Updates on Spot.Us

There are more updates to spot.us than I can really fit into a MediaShift IdeaLab post. For the list-y version of recent milestones – scroll down to the bottom.

But first, I want to highlight a very specific example of forward momentum both for Spot.us and the notion that news organizations don’t try new things. I try and avoid the “new media v. old media” debate. What I often say is “I have constructive criticism for both sides.”

Details on new media criticism: It needs to mature and blossom.
Details on old media criticism. It must learn to be agile – fail early and often.

Recently Spot.Us and the Oakland Tribune have come together to partner and the collaboration can be an example on how both sides can address their weaknesses.

The Project: Oakland’s streets face dire future without change.

My hat goes off to Martin Reynolds at the Oakland Tribune. From the first time I explained Spot.Us he has had a “yes” attitude.

I have to admit at first I wasn’t ecstatic about the subject. But having time to reflect, it is the perfect pitch. This is the quintessential local story. In some ways it is almost cliche – but in the case of Oakland, the streets really are in poor condition. It is also a story that can be repeated in San Jose, Palo Alto, and beyond (yes, I’m calling out future news organizations to repeat).

“This is a problem we all have as a community” Reynolds said to me in conversation. And that is when I realized why this project made perfect sense. The Tribune is an Oakland organization that is the best suited to tackle this issue, to find out what challenges the city faces, hold people accountable, and perhaps even enact change.This is an act of more than just journalism – but community.

The reporter they chose is somebody that freelances with them regularly. Fine by me – in fact, preferred.

Community Journalism: Check!!!

A big part of this story will be a map-mashup. The map alone won’t tell the story – but for obvious reasons it makes the whole story that much stronger.

One reporter cannot find all the potholes in Oakland. Sean Maher might know of some trouble spots – but this is a job for distributed reporting.

Spot.Us is going to organize “The Great Biking Pothole Search.” (details to come on our blog … seriously, this is going to be exciting!!!)

Still in the early stages of planning, the idea is to get as many bike-lovers as possible to meet on a beautiful Saturday afternoon and bike in different directions for 40 minutes (20 one way and 20 back) making notes of all the major potholes they see. These will then be recorded on the map.

Community members doing acts of journalism.

Alone the map doesn’t tell the whole story. And while some community members will donate 40 minutes of a Saturday afternoon – others will donate $10. That money will be used to pay a freelance journalism chosen by the Tribune – because we still need a reporter. And this is where new forms of media can learn to mature. It helps to have a reporter, in this case Tribune freelancer Maher, at the head of the project. He is accountable to ask questions to the right folks, find out what the challenges are, stick to the story, etc.

The idea: Some parts of journalism are best done distributed. Others are not.

Which is to say Content is King and Collaboration is Queen

Think in terms of Chess: The King is the most important piece, but the Queen is the most powerful.

Content is King: You want to make sure you produce quality reporting and a crafted narrative. This is best done by one person at the head.

Collaboration is Queen: If you don’t involve the larger community you will never be able to map the potholes in your community and in the case of Spot.Us you’ll never be able to afford the reporter who takes care of the content.

Life is a big game of chess – and the analogies abound.

Some updates on Spot.Us in List-y Form.

Trying to Evangelize

How to Build Your Own Community Funded Reporting Project.

Publishing stories

Almost ready to publish!!!

  • Oakland PD investigation: This story was funded six days before the Oscar Grant shooting. Since then the Chief has stepped down, four officers have been shot and the story continues to evolve. I do think that Alex Gronke at the Oakbook is wrapping it up and I am very excited.
  • Oscar Grant short documentary: The case has now been put on hold. The reporter has captured an interesting moment in Oakland’s history.
  • A Tale of Two Census Tracts: I read the draft yesterday and was incredibly moved. If you live in San Francisco then you know the Tenderloin is falling apart. The reporter has gone through census data and really paints a picture of stark contrast between SF’s rich and poor neighborhoods. But the story is also told with a beautiful narrative. This will be published in Race Poverty and the Environment, but we also hope to distribute it wider through Street Sheet, Street Spirit and perhaps the SF Guardian.
  • Oakland Schools Phasing Out. The reporter got an educational reporting fellowship with New American Media based on the work she was doing for Spot.Us. As a result – she is able to go further into the story. We were thrilled!
  • Newspapers in the face of changing times: Still in the works. A draft is being tossed around. In truth I was very hesitant to tackle this piece and almost took it down, but people started donating to it before I could.
  • Is the Bullet Train Still on Track? In collaboration with the Bay Area Monitor.

Stories we hope to fund soon.

Working with News Organizations

We’ve now worked or partnered with the following in some form or other.

  • Oakland Tribune (big w00t)
  • Berkeley Daily Planet
  • SF Appeal
  • RawStory.com
  • Kalw
  • Public-Press
  • Roxbury News
  • NewsDesk.org
  • VidSF.com
  • Bay Area Monitor

And hopefully more collaboration in the making.

We’ve refunded two stories!!!

I am INCREDIBLY excited about this. The biggest appeal Spot.Us has to donors is the notion that they have the chance of getting their money back so they can reinvest it towards a second article. I am happy to say we’ve done this twice now.

Boulavards.com, On Earth Magazine

Thinking Outside the Box

In-person fundraising events are in the works. Think of these as “rent parties.”

I am still a big believer in online organizing – but since we are working in communities, doing community journalism, we intend to put our faces out there as much as our Tweets. You need both.

New Features

If you haven’t visited Spot.us in awhile – you should check out our new features.

The site remains incomplete. Potential ideas we have.

  • “Join the reporting team” could turn into ‘pick up assignments’ ala IAmNews.com
  • More social networking features: Tweet this, Facebook it, etc.
  • The ability to show support for a story without donating money ala Digg.
  • Easier registration/login process.
  • Refine the new “group” functionality – which has been successfully tested
  • Widget that allows donations on any blog via Flash-widget cool-y-ness (far off)
  • A beat pitch: I’ll cover city hall for X weeks if we can raise y dollars by date Z. If we reach the goal – I’ll keep going.

Personal thoughts

I continue to have nothing but passion. This last weekend I spoke to the Alaskan Press Club. It was an honor to be invited out. At the beginning of my talk I said: “I will not lie to you” … but at the end of that same sentence I said “I am optimistic for the future.”

And I remain so. Spot.Us is making progress. We are far from being a fully fledged news organization, but that isn’t our goal. We are learning all the time and with each passing week getting closer and closer.

I’m also happy to say that we have funded almost (emphasis on almost) one story a week.

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