to the newspaper or the radio to help pay her salary.

    If you want to give people the truth without them having to pay for it, you could always start a church. I have to warn you that even churches are having a hard time sustaining themselves with free information on the human condition, and how to become better human beings. Some of their journalists even gave up their lives so that we could have the information for nothing.

    January 2, 2009
  63. Leonard Witt said:

    Anne says in #63:

    There is no community advisory board. There is no business plan for subscribers/investors to review. Will you really do a story that upsets the triumvirate? How will you get David L. and Carol Overland and Victor Summa and me to agree that a story was fair, or even what stories to do?

    Griff and the triumvirate will have to answer some of these questions. Rep J and Locally Grown are separate entities.

    I have always said it is unlikely that people will pay for just journalism, but they might pay to be part of an information community, and after watching Bonnie at work, I would amend that to an information community that is solution oriented.

    What if using the NTV story, as an example, enough people get involved in the deliberative process and actually muster a plan to reinvent the way that cable money is used so that NTV or a form of it really did produce content delivered on a platform that made the best sense to the citizens of Northfield.

    What if that happened with stories about the schools, healthcare, college and town relationships. You name it. Solution oriented journalism produced via citizen driven deliberations. And what if that process were owned by the community in the way a food cooperative might be or in a way that the good folks in Green Bay own the Green Bay Packers?

    January 2, 2009
  64. Griff Wigley said:

    This discussion thread has become RepJ-focused of late and I think that’s fine since RepJ is one of the components of the ‘vision’ that I blogged about initially.

    (I wrote this while Len was composing his comment above and I’m too tired to edit it to make it ‘flow’ in response to him… more later!)

    But I’d like to bring us back to what I was getting at with my blog post title ‘On creating a vibrant online eco-system for civic engagement in Northfield.’

    Maybe another way to describe this eco-system:

    Citizens, civic leaders, and media entities all engaged in using the latest and best tools for content creation, conversation, and civic capacity-building for the public good.

    The phrase ‘civic engagement’ has a negative and/or narrow connotation for some, so I’m substituting the phrase ‘civic capacity-building’ in the human/social capital sense.

    I’m interested in the architecture of this civic capacity-building eco-system because architecture both constrains and unleashes so it’s important to try to get it right.

    Viewed in this context, content/information — whether provided by citizens, leaders or journalists — is better seen as a means.

    Better information, more information, faster information, and more conveniently-served-up-on-whatever-platform information does not necessarily make for improved civic capacity.

    Without an architecture that continually encourages many types of participation from an ever-growing percentage of citizens (‘ordinary people creating random acts of journalism’ as someone said at last summer’s U of MN conference), I don’t think we’ll be much better off.

    So with one eye on civic capacity-building as the end, I’m interested in how journalism as practiced by a RepJ reporter can be one of many means to that end.

    I keep harping on the need for more transparency and collaboration in the creation of a news story. Why? Because they would seem to be two ways that a reporter can still practice their craft while at the same time, encourage civic capacity-building.

    The more that citizens see a reporter genuinely interested in learning as much as possible about a story and that they can play a role in helping that happen, that helps build civic capacity.

    As an example, Bonnie’s story on NTV could result in the Council taking steps to address the issue. A new community media task force could be formed and some citizens who’ve been engaged in helping Bonnie to write that story might step forward to volunteer to serve on that task force, to contribute ideas to the task force, to speak to their councilors about it, to write letters to the editor or blog about it. And maybe one of those citizens will have such a good experience with that level of engagement that they’ll seek appointment on another board or commission or even decide to run for office some day. That’s just one civic capacity-building scenario I could imagine.

    But I could be wrong.

    January 2, 2009
  65. Griff Wigley said:

    Len, I think some solution-orientation to journalism or to an online community/civic blogosphere is fine.

    But many of our civic issues require the involvement of our elected representatives who have to seek out the viewpoints of the broader citizenry, not just the “citizen driven-deliberations” of those online.

    And that’s why I think a mission that emphasizes civic-capacity building is better.

    January 2, 2009
  66. kiffi summa said:

    Griff : I carefully read your comment (10:37, Jan 2) but I think your conclusion that people who comment on line on a story , or just read about an issue online, will translate into ‘worker bees’ is hopeful but not indicated in reality.
    For instance : look at your site numbers of readers vs commenters… there are always a LOT more people reading than commenting. This is parallel to the number of people who talk ABOUT what the City Council (for instance) should do, versus those who talk TO the City Council about what they should do.
    I think it is hopeful that reading about NTV, will make more people engage in the issue, but I don’t see how you can predict more people becoming actively involved in that issue.

    Another example: There was a lot of interest in the local election this fall, but there was very little … I would say almost non-existant … attendance at the forums where candidates spoke, and took questions from the audience. So, very passive or non-involved participation.
    That’s not a perfect parallel, but it seems to me people generally participate in the way they choose to, and usually don’t change their style of passive or active participation.

    Don’t most people seek out and become involved in the issues they care about, those that are relevant to their life in some way? Isn’t that what activates someone into a participatory mode of behavior?

    Absolutely nothing wrong with being hopeful, but human nature seems pretty stuck in its ways, unless ‘forced’ to change.

    January 3, 2009
  67. Randy Jennings said:

    Prof. Witt,

    Back to #62. Brainyquote.com also quotes Liebling saying, “I can write better than anyone who can write faster, and I can write faster than anyone who can write better.” He is silent on cheaper, but he didn’t work for free…

    I can’t in good conscious be part of your braintrust since I don’t accept the premise that all voices should be empowered. The dangerous flip side to Leibling quote about freedom of the press is that when everyone can publish their every thought at the click of a mouse, we cease to have common references with or against which to calibrate our collective understanding. We self-select into ever smaller communities of narrow interests, with diminishing abilities to empathize, compromise, or even take interest in others outside the group that shares our interest. My apologies if that seems unduly cynical.

