Hyperlocal media pioneering when the pioneers leave

[Note: The comments on this post include some important links and comments from ‘players’ in this issue. Please read them all.]

[Note #2: Newscoma does everyone a favor and later puts some organization to the conversation that has jumped from blog-to-blog, and comments posted all over the place.]

The first “traditional media” in Nashville to dive into the deep end of this pool called “citizen’s media,” “hyperlocal media,” “blogging,” etc., was — as I’ve often mentioned, WKRN-TV — especially its blogging aggregator website, Nashville is Talking.

With the loss of the consultant and executive who together conceived and championed it and the departure of the voice that developed its personality, Nashville is Talking seems to be stumbling its way into the future. While it has been ably maintained for the past few weeks by local blogger Katherine Coble, there has been some indication that a rudder is missing, so there is no indication of the direction where the captain of this ship wants it to head.

Yesterday, this message appeared on the site, which, for those who need it to be translated from corporate-speak into English, means, “The management of this station would like to announce, we have no idea what the heck is going on here.”) Here’s the statement, before translation:

“Nashville Is Talking has the distinction of being one of a kind… and a first of sorts. A few weeks ago, Nashville Is Talking lost a voice who helped cultivate a vibrant community of bloggers. Like any innovation, change presents an opportunity to assess and evaluate. During the last couple of weeks, we have talked about the value of this community and how to continue its progression. Working on “what’s next” is a process, not an event, and we have been looking at a number of options.

I appreciate the many folks who have stepped in to keep things going in the meantime. We are close to finalizing a working solution that will take NIT to a next step. We like the idea of helping the community grow by deploying innovative tools that expand the ability to express ideas and share experience.

Gwen Kinsey,
WKRN General Manager

That message was, apparently, in response to the comment thread that followed a message the other day that the practice of paying guest weekend bloggers $100 is being dropped. Actually, that’s not what was being announced, but they asked for volunteers who would not be paid. (Note to Gwen Kinsey: You’re beginning to understand, I trust, what the ROI on that $100 was.)

I’ve met many, many people through the community that Nashville is Talking helped to foster, however, I feel a little like Jackson Miller, who writes, “It is either time to become something new or to continue to whither away.”

Today, responding to the demise of another early “hyperlocal” citizen’s media experiment, BackFence, Kent Newsome makes the point that one would be wrong to interpret the “failure” (whatever the measure may mean) of any such venture as the failure of the “citizen media movement.”I could not agree more.

I have been doing this a long time, but I have no idea where all of this is heading. Indeed, I’ve never been comfortable with the whole idea of “citizen’s media” as, well, this is just me talking. And despite my appearance in the first — and still definitive — book written on the topic, We the Media, by Dan Gillmor, one of the founders of BackFence (Later: correction: Dan started Bayosphere, that was later acquired by BackFence. Sorry for my fuzzy memory.) (he left a couple of years ago), I’ve never thought of myself as a citizen’s anything. I just am.

Today, I spent an hour talking with the editor and publisher of a very large business-to-business publication who asked me to look at a redesign of their website. (I have a blood-oath not to say what it is until it is launched.) I was amazed to see a website that is, perhaps, one of the most enlightened displays of participatory media I’ve yet seen. It’s not the technology on the site — in fact, it’s not that Web 2.0-looking — but the site is all about serving as the hub for the industry it serves. And it plays that hub role by embracing every voice it can find in that industry. It is a website that embodies what Dave Winer calls, somewhat in jest, Web 3.0: a traditional media news site where, in Dave’s words, “Professional media fully embrace new media, no longer seeing it as a threat to their continued employment. Seeing amateur public writing, the former audience who is no longer silent, as sources who can get attention for their ideas without going through an intermediary.” In a few weeks, I look forward to discussing this re-designed news website and displaying what I mean. (Note: I had nothing to do with its development. I’m just a reviewer.)

When I see major media companies “getting it” in such a dramatic way, I can’t help but feel that, while certain companies may fail in their efforts, a movement is marching forward.

Frankly, WKRN probably “failed” when they perceived “Nashville is Talking” as something to relegate into a separate brand, rather than making it a center-focus of the front page of WKRN.com.

Again, I don’t know where all of this is heading. Is it going to be hyperlocal aggregators, like the Nashville page of Outside.in, that will find a big following? Or perhaps the blogger-posse approach of the Metro Blogger folks (Later: or Music City Bloggers). Or maybe folks like sphere will help traditional media companies pull in reader voices.

