Monday, November 23, 2009
The Media Internet revolution: Version 3.0
We believe in the nimble, street-level approach to collecting news. We hope to offer great writing from seasoned journalists as well as fledgling reporting from citizens who agree to cover public meetings. Life is a Journey, and we are unfurling our sails.
Publisher, Northampton Media
This is how the seasoned Gadfly/Journalist/Information Technology guru turned Publisher described Northampton Media upon its recent September 15 launch. When asked what motivated the new on line endeavor, she enthusiastic replied: “I felt compelled--I couldn’t help it! I love the city of Northampton and felt the local daily newspapers were not doing their job covering local politics.”
With an "angel investor" providing $5,000 and a plethora of free advice from experts who had made the transition from print to Internet bandwidth, combined with her three-year experience doing IT development for the Daily Hampshire Gazette, Northampton Media can easily become the poster child for local Citizens Journalism in the Digital Age.
Serreze almost sounds as though she is taking this on-line journalism course, as she describes her role as a "curator and aggregater" of all things Northampton, freely linking to news articles in the Springfield Republican and radio station WHMP, and others not hidden behind a paywall.
Her goal is to make Northampton Media a “One stop shopping experience for fans of Northampton news.” She starts every morning doing a Google news search for anything concerning her adopted City of Northampton, where she has lived for twenty years.
The website already displays links to 25 local blogs (including mine) on the home page and photos or video accompany all posts (bordering on daily). A volunteer Arts/Entertainment editor starts work soon to diversify the offerings and make the site more mainstream.
Northampton Media is still a work in progress as Serreze says she launched a little early in order to closely cover the recent November 3 Northampton Mayoral election which certainly was one of the more contentious and as a result most interesting over the past dozen years.
The website is a step up from her blog as she feels that bloggers have undeservedly gotten a bad rap when it comes to journalism, so this new platform slightly disassociates from the term but still relies on the instant ability to post writing, photos, video and color graphics pioneered by Wordpress and Blogger.
While online since 1999 the Daily Hampshire Gazette has not embraced the Citizen Journalism movement, although editor Noah Hoffenberg says it is “not harmful or threatening to mainstream media.” In fact, he even went as far as saying it was a “good thing” citing “more people involved leads to a divergent perspective and opinions.”
The Gazette currently uses no outside bloggers or Citizen Journalists and doesn’t plan to in the near future. When they rolled out a major revamp of their website last year they had a half-dozen in house blogs from staff and editors but only the youngish sportswriter (former Daily Collegian writer) Matt Vautour seems to have thrived using the medium.
The Gazette is still very much a bricks-and-mortar newspaper (circulation about 20,000) and the website (about 1,000 subscribers) an afterthought. They layout/build the print edition first and then export to the web. But with their pedigree perhaps it is little wonder: The Daily Hampshire Gazette is one of the oldest papers in the nation first coming off the printing press in 1786.
And a recent $10 to $12 million investment in a new Italian four-color process printing press and the extensive renovation required to house it at their Conz Street, Northampton location underscores their continued faith in the printing press.
Although the building expansion/renovation seems not to have impressed former long-time editor and now publisher of downstreet.net Ed Shanahan, who quoted a local architect on his website last year: “I swear to God, that’s the first building that’s ever scared me.”
The Gazette continues to consider the Springfield Republican newspaper as their main competition, as two years ago they switched from an afternoon distribution to the early morning to match their rival.
And while they abandoned the idea of a Sunday edition they slightly revamped the Saturday edition (with the highest circulation of the week) and call it the "Weekend edition."
The Gazette also saw major changes four years ago when purchased by Newspapers of New England, a private company owned by folks with ink in their veins.
When I asked editor Hoffenberg why they simply do not issue digital cameras to reporters to go along with company issued laptops, he responded that it was a "quality" issue. Citizen Journalist or blog photos often do not look like the kind of photo that would pass muster for the Front Page.
Their staff photographers take photos and are good at it, their reporters write, and editors edit. Fair enough, but with all those layers to orchestrate immediacy is sacrificed--although in the last year or so they have gotten better with getting breaking news up on Gazettenet.
And although ensconced behind a paywall, they have recently started allowing non-subscribers to access articles that come up via a Google search. So they are, at least, starting to get it.
Conventional wisdom claims you "can't teach an old dog new tricks." With Northampton Media now nipping at their flank, the Gazette may want to take a refresher course in Internet news distribution.
Especially since they can conveniently do it on-line.