    I don’t want people like me serving as “journalists.” I want journalists to be smarter and better informed than I am (believe me, it’s not that high a bar — just ask my kids). I find the conventions of traditional journalism very useful: there’s news on the news pages and opinion on the opinion pages. I can validate the former against the empirical reality of my own knowledge and experience, and I can discount the latter against the same standards. Sure, the news is influenced by special interests with money; if a hard working reporter retains her integrity, her publisher might not be so pure. But the new media world in which every opinion finds an outlet is also easily influenced by special (if only quirky individual) interests.

    I can think of only four revenue streams that can be combined to form a business model for your RepJ project:

    Subscription fees (and the sale of subscriber data)
    Contributions (or the ability to absorb losses, in the case of many for-profit traditional media outlets)
    Auxiliary enterprises (events, tchotchkes, syndication of content and other licensing, etc.)

    In terms of nonprofit media, The Progressive and The Nation use all of these tools in both print and online editions (well, the online content is largely “free,” meaning paid for elsewhere, including in ads on the sites), and both do sustained investigative work.

    In proposing “solution-oriented journalism” you’ve brought me back to my question about public relations. How is solution-oriented journalism different in any substantive way from PR, lobbying or any other form of advocacy or activism? Pretty slippery slope here.

    Ultimately, revenue flows to a quality product for which there is a sufficiently large demand. (Duh!) At the moment I’d say the jury is out on the RepJ “product” (meaning both an understanding of what it is or could be, and an assessment of its quality), and it’s an open question if reductions in and frustrations with other sources of news and community conversation will create a large enough local market with enough demand to provide the financial resources.

    January 3, 2009
  68. Mona Obremski said:

    Anne Bretts:OK, so you would need 500 people to cough $1 a week to pay even a minimum starting salary and probably no benefits.
    Who hires the reporter?

    Good question and I’d like to know the answer as well, Anne, with an e.
    In my state, an employer must provide an employee, with a health care plan.

    Griff – I’m sending you a percentage of my donation to public broadcasting. I wish there were a logrono in my town and I’m sure that you wish there was too.

    January 4, 2009
  69. Leonard Witt said:

    Randy in #69 writes:

    I want journalists to be smarter and better informed than I am …

    Good luck, I have been around journalists most of my adult life and I know the vast majority are not smarter than you are. Indeed, they are fairly typical folk. They know what they know, what they specialize in, but beyond that they are no smarter than the average person. They need YOUR collective help to better understand issues.

    Speaking of smart, let’s go to Griff in #66, he has a well defined vision of what civic engagement could be. Indeed, I hope the triumvirate, Bonnie and the Locally Grown community can take the NTV story as far along that civic engagement path as possible.

    Let’s repeat what Griff wrote:

    As an example, Bonnie’s story on NTV could result in the Council taking steps to address the issue. A new community media task force could be formed and some citizens who’ve been engaged in helping Bonnie to write that story might step forward to volunteer to serve on that task force, to contribute ideas to the task force, to speak to their councilors about it, to write letters to the editor or blog about it. And maybe one of those citizens will have such a good experience with that level of engagement that they’ll seek appointment on another board or commission or even decide to run for office some day. That’s just one civic capacity-building scenario I could imagine.

    So to make all of the above happen, what are the next steps?

    One more Griff item, this one from #67:

    our civic issues require the involvement of our elected representatives who have to seek out the viewpoints of the broader citizenry, not just the “citizen driven-deliberations” of those online.

    And that’s why I think a mission that emphasizes civic-capacity building is better.

    I totally agree that “civic-capacity building” is the higher virtue and that informed deliberation either face to face or via places such as Locally Grown is but one component of getting the capacity building done. However, without that informed deliberation component, I don’t think you can have a robust civic space.

    So the mission is civic capacity building. One tool is informed public deliberation.

    I will be in Northfield and environs from Jan. 15 to 18. I would love to host a little get together for the Locally Grown community, perhaps just to say hello and to celebrate the accomplishments here at Locally Grown but maybe also to collectively map out the architecture that Griff proposes. Your thoughts?

    January 4, 2009
  70. kiffi summa said:

    Leonard : I responded to you back in my comment #57 (jan2, 7:39am) but it got buried, so you might not have seen it… Could you look back and respond if interested?

    Mona: ‘Thread Drift’ … but you definitely get the award for the coolest gravatar!

    January 4, 2009
  71. David Ludescher said:

    Leonard: The goal of journalism should be the truth.

    January 4, 2009
  72. Leonard Witt said:

    First David at #73, yes, the goal of journalism should be truth, but whose truth, yours or mine? Dewey’s or Lippman’s? A reporter’s embedded in a tank or a civilian’s on the receiving end of that’s tank’s mission?

    On Kiffi at #57. Clay Shirky is the author of a book entitled Here Comes Everybody. He is brilliant, I will let him answer your question about newspapers and revenues with an interview he did at the Columbia Journalism Review. Part II of that interview is entitled: ““Newspapers have discovered civic function awfully late to be taken seriously”

    Then he says:

    Five years ago, I think I would have bet on the newspapers as they exist today being a big part of that new equilibrium—but, you know, they’ve done very, very little and been really unimaginative. So now, I think, if I had to make the same bet, I’d say most newspapers aren’t going to survive. Every bit of concern around the Web is, “How can we raise revenues to our existing cost structure?” rather than “How can we lower our cost structure to meet our existing revenues?”

    Jeff Jarvis at Buzzmachine makes a long listof newspaper woes, with these two included:

    Jeffrey Cole of the University of Southern California Annenberg School’s Center for the Digital Future found in a 2007 survey that young people 12 to 25 will “never read a newspaper.” Never.

    • In 2008, the American Society of Newspaper Editors took “paper” out of its name.

    Good news…

    • But newspaper online site audience has long since surpassed print circulation, reaching 69 million unique users in fall 2008, according to NAA.

    • And the total online news audience is about 100 million—more than half total U.S. internet users—according to ComScore.

    So you and I might love newspapers, but we are a dwindling breed. That, to take us get back to Randy, is the truth and it is hard to deny.