However, the one thing the WKRN folks did that no one else has done — at least in Nashville — is to reach out to bloggers off-line. The “community” of bloggers in Nashville became a true community because of several meetups that WKRN helped to sponsor. That community will survive without WKRN and, frankly, that’s what is important. However, I appreciate their role in getting the ball started.

I doubt, however, they’ll be the media entity that reaps the reward of their pioneering efforts. At least, they won’t if they waste much more time believing “what’s next” is going to present itself as the result of some process.

Later: Newscoma is volunteering at NiT this weekend and has a good roundup of links on this topic. For the no BS, cut-to-the-chase POV, read Sarcastro’s take.

  • The “next thing” may well be this. At least, that’s what I’m hoping. 🙂

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  • The “community” of bloggers in Nashville became a true community because of several meetups that WKRN helped to sponsor. That community will survive without WKRN and, frankly, that’s what is important. However, I appreciate their role in getting the ball started.

    I will forever be grateful to WKRN for their investment and direction. I think it will be interesting to keep an eye on what becomes of the community they built.

    That community has always and ever been my primary driver, hence my desire to have a small part in keeping it going AND expanding it to all comers over at the new site.

    And thanks also for the tip of the hat to my humble volunteer interim efforts at WKRN. I wish them the best of luck in their future efforts to court online interaction. Unfortunately it appears to me that they are confusing the “internet” with “computers” and forgetting the humans on the other side.

  • I was shocked to learn they aren’t paying Kat to run the blog. That’s unsustainable. WKRN needs to invest more in its blog effort, not less.

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  • Rex,

    I appreciate your take on this, but I want to clarify a few things about NiT and strategy, because only a few of us really understood why we did NiT the way we did it.

    Organizing the online community was really the goal of NiT, and I don’t believe that could’ve happened had we tried to drag the aggregator into WKRN’s site. The whole point was to recognize that the community already existed and simply needed a focal point to grow and prosper. Nit wasn’t supposed to be a money-making enterprise by itself; it was created to be the conduit to organizing the entire local web in Nashville and building an ad network, so that not only WKRN but also the members of the network could make money from LOCAL advertising.

    All media companies must diversify and play in the Media 2.0 world or face extinction as the personal media revolution (J.D. Lasica’s wonderful term) continues to grow. The reality is that people who’ve spent money to support traditional media through advertising are — like everyone who contributes to the “voice” that is Nashville (yourself included) — able to reach potential customers all by themselves (or with the help of Google and other internet pureplays). So what’s left for traditional media except to diversify and GET INTO THE DISRUPTION?

    This is why NiT was so valuable to Young Broadcasting, although no one at the corporate level could ever really see that. Like everybody in corporate America, it’s all about the quarterly report to shareholders. Nobody invests in the future anymore.

    I don’t advise WKRN anymore, but if I have a voice that people in Nashville wish to hear, then hear this. NiT is there for the taking as a community venture. Take it and run with it. Build the ad network, because if you don’t, somebody else will. From every corner, I hear the same thing…that the growth in online advertising in the next five years will come in great part from local advertisers. Where’s the infrastructure for that? It’s waiting to be created.

    But you can’t have a local ad network unless you organize the local web, and that was NiT’s mission from the beginning.

    I truly loved the time I spent at the various meet-ups and at Mothership getting to know people in this community. It is an amazing assortment of smart and creative people. Surely, there are those in the group who would be willing to take over NiT and move it to the next level.

    Perhaps it’s now destined to be something else, but I believe that destiny lies with handlers other than those at WKRN-TV. Their mission is different now, and there’s nothing “wrong” with that.

    Warm regards,

    Terry

  • Christian Grantham

    NashvilleIsTalking has always been about the local blogging community and always will be. When Brittney left recently, that presented a huge challenge to new management and especially the community at NIT. One thing that inspired me personally was to see the community itself step forward and volunteer to keep it going while we considered what the next step for NIT would be. I was personally happy to see I wouldn’t have to search too hard for that level of help from the community and that the community itself viewed the site as much more than one person’s voice.

    When WKRN put NIT together, with the help of consultants and developers, it took much longer than the time it has taken us to put together the plan we have to keep it going. It was very difficult on some of our volunteers during this time not knowing when the change would occur. Some people got very upset with me personally for being asked by me for their patience and hearing me offer nothing but my appreciation for what they are doing. Some bloggers are actively creating other websites to fill what they believe is a void left in the absence of a quick solution. I personally believe the growth of online communities here in Tennessee is an amazing thing, and I’m proud to see it happen. Continued collaboration and innovation inspires and makes our community stronger.

