Literature 2-9-2006

Beyond “USA Yesterday”: Local Journalism on the Web

Shannon Gibney attended the organizational meeting for the Twin Cities Media Alliance--good news for local writers who aspire to national audience reach, as well as for local readers who want easy access to real local news. Read on:

Craig Cox

Not in the least bit thrilled by the Star Tribune’s redesign? Feel like you just might die of shock if you could actually get your hands on some local news (as opposed to opinions spouted by a cacophony of experts across the country)?

Fear not – your profound bitterness is shared by many of your neighbors, who are as exasperated as you are at the state of the American media. While tuning into TPT for the BBC Nightly News and Frontline helps quell the bilious stew collecting in their innards, it has not completely eradicated the problem.

What to be done, they wonder.

Your neighbors may be busybodies and complainers, but they do have imagination on their side. They have been working on how to tackle this problem of the lack of substance in our news, and have come up with a high-protein, 100 percent organic, fair-trade alternative: a Twin Cities newswire.

“Whaaat?” you ask, sifting through the hundreds of offers to enlarge your penis (or obtain one) that are the unfortunate side-effect of your quest to find actual news on the Internet.

Yes, they say. They have been working, they are working to create a community newswire and syndication service that feature work by community press, local independent journalists and citizen journalists (that means you). Although the site doesn’t officially launch till March 1, you can still check out the fruits of their labors at

“The people who will come to this site will come here because they will find news they can’t find anywhere else,” said Twin Cities Daily Planet editor Craig Cox at a meet and greet at Triangle Park Creative in Minneapolis in late-January. “Our media partners are being involved here because they will be able to have a higher exposure for the work that they do – a Twin Cities-wide exposure to the good work that they’re doing with their neighborhood press. That’s the basics of what we’re trying to do here.”

Media partners for this project are growing, but include The African News Journal, the North News, The Circle, The Minnesota Women’s Press, and many other publications (more than 25 total). The site also features online forums, videos, audio files, photographs and RSS feeds. Once it is launched, the wire will provide new content daily. Media partners will be able to pull content from the site and also contribute to it continuously.

This year’s goals for the Twin Cities Media Alliance (or TCMA, of which the Twin Cities Daily Planet is a part) include expanding its citizen journalism training program, holding a public forum on the future of news, and increasing the diversity of the board.

(In the interest of full disclosure, an apparently throw-back journalistic strategy from days of old, I must tell you that I recently joined the board of this organization in its drive towards diversity. The jury is out as to if this drive will deliver its desired results. People of color have typically been left out of White liberal progressive movements and initiatives in the past, which has, obviously, undercut their progressiveness. The TCMA recognizes this and is trying to avoid it, and make the organization truly democratic.)

Another unofficial development that is not final, but which the TCMA announced at the January 20 event: The Daily Planet has all but been named the portal page for the Minneapolis Wi-Fi Project.

“The City of Minneapolis has two vendors who are finalists for the project: US Internet and Earthlink, two major Internet companies, one of which will end up with the contract for the project,” said Rich Broderick, a TCMA board member and head of the group’s development committee.

“We’ve been working with consultants who are working with the City of Minneapolis, and the consultants have recommended that the Daily Planet be the portal, the homepage. So anytime anyone from the City of Minneapolis accesses the Wi-Fi that the City is setting up, they’ll come to our homepage,” he continued.

“If we manage to pull this off, get our ducks in order, and perform up to expectations in the pilot project, the chances are extremely good that we will end up with the contract with the final vendor – the vendor that is hired by the City of Minneapolis to run the Wi-Fi Project,” said Broderick. “If that happens, then as the city becomes Wi-Fi, and more and more people tune in, we’ll have hundreds and thousands, potentially tens of thousands of people a week coming to the Daily Planet on a regular basis. With all that has to say about the potential for the website and the homepage as a viable entity, and something that would really take off.”

Ummm…but what does all this actually mean?

“The City of Minneapolis is in negotiations with US Internet and Earthlink to build a wireless cloud over the city, basically, that would cut the cost of broadband Internet access by about 40 percent, and give free access at community centers and libraries to people who don’t have Internet access otherwise,” said Cox.

“What we’ve been talking about with the consultant is doing two pilot projects in February,” he continued. “One would be in Near North, Minneapolis, and the other would be in Cedar Riverside, Elliott Park and Ventura Village. We’re going to create local pages with local content for those two small areas of town for about a month (I guess it’s a month-long pilot), to see how they’ll be working out, and tweaking the whole thing. I think Earthlink is in the North and US Internet is in the South.”

Broderick added, “The Daily Planet is not something that’s been years in the making. We began working on this about a year ago. The website went up only a few months ago. So it’s a pretty new thing, and for us to be at this point this quickly, where we could get the Wi-Fi contract, it’s really something.”

Something, indeed. It remains to be seen what, exactly, the Twin Cities Daily Planet, and by extension, the TCMA, will become. Will it actually develop into a viable alternative to the seemingly limitless drivel that has taken over the airwaves, newsprint, and PC and TV monitors? Will it inspire 38,000 citizen journalists to take up their pens, (or poise their fingers) as South Korea’s Oh My News – the model for citizen journalism initiatives around the world — has done? Or will it just become another well-intentioned project that inspires a tiny fragment of our incredibly complex community?

The jury is out—deliberating, strategizing, critiquing. Espousing democratic ideals. All actions which those in the mainstream media have apparently deemed irrelevant to the journalistic process.

It’s a beginning.