    January 4, 2009
  73. kiffi summa said:

    Re : # 73 ,David says to Leonard: ” The goal of journalism should be the truth.”
    I think it’s a tad more complicated than that …
    I would say: A goal of journalism should be accuracy in reporting, given that “truth” may be difficult to establish, except with regard to Fact.

    January 5, 2009
  74. David Koenig said:

    Is it “truth”or “transparency”. I would tend to think the latter given the subjective nature of the former (as Leonard pointed out).

    January 5, 2009
  75. David Ludescher said:

    Griff and Leonard: One premise of citizen journalism seems to be that traditional forms of journalism, i.e. newspapers are failing because of the poor quality of the content.

    An additional premise is that citizen journalism will result in better content, which in turn, will result in greater readership.

    I don’t think either of these premises are true. An active, engaged online community may be no more helpful to civic community building than television was to education.

    Leonard: Your comments on the “truth” are telling. If you don’t know what the truth is, think that it is subjective, or think that it depends upon whose viewpoint is told, how is the journalist to decide what he or she should write? Does it depend upon who you want to sell it to?

    January 5, 2009
  76. Leonard Witt said:

    David Ludescher #77

    Professional journalism is not perfect. Citizen journalism is not perfect. Nonetheless, I am an advocate of professional journalism, that’s what Rep J is all about. But I think it will get better with citizen participation.

    David, you define truth for me. But to keep it on target, do it in relationship to journalism.

    January 5, 2009
  77. Anne Bretts said:

    Newspapers aren’t ‘failing’ because content is poor any more than CDs are failing because music is lousy. CDs are failing because people are downloading music, and newspapers are failing because the Internet offers more content than can fit on the finite space in a newspaper. They’re failing because journalists sold them to ‘investment groups’ who sucked all the value out of them, leveraged them to the hilt and walked away with their commissions while the papers were left swimming in debt they couldn’t cover even if the industry weren’t changing.
    But journalism won’t die, just like music hasn’t died. It has just changed.
    Artists are making their own music and videos and creating their own fan bases and business models. Unfortunately, most don’t make money. But some do. Bloggers generally don’t make money, but occasionally one breaks through. Huffington Post is a glowing example of ‘new’ journalism that is not only smart, energetic and comprehensive but financially successful — at least for the owner. Sadly, the writers aren’t paid…so I guess that makes them citizen journalists, too, at least for now. Funny how the workers always end up the guinea pigs.

    January 5, 2009
  78. Griff Wigley said:

    James Poniewozik has a column in Time this week titled MediaApocolypse Now / An End, and a Beginning, for the Media

    People want the vetted information the news media offer–and they want to riff on it, respond to it and even, as in Mumbai, add to it. Journalists should embrace that rather than futilely fight it.

    This means offering users more ways of interacting, commenting and contributing. It means seeing new media not as the dumbing down of civilization but as a new way of telling stories and even finding stories. And it means recognizing that the audience is no longer passive–it wants and expects to participate, even as it wants help in making sense of the info deluge.

    In other words, the media business needs to see that the shovel it got whacked with–the change in the way people communicate and the spreading of that power–is not necessarily a weapon or a means to make our graves. It’s just a tool. Time to start digging.

    January 5, 2009
  79. Griff Wigley said:

    Kiffi (#68), I’m not discouraged by the lack of turnout at most City Council meetings or candidate forums. Those are primarily one-way communication venues that require overcoming a fear of public speaking to actively participate… plus, as you say, most people are interested in issues that affect them most closely. Hence, the relatively large turnout tonight at City Hall for the Way Park public hearing… I’d guess 50 or more attended for that issue. I think 6 12 spoke. Others wrote letters, polled their neighbors, and convened local meetings. To me, that’s robust civic engagement.

    I’m encouraged by the 6-7,000 people who show up at LG every month.

    I’m encouraged by the 20,200 comments that have submitted thus far.

    I’m encouraged by the number of people I meet who’ve never added a comment here but who speak knowledgeably about the issues being discussed because they’ve been following along.

    To me, all that’s a part, albeit small, of building civic capacity in the citizenry.

    January 5, 2009
  80. Griff Wigley said:

    Randy (#69), I agree that the technology has enabled people to “self-select into ever smaller communities of narrow interests, with diminishing abilities to empathize, compromise, or even take interest in others outside the group that shares our interest.”

    Which is why I choose to spend time using online tools to enhance GEOGRAPHIC community.

    And it’s partly why I embraced Len’s RepJ concept because it would mean having a reporter who could help bring more voices to the issues being discussed online — people whose opinions we don’t tend to hear here.

    What I don’t understand is why you object to Bonnie posing questions publicly while she’s working on a story.  

    If any good reporter interviewed you over the phone about an issue, say NTV, they might say, “Randy, who else do you think I should talk to about this issue?”

    You might give them a name of someone who sides with you on the issue, or you might give them the name of someone who you respect in general who might contribute.  They may or may not follow up on your suggestions.  They might interview David Koenig next and could ask him, “Randy Jennings thinks I should also talk to John Doe and Mary Smith. What do you think of those suggestions?”

    And so on.

    So why not do some of that publicly here where hundreds of people have a chance to suggest names or react to the names being suggested?

    Likewise, a reporter interviewing you might challenge your assertions, might invite you to challenge their assertions, might call back to clarify a point further after they interviewed someone else.

    Why not do some of that publicly, too? Why not leverage the medium to try to harness more of the collective intelligence of the citizenry instead of just one-on-one, reporter-to-interviewee?

    Ultimately, Bonnie still has to put her journalist hat on to make sense of it all and produce the quality artifact that we all want.

    But the process leading up to that artifact can be very different…. more collaborative and more transparent. And the end product has a better chance of being appreciatively received by the citizenry.

    January 5, 2009
  81. David Ludescher said:

    Leonard: Journalism is true if what is written corresponds to what exists in experience.

    Randy J. has already articulated the main problem with citizen journalism – the lack of discipline in addressing the truth of citizen input.