    When we looked at the opportunities presented us in a time of change for the community itself and the station as a whole, we asked ourselves what can successfully expand and build on our vision and what will continue to lift the voices of our viewers and the greater NIT community. A simple aggregator is not the answer. Despite having one of the best voices in the community for nearly two years hosting the site, NIT’s traffic over the past year remained flat because of the inherent social limitations of a traditional blog platform.

    WKRN continues to be committed to expanding our online offering of community building tools that democratize voices, increase sociability, turn more innovative control over to online viewers, and organize online content in new ways. I believe the community will find a more robust NIT extends that vision well into the future. It might take us another week or another month, but however long it takes us I hope to see more constructive ideas along the way that can feed into that process and help build on our vision as a community.

  • Rex Hammock

    Note: While I am about to limit anything I say on this topic to my own blog (I can’t keep up with this ping-pong match), I have engaged in a conversation — and have made comments relevant to what Terry and Christian say above — in a comment thread on Bill Hobb’s blog.

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  • NIT’s traffic over the past year remained flat because of the inherent social limitations of a traditional blog platform.

    I would also submit that the traffic remained flat because 50% of the site–it’s automated aggregator–was essentially non-functional for over a year. Blog aggregators need real-time updating, not 12 hour delays.

    NiT is there for the taking as a community venture.

    Unfortunately that was not what was communicated to me and others. I greatly respect what you tried to do with the ad network, etc, but it just wasn’t happening. And no clear answers from WKRN/Grantham about next steps for three-plus weeks are completely unsatisfactory ways to convince us that this is a “community” venture.

    Build the ad network, because if you don’t, somebody else will.

    That would be part of our intention.

    Surely, there are those in the group who would be willing to take over NiT and move it to the next level.

    NiT remains the property of WKRN & Young Broadcasting. Without clear direction from WKRN, the community–which, after all, is the PEOPLE–are attempting to take matters into their own hands.

    While I regret the loss of an Old Media partner and the loss of those resources, I and the nearly two dozen others directly involved with the MCB project are overwhelmingly excited by the possibility of taking the reins of a local network into our own hands.

  • Donna Locke

    As a reader of and commenter on a few blogs, I find this present conversation of little concern to me, except in what is portended for my own interests, which, in blogdom, are pretty much reserved to the political. I appreciate Brittney’s efforts, and face it, hers is a singular, if at times annoying, voice of an irreplaceable kind. Some of us have learned to make a good living off marketable quirks. I have, and I ain’t knocking it. But I don’t care what happens to Nashville Is Talking. I do care about what happens to the Volunteer Voters blog, because my blog interests run in that direction, and I’m not liking the reined-in looks of what’s going on there now.

    I count on Bill Hobbs as an anchor in local political blogdom. I hope he will remain as a constant, though we know the only constant is change. These outlets are critical to an informed public, because of the failures of old media.

  • “Marketable quirks.” I enjoy that.

  • Ron

    So why aren’t the volunteers recieving a stipend for their time and effort? Certainly, since the station no longer has to pay Brittney and her various benefits, they can pony up something for whoever is updating that week, or find someone else already on the payroll willing to do the job on a temporary basis.

  • When I first heard about the ad network that was planned, I was excited both as a blogger as well as a small-business owner in Nashville who spends tens of thousands of dollars a year on local advertising. As I have said before, when Terry moved away and the ad network hadn’t happened, it was the first nail. Unfortunately, WKRN does not seem to understand web advertising and Terry and Mike could only do so much. I inquired about the advertising rates for the banner ad that is on Nashville is Talking (which is a far cry from the ad network that was floated at Wolfy’s); it seemed way over-priced. That is especially true when you take into account the number of page views at NiT that are from a very engaged small group of bloggers.

    And let’s be honest, the community building that took place at NiT should be attributed to individuals (starting with Mike, Terry, and Brittney) and not WKRN. “WKRN” never really seemed to grok it. There is a reason that NashvilleIsTalking.com took off and NashvillesNews.net (which is not affiliated with WKRN and has always been mostly focused on aggregation) did not.

  • Donna Locke

    Brittney has talent and expertise behind her “marketable quirks,” but blogs are personality driven. That’s what I mean. Is HAL coming or what?

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