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Partnerships help citizen news sites gain visibility and engage community

by: Michele McLellan |

Noah Erenberg, convener for Winnipeg's Community News Commons, spends a lot of time training contributors to the citizen news site. He holds workshops that reach different segments of the community, thanks to partnerships with a local library, a college and the city's newspaper - The Winnipeg Free Press, which launched the Free Press Cafe, where the CNC regularly trains contributors.

"Our three primary partners are key to our steady growth and early success," Erenberg said in an email, providing space for workshops, professional expertise and publicity. In return, Erberg believes partnering with the Community News Commons, a project of The Winnipeg Foundaiton, helps the local organizations deepen their own engagement with the community in the digital age.

"What we’re doing with CNC is exactly what newspapers, colleges and libraries need to do anyways in this day and age in order to survive. They need to find different, more interesting, more compelling and more engaging ways to connect to the public," Erenberg said.

The primary college partner, Red River College, has made submissions to CNC part of the curriculum for about 100 first and second year journalism students, he said.

Erenberg said he is working to develop additional partnerships, including recruiting journalism and writing students from other local colleges and schools.

In Akron, Ohio, a partnership with the local library significantly raised visibility and public participation for akronist.com, a project of the Akron Community Foundation. The training arm of the project, Akron Digital Media Center, has a lab and training are on the main floor of the downtown library.

The partnership has been so successful that the foundation is building a production studio at the library. Miller plans to begin producing television broadcast programs next year and hopes to forge collaborations with other local media outlets, including newspapers and radio stations. The project will produce videos for one local radio station in exchange for on-air mentions and marketing. Like Winnipeg, Miller is also working with a local university to gain contributors and tailor training to young people.

The Rapidian in Grand Rapids, Michigan, partners with neighborhood organizations that have trust and credibility in their areas, using a train-the-trainer model, according to Holly Bechiri, managing editor.

For example, one organization in poor, predominantly African-American neighborhood has help residents learn how to use The Rapdian platform. Another organization in a Latina neighbhood has created a "Press Club" for children who interview people (including the mayor) and review plays and the circus, Bechiri said.

"It's amazing to see their skills develop over time as they get more confident and continue to learn more about how to tell a story in journalism form," she said.

Previously: Citizen reporting: Sweet spot for local information and engagement?

This blog is made possible by a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The three citizen reporting efforts covered in this post received support from the Knight Community Information Challenge.

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Michele McLellan

Michele McLellan is a writer, editor and consultant who works on projects that help strengthen the emerging local news ecosystem,
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