    January 5, 2009
  82. Randy Jennings said:

    Prof. Witt,
    When we talk about the death of newspapers, what will that mean to the production of the original content that is repackaged and discussed in the blogosphere? I don’t necessarily find the shift from newsPAPER readers to newspaper ONLINE readers to be all that problematic. The delivery of the information to the consumer really isn’t the issue. More interesting is the question of who/what will generate the content. Right now, the vast majority of the news material I see online has been produced by professional journalists, working in professional news organizations (some print, some broadcast, but relatively little originated by internet-only sources).

    The value, to me, of these traditional news organizations isn’t that professionals have a handle on truth. I differ with David L. in that I don’t want my journalists thinking that they are reporting the truth. I want them reporting as objectively and dispassionately as is humanly possible. I want them obsessed with factual material, with documenting their sources, and with giving thought to what they report *before* they publish. This, Griff, is my objection to posting material as works-in-process. Publishing a half-reported story gives people the impression that what they are reading is complete, largely because that’s the way — rightly or wrongly — we’ve been acculturated. When someone posts incomplete, or worse, eroneous information, even with the best of intentions to be “transparent,” there’s a genie let out of the bottle that can’t be recaptured with an update or a correction. Sure, transparency is generally a good thing, but it’s not an end state.

    Imagine the headline: GRIFF WIGLEY IS A ROTTEN PERSON. Then, a few days later the correction, buried on page 2, or down a screen or two: “Correction: Griff Wigley is not so rotten after all.” Which will people notice and remember? The first impression, the first reporting on a story, has far more impact than the correction or completion.

    While I respect the effort you (Griff) put into trying to make Locally Grown a beneficial forum for community conversation, at the end of the day it is a commentary dominated by the views a few people who do not, in any democratic sense, represent anyone. There is one main blogger, two partners in the blogging, a couple dozen dominant responding voices, another hundred or so occasional respondents, and a bunch of lurkers. It’s not a forum that reaches any more Northfielders than the Nfld News or the city newsletter stuffed in our utility bills. Because it moves more quickly, though, Locally Grown is able to convey an impression of greater community engagement. I’m not sure greater velocity equals a more democratic process. I’d prefer to continue to vote for my representatives, rather than accept whomever blogs fastest.

    I spent a lot of years working in the book publishing industry. We’ve been moaning about the death of the book for two or three decades, but somehow the number of titles published continues to grow. I’d guess the news-gathering function of traditional media will continue to limp along for quite some time. In the meantime, I’ll just curl up with a good book…

    January 5, 2009
  83. Anne Bretts said:

    Kiffi, I know you didn’t ask me, but the answer is having a comprehensive plan, a parks plan, a transportation grid, a zoning code, a whole set of community wide priorities against which you can measure an individual project.
    It’s the same principle that keeps victims from serving on the jury of their attackers, that keeps doctors from treating their own families and keep journalists from serving on the public bodies they cover.
    People in the neighborhood get a say, they just don’t get the final say. That goes to the council, which represents the entire community.

    January 6, 2009
  84. Jerry Friedman said:

    David L.’s and my (much smaller) legal background probably influences our shared position on the obligation of journalists to publish the truth. While two people can look at the same event and derive different conclusions, the truth has more to do with the facts of the event and less to do with the journalist’s conclusion. As Randy just commented, a conclusion of “GRIFF WIGLEY IS A ROTTEN PERSON” has no underlying facts. If the article included facts that support such a conclusion, the headline might be sensational but the article would be good journalism.

    I don’t suggest that journalists should avoid publishing their conclusions. An article stating facts, but no analysis nor conclusion, would be a dry recipe of an event. I recall Charles Darwin being criticized as a scientist because he published facts, analyses and conclusions instead of just facts. He retorted that a geologist who reported the quantities and qualities of rocks, but offered no analysis, was not fulfilling his role as a scientist, explaining the meaning of the rocks. I find this example to apply directly to journalism. A journalist’s job is to report the facts and explain them through the journalist’s point-of-view.

    If the facts are faithfully presented, then a journalist’s wrong conclusion will do little harm. Wrong conclusions are not to be feared. No journalist, no editor, is perfect. What I fear is when key facts are missing or warped.

    So what is “truth”? For journalism, it’s like scientific work. Look at all the facts. Identify the key facts. And write the story of what happened including at minimum all of the key facts. What is a key fact? It’s a fact that, in its absence, would have changed the event.

    I believe that the tendency of major media to seek advertising, especially to pay their journalists and themselves, causes sensationalism to be the goal, and in turn, hurts the truth from getting out. Journalism can be sensationalistic so long as the goal is to publish the facts. Again I cite the Fox story about harmful levels of BGH (bovine growth hormone) in milk, and Monsanto (who manufactures artificial BGH) got the story killed. The worst part of major media, a corruption of their oath to journalism, is the very best part of citizen journalism, because Monsanto could not silence all the citizen journalists like they were able to silence one corporation.

    January 6, 2009
  85. kiffi summa said:

    Process issue: Griff : Your comment of Jan5,9:53 replies to my comment , #59, but I have no comment with that number on my screen; number 59 is from Randy Jennings … so I have no idea “que pasa”?
    This must be an anomaly of your holding comments back, or else you just quoted an incorrect number.

    January 6, 2009
  86. Anne Bretts said:

    The nearby report on the Way Park public hearing is a classic example of the benefits and dangers of civic engagement.
    There were about 50 people there it seems, mostly those who live around the park and want the road closed. It’s great that they showed up, but 50 people out of a population of 20,000 is a very small special interest group. If the road closing had been in conflict with the city’s master plan and traffic grid, the council would have had to try to explain to the good people that just because a vocal group dominates a meeting, that doesn’t equate to the decision being either popular or in the public good. Happily, it seems the residents and the plan were in agreement.
    The danger only comes when the people who show up at a meeting believe they speak for anyone but themselves or the folks they’ve contacted and have authority to represent.
    I’ve mentioned before that this is like the parents who show up to fight a school closing and feel betrayed when they don’t prevail, when the board has to act for the benefit of an entire district.
    As long as everyone can keep things in perspective, civic engagement is a wonderful process.

