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Citizen Journalism 101: Building Your Own Media Outlet

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   So, you’ve tried to engage your local media outlet about becoming more connected with its community, and your concerns have fallen on deaf ears. Or, your community doesn’t have a media outlet to call its own.

   What do you do?

   Well, if you have the time, you can establish your own media outlet to cover your community. And, depending upon several factors, including the amount of time you can devote to the project and what monetary resources you have at your disposal, you can put together a pretty extensive little media empire all on your own.

   The 21st Century has certainly opened the door for citizens to become more involved. And, the goal of this installment is to show you just how easily it can be accomplished.

Step One: Choose your medium/media

   There are several ways you can convey your message to the world: print, audio, video, or Internet. Which one you choose will dictate: 1) the type of platform you will need, 2) the type of equipment you need to purchase, and 3) the way in which you need to promote your outlet to get the community to embrace your efforts.

Step Two-A: If you choose print media…

   Although very large daily newspapers have taken a hit in recent years — largely because of their lack of engagement with their communities — the small, weekly, community newspaper has been relatively unscathed by the supposed “demise” of the newspaper. In fact, the only thing that seems to be getting in the way of newspapers at all is the government’s interference in small, main street businesses, which constitute the bulk of the advertising revenue for smaller papers.

   If you decide to launch a newspaper, there are several other factors to keep in mind: 1) do you have a solid advertising support network available? 2) who will print your product, and have you factored that cost into your business plan? 3) do you have the resources to pull together a team of citizen journalists to provide a wealth of news copy?

   If, after considering these questions, you still proceed with the print medium, there are a number of free resources available to aid in the production of the newspaper. We’ll cover that next week. But, you will still need to purchase a few pieces of equipment, including: 1) a laptop computer with plenty of memory and wifi capability, 2) a digital SLR camera with video capture capability and high-speed lenses, and 3) a digital audio recorder.

How To Make a Radio Station from Free Radio on Vimeo.

Step Two-B: If you choose radio…

   It’s still possible to start up your own radio station. Low-power FM radio stations were authorized by Congress almost a decade ago, much to the chagrin of major radio conglomerates that said authorizing the use of these stations by non-profit local groups would somehow damage the airwaves.

   The FCC was asked to investigate these claims, and found LPFM stations were actually good for the public. So, last December, Congress passed the Local Community Radio Act — and President Obama signed it into law about a month later — so, it appears commercial-free radio over the airwaves is here to stay.

   To be honest, radio is not my area of expertise, but you can go here for some good ideas on getting your own LPFM station going. The Prometheus Project is a little political in its ambitions, but that’s not to say it doesn’t provide good ideas for starting a local media outlet.
Step Two-C: If you choose television…

   Developing your own local access television station is perhaps the most difficult medium to get started in, largely because television is the most regulated medium in the United States due to FCC licensing. Low-power television stations do remain an option, though.

   With a good business plan and a well thought-out niche audience, as well as a solid network of advertising supporters, it’s very much possible to get a station off the ground. Again, television is not an area of expertise for me, but again, this website will provide you with the information you need to get a good start.

Step Two-D: The Internet platform and convergence

   Personally, I believe the best option is the Internet, if you’re going to launch from Square One. It allows the best of all the other media — print, audio, and video — in one platform. Professional journalists call this “convergence.”

   Citizen journalists should call it common sense.

   Best of all, it takes very little financial investment to build a full-fledged media conglomerate. The software and platforms are available largely for free, and the only equipment you need are the laptop and digital SLR camera you would purchase if launching a print product (see above).

   The best way to start is with a blog, which allows you to report on local news, and to comment on the national and international news of the day. Over time, a blog can be augmented to include audio and video posting, live broadcasting, and distribution and circulation of e-edition print products.

   The best platform for blogging, by far, is WordPress. And, I don’t recommend it because it’s the platform I’m using for this material. Rather, I’m distributing this information on a WordPress site because I recommend it.

   Use of the publishing functions on WordPress is well documented, which makes it a great way for first-time bloggers to get started. It also is very easily augmented with other forms of media, like YouTube for video, Flikr for photo galleries, and UStream and CoverItLive for live blogging (print, audio, and video).

   Linking via RSS (Really Simple Syndication), you can quickly establish a mobile presence with Facebook and Twitter without creating a unique mobile platform. And, using Issuu, you can create “e-edition” versions of print publications for your audience to share with others, without transmitting electronically.

Step Three: Develop your content

   Referring back to our previous lessons on the topic of citizen journalism, it’s important to have content on your news outlet that will engage your community, your readership (or viewership, or listenership). The content you write needs to meet the community’s need to know: “What does it mean to me?”

   The first duty of any journalism outlet is to serve as the eyes and ears of its people, to stand in their stead at public meetings to ensure the people’s business is done in accordance with the law. We will delve into that area in future installments.

Step Four: Build your audience

   The goal, ultimately, of any media outlet is to reach the largest audience possible. For-profit media outlets use their audiences to attract advertisers, which pay the bulk of their expenses. Non-profit or hobby media outlets still want to reach the largest possible audience for the purpose of advancing their messages.

   In general terms, quality content will attract a strong audience. This is done by adhering to the core principles of journalism — or, better stated, the Cowboy Code we previously mentioned — to establish that the media outlet will not cut corners and is interested mainly in serving its community.

   Engaging in social media as a means to connect with your community works, as does getting out into the community and meeting people face-to-face. When you have built a personal rapport with your community, it will engage with your media outlet far more easily and effectively.

   It is important to be fully engaged as you look to expand your media outlet through convergence. This is something else we will tackle in the coming weeks.

Written by bfranklinjournalism

March 9, 2011 at 10:00 am

One Response

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  1. It’s Sunshine Week next week, so I thought your readers might want to know about a blog dedicated to all the OI news out there…

    Any publicity greatly appreciated and will be reciprocated!

    Charles N. Davis
    Associate Professor
    University of Missouri School of Journalism

    Charles N. Davis

    March 12, 2011 at 4:10 am

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