    January 6, 2009
  87. kiffi summa said:

    Griff; re your #81, I would agree that is robust civic engagement, all well documented as part of a legal process, a Public Hearing., which the city is obligated to engage in for the closing of a street.
    How would you answer Anne’s claim, #87, of competing “benefits and dangers” of those who show up, and those who (presumably) do not care enough to show up?
    I simply can’t think of how to count the opinion of those who are silent … Ouija Board?
    Have you got a solution to that , Griff?

    January 6, 2009
  88. David Ludescher said:

    Randy: Clarification – I want my journalists to be concerned with seeking the truth, not thinking that they have the truth. Reporting objectively and dispassionately is important. Reporting completely is also a requirement.

    I refuse to believe that the truth is so elusive that we should focus on other goals, such as tranparency or engagement.

    January 6, 2009
  89. kiffi summa said:

    So … keeping in mind Bonnie’s ‘morning after’ interview with our new Mayor, and the one response I see this morning, which gives a “C-” for technique, the questions must be asked:
    1. Is NF UN-accepting of a straightforward , actual interview technique? Is it somehow too ‘harsh’ in this cultural venue?
    2. Is it more or less, unfair to let the interviewee speak in their own words, or to have the reporter possibly assign some descriptive word to a person’s actions, as other local news sources continually do?

    Re: #2, I’ll take the privilege of answering my own question: I think we, the readers, are all thinking persons, able to evaluate the situation in which the information was gathered, and therefore able to evaluate the quality of the answers.
    I can easily set aside it was the morning after being sworn in, and the new Mayor’s answers, if leaving something to be desired in either style or content, should be judged only within the existing environment.
    For instance, I saw/heard the answers re ‘public process’ as regulating to LIMIT, rather than regulating to PROVIDE … but that would be in opposition to Mayor Rossing’s campaign rhetoric, so I am willing to say, “Tough situation for speaking off the top of one’s head, so, wait and see”…

    Let’s not always shoot the messenger.

    January 7, 2009
  90. David Koenig said:

    David L, “transparency” in this setting is about bringing facts and context to light. I think that is what you are talking about, not “truth”.

    How one interprets those facts and the context in which they have come about is how one might decide what is the “truth” in their minds, similar to how a jury of peers would render a verdict.

    If not, you should answer Leonard’s question to you in post #74 about what “truth” means: “whose truth…a reporter’s embedded in a tank or a civilian’s on the receiving end of that’s tank’s mission?”

    January 7, 2009
  91. David Ludescher said:

    David K: Juries decide the facts, not the truth. Courts administer justice, not truth.

    January 7, 2009
  92. David Koenig said:

    David L, it would seem to me that juries decide the truth based on the facts and context presented to them. Or, at least their best opinion of the truth based on the aforementioned.

    Facts are not things that are determined by opinion. They either are or are not factual. So, maybe we see the meaning of terms “truth” and “fact” differently.

    How do you respond to Leonard’s question, though, about which is the truth in the situation he describes? Do you agree that there may be two or more “truths” in this situation?

    January 7, 2009
  93. kiffi summa said:

    David K. and David L.: I don’t think the two of you are going to agree in this semantic game.
    But I also have a question for David L.: Have you ever served on a jury? (Maybe attorneys are not permitted to do so???)
    If you have ever served on a jury which is considering a very serious, VERY serious question, you would believe that there is no more ‘truthful’ concept of the ‘truth’, than that put forth by “Rashomon”. The higher the stakes the more perceptions of each person as to their version of the truth.

    January 7, 2009
  94. David Henson said:

    I know this is thread drift but 90-95% of felonies in the US are handled by plea bargain … so must judges and juries never get to hear facts. This is a very sad fact in country that once held ‘trial by jury’ as a cornerstone of freedom.

    January 7, 2009
  95. Jerry Friedman said:

    David K: My understanding of “transparency” is when a journalist shows the process and identifies the sources of the story. Transparency allows anyone to follow the same process and access the same sources in order to verify the story. As with government, transparency is an immense asset for credibility.

    On the contrary, “truth” is not about process but it’s about reporting on key facts, material facts, from all sides.

    If we ran a psychological study on the moral development of children, and we report only on the nice boys and the mean girls, we are working against “truth”. Our readers would be deprived of key facts and they may accept our flawed analysis and conclusion.

    When a journalist obscures facts, the danger is the probability of readers to accept the journalist’s flawed analysis and conclusion. But if the journalist presents facts, even if the journalist’s analysis and conclusion are wrong, the reader is better equipped to draw a different and better conclusion. The journalist should report on the tank’s crew and the tank’s victims, or else “truth” suffers. Such reporting is not favored by sensationalists, propagandists, and patriots, but journalists should have no loyalty to them.

    January 7, 2009
  96. Jerry Friedman said:

    David L: Juries are charged with determining the truth. They hear the evidence (or facts) and work to determine which facts as true.

    If witness “A” says that the defendant killed Superman, and witness “B” says that someone else killed Superman, the jury’s responsibility is to determine the truth.

    As a practical matter, juries don’t always determine the truth. But it’s their job to try.

    Kiffi: Lawyers may serve on juries but for various reasons don’t usually get the opportunity to do so. I have served on a jury once. The defendant was charged with impersonating a police officer. Two jurors frightened me, the foreman who after two days of deliberation said, “I have a business to run. Let’s just convict this guy and get out of here.” Second was a juror who said he was scared by a man waving a gun, so people should not impersonate police officers, so the defendant was guilty. His opinion had nothing to do with the trial.

    January 7, 2009
  97. David Ludescher said:

    David K: My response to Leonard is: “What side does the journalist want to present – her own, the tank side, the civilian side, the newspaper’s, the one that will sell the most papers or the one that takes into consideration all of these sides (or in the case of RepJ – citizens who care to participate)?

    David, I would like to suggest that you are confusing the inability to know the truth with certainty and the non-existence of the truth. Within all the viewpoints (and perhaps others) there exists one truth that remains true regardless of the vantage point. This is the truth that I would like my journalist to pursue.

    Griff: Having citizens all be journalists and proclaiming the result to be true is an attempt at democratizing the news. The concept doesn’t get better by labeling it citizen involvement, or worse yet, capacity-building. I don’t know what it means, let alone why we would prefer capacity-building over the facts or the truth.

    January 7, 2009
  98. john george said:

    Jerry- In certain trials, evidence (facts) can be suppressed, if there is reason to believe they are tainted in some way. It seems the same process is done in journalism by the editorial staff. As you know, eye witness accounts are notoriously biased because we all screen what we see through our experiences, thus tainting our perception. A video camera, for instance, does not do this. I don’t think any of us are as unbiased as a camera.

    January 7, 2009
  99. David Koenig said:

    David L, interesting perspective that there exists only one truth….time to call in the Philosophy profs as it’s getting way outside my area of expertise! But, it is an interesting statement and I mean that in a positive way. I assume you don’t intend religious overtones in that statement.

    Jerry, also an interesting perspective on transparency being a process. I tend to think of it as an end, but there is a process to creating it and I like your notion that good transparency gives someone else a way to validate the conclusion. It’s equivalent, I suppose, to the transparency required in a scientific study so that results can be independently duplicated.

    Griff, this part of the discussion may add no value to the original post, but has resulted in some thought-provoking issues.

    January 7, 2009
  100. David Ludescher said:

    David K: I hope that the discussion would create some further thought about why we would want a vibrant online ecosystem.

    Randy Jennings has raised valid questions about objectivity and dispassion. I have further concerns about the exclusive nature of the online community, and the “value” of civic engagement to the community.

    Interestingly, “lack of confidence in the truth” is one of the afflictions identified by Pope Benedict as a barrier to creating a fruitful dialogue with other cultures. Lack of confidence that there is truth creates an undifferentiated pluralism which masquerades as tolerance.

    January 8, 2009
  101. Tracy Davis said:

    David L., I’m sincerely trying to understand your point of view.

    First, why would we NOT want a vibrant online ecosystem and/or civic engagement?

    Second, the online community is one of the *least* exclusive in my experience. The issue of technology haves and have-nots is becoming more moot as time and technology progress…. It’s certainly a red herring in this discussion that’s Northfield-specific. Anyone in this community can take computer classes for free through Community Ed, and there are several public terminals around town in addition to the ones at the public library. Anyone with the inclination can obtain an email address and publish a blog for FREE. People in underdeveloped countries around the world have figured out how to use this technology. How much more inclusive could it be?

    January 8, 2009
  102. David Ludescher said:

    Tracy: Who is the “we” that wants a vibrant online community?

    Civic engagement can be a good and a bad thing. My observation on civic engagement in Northfield is that it tends to be more about lobbying for special interests than community well-being. The Way Park issue is an example where civic engagement is an attempt to benefit a small group to the detriment of the larger community.

    As technology advances, the divide between the have and have-nots is growing greater. When our computer went on the blink, my 16 year old had to go to school early, leave late, stand in line, skip lunch, and call friends. In my day, the teacher gave everyone the homework assignment and you only needed a pencil and paper.

    January 9, 2009
  103. Randy Jennings said:


    We’ve got two separate issues here, the “ecosystem” for community conversation and whether or not this platform can sustain journalism. The characteristics of the former are a work in process; the latter is what we’ve mostly been discussing on this thread.

    I’m all for a vibrant online ecosystem as one more element in a broad community coversation, with two caveats:

    1) Locally Grown is not, in any way, a representative forum. I don’t know if you or Ross think it is or should be; Griff is consistently inconsistent about this. He writes about capacity-building, but also periodically reminds people that the triumverate members are the bloggers and everyone else just a commentor. Griff is willing to censor others or chastize them for their tone, but then drops out of conversations (like this one) when others disagree with his view. It’s an ecosystem with one dominate species. It would be a harmless and amusing backwater, if there wasn’t a stated interest in having Locally Grown take a greater role in influencing local public policy. In my view, this forum is far too undisciplined and unrepresentative to be trusted with such a role.

    (It is unfortunate that the work of many thoughtful and well-informed contributors is often diminished by the fluff and the less-thoughtful and less-informed commentors. Maybe that’s the price of being an inclusive ecosystem.)

    2) Relative to the size and composition of the geographic community, it is a forum that reflects the opinions of too few individuals, and most of them have no interest in changing their minds (myself probably included). I can think of many times people have respected the differing opinions of others, or said they understand the others’ point of view, or agreed to disagree. It’s mostly civil. But I can’t think of a single example of someone changing a firmly held position as a result of what is written here. This is a great forum for parallel play, but rarely (maybe never?) for building consensus about pressing community issues.

    Back to the point of this thread: It ain’t journalism, at least not as I understand journalism. There are probably many truths we’d collectively hold to be self-evident, but our community would be better served by more facts, so that in discussion we could try to forge a community consensus about what we want to do. It is not a reporter’s job to shape that consensus, and to the extent he/she tries, his/her credibility as a journalist is compromised.

    There are many places where advocacy is allowed in journalism. Editorials provided news organizations a format to opine; columnists make their careers taking a fact or two and expressing passionate opinions about what they mean. But here in Nfld we already have plenty of opinions and we’ve got no shortage of people who already know their “truth” on any given question. What we lack is good, old-fashioned, factual reporting. And that has nothing to do with technology. I’d also argue that such reporting serves a community of interest, rather than is created by such a community.

    January 9, 2009
  104. Jerry Friedman said:

    Randy: I agree with the spirit and most of the substance of your post. I have great affinity for David L.’s criticisms of blogging as citizen journalism/governance/etc. And I enjoy others’ criticisms as well.

    Nonetheless, I expect Locally Grown to be a ‘work in progress’, a version 10 software with updates forthcoming, etc. If we participate, we shape this LG community. According to the rules of evolution, if LG serves Northfield, it will grow and thrive. If not, it will be replaced by a more successful model. If its vision proves to be detrimental or unpopular, it will go extinct.

    The time between today and the answers to Locally Grown’s future will be filled with what we citizen “bloggers” want to make of LG. I am eager to see how LG evolves and I am happy to be part of its evolution. I won’t criticize LG for not being a traditional newspaper, for that’s not its vision. I might criticize it for larger issues, such as the triumvirate’s role as censors. If LG seeks to be a medium for Northfield discussion and a censor, that conflict must be resolved. If LG seeks to be a private project for civil discussion, censorship is unfortunate, but it isn’t so nefarious.

    In short, I especially enjoy reading your critical views on LG along with others. I hope that your (plural) reaction is to participate with LG to help it grow rather to abandon it and watch it go extinct. Extinction is not objectively bad, but LG has an appeal for several Northfielders and with our participation, it can do better.

    January 9, 2009
  105. kiffi summa said:

    Randy : Thank you for your clearly stated evaluation in #107.
    Close to the end you say “What we lack is good old-fashioned, factual reporting.”
    This has been my constant complaint for several years; I do not believe that the NFNews reports in a well rounded entirety, and is also derelict in failing to ask the ‘cogent’ question. I feel their reporting has often been selective and has chosen sides in the reporting function, as opposed to leaving the ‘choosing sides’ writing to editorial opinion. But my views on the News are well known…

    I look at the NFNews site often, just to see what hijinks the anonymous commenters are accusing those ‘wicked’ Summas of at any given relevant … or more often non-relevant… moment.

    With relevance to the citizen journalism direction of this thread, there is an interesting little ‘struggle ‘ going on with regard to an anonymous comment posted on the news story about last Monday’s Board and Commission appointments . A comment was posted regarding Councilor Denison’s vote to NOT approve Andrew Berglund’s re-appointment to the Rental ( Code) Board of Appeals. This comment suggested that Councilor Denison should not have voted on that appointment since he has been in a multi-year legal conflict with Mr. Berglund, resulting from Mr. Denison’s tenancy with Berglund.
    Court records were cited , but the comment disappeared… I assumed pulled by the management… who were asked by the commenter to ‘tell the story’.
    Occasionally, I have noticed that Jaci Smith will enter the commentary, and explain a position; that did not happen this time.

    Having often felt that comments allowed there were very questionable, I am wondering what happened?
    How valuable are citizen journalist’s comments, even if backed up with court records, when the c.j. doesn’t have all the paper and the ink?

    January 9, 2009
  106. Griff Wigley said:

    Randy, I’ve not dropped out of this conversation. I posted lengthy comments last Friday and more again on Monday. I’ve been following along this week and reading other sources about the issue.

    As for dropping out when others disagree with me, it may happen but I don’t think it’s a pattern. For example, I invited you to be on our radio show:

    Podcast: Randy Jennings critiques Locally Grown

    Our guest today was Randy Jennings, local citizen, long time Northfielder, and eloquent critic of Locally Grown. We mostly discussed his criticism of the recent controversial blog posts and comment threads about the 6/2 Council meeting and the CVB’s performance, with an occasional tangent about citizen journalism.

    Another example: Feedback wanted: our coverage of the heroin story.

    Back on topic: I’ll have more comments soon.

    January 9, 2009
  107. Griff Wigley said:

    I like to think that what often happens here on LG and on many other blogs in town are random acts of journalism by citizens, spelled out in that J-Lab article at the American University’s School of Communication.

    I also like the concise definition of citizen journalism authored by NYU Professor of Journalism Professor Jay Rosen:

    When the people  formerly known as the audience employ the press tools they have in their possession to inform one another, that’s citizen journalism.

    So RepJ is not citizen journalism. Bonnie’s a professional journalist who’s practicing her craft on a citizen journalism platform that’s run by 3 amateur journalists who used to be ‘the audience.’

    January 9, 2009
  108. kiffi summa said:

    Re: my #110 , on what I termed a ‘struggle’ over a comment attached to the news story about board and Commission appointments on the NFNews site, that comment is back up again! … and if there’s something changed, I can’t see what it is, not having a copy of the first one.
    It might be instructive to know what the issue was, or maybe it was just some sort of electronic glitch?

    January 9, 2009
  109. Isolated facts do not necessarily paint a true picture. Facts need context. Information can be more true or less true depending on the context.

    The project I’m working on has a journalist who reports facts by putting information in an area on the Web site distinct from comments, similar to what you see on newspaper and magazine Web sites now (although our project’s model is still malleable on all accounts).

    Part of what a RepJ reporter does now is to solicit input from readers. That input, when it is listed in the comments section, is not part of the professionally written story, and so information or opinion there does not directly negate the facts in the original posting.

    Perhaps if the reporter made a mistake, the comment can help the reporter know which facts to double check. Then, the reporter can write an update or add to the professionally written story and make a correction.

    Comments do help to build a context for facts.

    As I see it, reader input is an added resource for the reporter, not the sole resource. How can more resources be bad? The interaction can also be fun for journalists and readers. Not every reader making a comment has good information. But, in this model, the door is open for the “average” Joe or Jane to shine as someone who helped their community reporter collect good information. Nearly everyone is an expert at something, and no expert knows everything.

    January 9, 2009
  110. Griff Wigley said:

    Randy wrote:

    This, Griff, is my objection to posting material as works-in-process. Publishing a half-reported story gives people the impression that what they are reading is complete, largely because that’s the way — rightly or wrongly — we’ve been acculturated.

    Randy, what if Bonnie used two distinctly different RepJ blog posts:

    • The backstory (for lack of a better term right now). A short blog post by Bonnie announcing her intent to do a story. The post would be written in the 1st person blog style, with updates, questions, the wondering, the reflections, etc. all attached as subsequent comments. Branded with her photo, NOT the RepJ logo.
    • The artifact. The big complete story, written in typical reporter/3rd person style. Branded at the top with the RepJ logo.

    Would that help?

    January 9, 2009
  111. Griff Wigley said:

    I got an email from a citizen wondering about the origin of the phrase ‘civic capacity-building.”

    Sean Kershaw, Executive Director of the Citizens League, speaks/writes frequently about ‘capacity.’ The League’s Who We Are page says:

    The Citizens League builds civic imagination and capacity in Minnesota by:

    • Identifying, framing and proposing solutions to public policy problems;
    • Developing civic leaders in all generations who can govern for the common good; and
    • Organizing the individual and institutional relationships necessary to achieve these goals.

    Their page on Active Citizenship and Civic Leadership says:

    Developing civic capacity needs to be a part of everything we do: from casual gatherings such as our Policy and a Pint series, to public policy development, to structured classes that help people be part of an ongoing civic base.

    In his Dec. 07 Viewpoint column he wrote:

    If we want citizens and institutions to participate in making transportation policy we need to make the true costs of our driving decisions clearer. The decisions citizens make about where and how to drive or ride and where to live and work, and the decisions big companies make about flexible work schedules and telecommuting, matter as much as many of the decisions made by the Legislature. This civic approach to policy-making is practical. We believe it is the only way to efficiently and sustainable address our transportation dilemmas. It is also good for our Minnesota democracy. Every time we exercise this civic decision-making authority we become better citizens.

    In a Jan. 8, 2008 blog post titled A new model for policy making: a “civic policy agenda” (Part II) he wrote:

    Our work with the MN Anniversary Project, and especially the Minnesota Active Citizenship Initiative, have led us to begin thinking and talking about a “civic policy agenda”. Peg Michels does a better job than I could explaining the ideas behind this concept, but the two key elements for me are:

    1) Seeing every citizen as a potential “policy-maker” — meaning that they have the capacity to describe problems, come up with solutions, and set policy and allocate resources to solve the problems. (Or as Nate would say…to “manage these dilemmas”.)

    2) Seeing every institution as having a role in policy-making. Imagine trying to solve education or healthcare with only state/government solutions, for example.

    This model isn’t hierarchical, for pretty obvious reasons. This model isn’t grass-roots either, because it acknowledges the role that traditional leaders and all institutions have.

    But is it a new way of talking about public policy, and does it highlight how much the world of policy-making has changed, or needs to change. Too much of our policy making still exists in a hierarchical world with government and experts at the top and other institutions and most citizens either struggling for their role, or not being acknowledged for the role they play.

    And in the latest issue (Nov/Dec) of the MN Journal, he writes:

    To achieve this we need to bring citizens into the process as partners to help produce and implement solutions in all institutions, not just government. We need to help citizens improve and “own” governance everywhere, not just at the state level. And more than ever, we need citizen buy-in to make the big changes that are needed (they are ready to play a bigger role in the process).

    January 9, 2009
  112. Griff Wigley said:

    I got this alert from NCO Board member Jane McWilliams:

    Beyond Letters to the Editor: How everyday people can be heard in Northfield

    A group of people involved in Northfield media will speak on Thursday, January 22 at 7:00 at the Grand. The event is the headliner for the annual meeting of Northfield Citizens on Line, the governing board of Northfield.org.

    An all-volunteer organization, the mission of NCO is to create an electronic commons that strengthens the fabric of the Northfield area. Board chair Ellen Iverson, said Northfield has a rich variety of media where citizen voices may be heard, including Northfield.org. “We’ve invited the speakers to explain how the public can use their medium to participate in the community conversation. There will be time for people to make comments to and ask questions of the panel.”

    Library Board Chair Margit Johnson will moderate the discussion. Members of the panel are:  Sam Gett, publisher, Northfield News: Griff Wigley, Locally Grown Northfield; Doug Bratland, Northfield.org board member; Jeff Johnson, owner, KYMN;  Rob Shanilec, publisher, Northfield Entertainment Guide; Brendon Etter, blogger; and Paul Hager, director, NTV.

    The NCO Board invites the public to attend and to take advantage of this opportunity to learn more about local media and how to get involved.

    January 12, 2009
  113. Howdy folks! It seems the action on this thread has died down a bit. I have a kind of off-shoot discussion point pertinent to some things mentioned in this thread in a post I just put up on the RepJ reporter process blog and there’s a poll if anyone’s interested. http://repjbonnie.wordpress.com

    Griff, is my mentioning this considered blog poaching? 🙂 If so, let me know and I apologize!

    February 6, 2009
  114. Anne Bretts said:

    As a member of the online community here for the last four years, I will take a minute to blog poach and note that we’re moving in a week.
    Our time here has been ‘interesting,’ to use a bit of Minnesota speak. I’ve met a lot of wonderful people and will take some good memories.
    We’re just moving back to Minnetonka, but we know lives move on and we won’t see many of you again. Thanks for the good times and interesting conversation. Feel free to keep in touch… editoranne@yahoo.com

    February 9, 2009
  115. William Siemers said:

    Anne…your comments have been thoughtful. Good luck.

    February 11, 2009
  116. Martha Cashman said:

    Anne’s departure from Northfield is sad, indeed. She always brought a thoughtful and well articulated position to all discussions. She always commented under her own name and stood by her statements. She has integrity — whether you agree or disagree with her. She has cared for Northfield. I for one will miss her. Perhaps she will continue to comment from afar. Bon Chance, Anne!

    February 11, 2009
  117. Anne Bretts said:

    Thanks so much for the kind comments. I’m still here for another week — and happy to escape the boxes for a farewell toast or lunch, so give me a call. I might even have a garage party to get rid of whatever doesn’t fit in the POD!
    And then I’ll be gone, but LGN is addictive, so I’m sure I’ll check in from time to time.

    February 11, 2009
  118. Bill Ostrem said:

    Anne, good luck to you in Minnetonka, part of my old stomping grounds, and thanks for your contributions to the Northfield community!

    February 16, 2009
  119. Anne Bretts said:

    Thanks yourself, Bill, for all that you’ve done. As I said before, I’ve met some wonderful people here, and you certainly are in that group. I am amazed at your knowledge about biking issues and your dedication to making Northfield more friendly to bicyclists and pedestrians.
    I’m looking forward to getting there, but the moving process is exhausting. It reminds me of the Bible story of the loaves and fishes. Everytime I think I’m almost done, I turn around and the piles of stuff seem to have replenished themselves!

    February 16, 2009

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