I'm looking forward to meeting those New West folks when I get out to Montana. Nice to see they're getting some good publicity. I think that site has a real smart and open design, welcoming, and it actually feels more comfortable to me than Dan Gillmor's nascent venture, Bayosphere, for the San Francisco area (Gillmor has written to me to say that the design is being deliberately kept barebones until the site's "official" launch, so it really isn't fair to compare the two yet). [Speak of the devil update: Bayosphere got prettier with a color banner as of today. Still pretty monochrome, and that map looks Rorshachy, but it's a start]
I'm not very impressed with the "Your Mom" site, but that might be because I've finally gotten too old. Personally, I think it's because the content is locked away behind too many clicks, a usability issue: reduce the number of clicks necessary to get where you're going. Users disappear with every threshold click. The design looks too late 1990s to me. New West has the dense and meaty design of the 2000s nailed.
Do-It-Yourself Journalism Spreads
Web Sites Let People Take News Into Their Own Hands
By Ariana Eunjung Cha
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 17, 2005; A01
DAVENPORT, Iowa -- "Check out Your Mom." "Your Mom is hot." "Your Mom has issues."
Those are the messages Evan Chiappinelli is trying to get across as he haphazardly drives around the area with two of his buddies, flinging promotional T-shirts, pens and fliers out the car windows. Chiappinelli, 18, is a writer-photographer-marketer for Your Mom, a Web site and weekly newspaper for teenagers launched last year by the Quad-City Times, a Lee Enterprises Inc. subsidiary.
Although the endeavor began as a way for a traditional newspaper to reach a younger, Internet-savvy audience and increase profits, it has become an experiment in "citizen journalism," in which people who live in a community get involved in reporting on it. Only one of Your Mom's staffers -- its editor -- is a professional journalist. The other 40 or so people who help put the publication together are all teenagers and all, except for two interns who are paid just above minimum wage, work without pay.
"The most interesting thing is diversity of voices because everyone gets a chance to say what they believe in. You don't have to be hired. You can just write. And it'll get published -- as long as it's grammatically correct," said Zach Sapato, 18, another regular contributor.
The explosion of the Internet over the past decade has allowed anyone with an Internet connection to instantaneously publish whatever he or she wants, fueling the growth of "citizen reporters." Over the past year or so, media companies have been backing citizen journalism efforts like Your Mom in various shapes and sizes across the country. They are creating what some believe to be a more democratic press, but throwing into question what it means to be a journalist and adding a new dimension to debates over fairness, libel, protection of confidential sources and trust in the media.
On one end of the spectrum is Falls Church-based Backfence.com, a venture run by local residents with no editorial guidance from the site's owners that is evolving into a sort of virtual town square. Its hyper-local coverage is available so far in McLean and Reston.
On the other end, there's New West ( http://www.newwest.net/ ), a Web site that specializes in politics and development issues in the Rocky Mountain region. Its goal is to break news in competition with mainstream media, and it contains a mix of content written by experienced journalists and amateurs.
Most others fall somewhere in the middle -- almost exclusively written by citizen reporters but edited for grammar, style and some content. Examples include the Northwest Voice in Bakersfield, Calif., Lawrence.com in Kansas and Your Mom.
Your Mom tries to adhere to a PG-13 content policy and erases all profanity, but otherwise lets pieces go through unchallenged, Rhodes said. "I want it to be authentic, to give an accurate idea of who teens are and what teens think," she said.
Many of her contributors say the thing they value most about Your Mom is its rawness, which they say makes it more relevant than a more restrictive school newspaper. More than a few adults, on the other hand, say they could do without so much honesty.
"I've spoken to a lot of teachers who are really into it," Rhodes said. "But a lot of them hate it, too."
Citizen reporting is still in its infancy, but it's already changing notions of news and news gathering. Bloggers at the 2004 U.S. presidential nominating conventions helped provide different perspectives on the campaigns. Commuters in London this month provided the world with photos of the terrorist bombings' aftermath from their video cell phones.
"There is an increasing appetite among ordinary people to participate in the news," said Jan Schaffer, executive director of the Institute for Interactive Journalism at the University of Maryland-College Park, which has been tracking citizen media projects.
For many people, putting out a news publication is "an alien process," said Jonathan Weber, the founder of New West, who rose to fame in the dot-com era as the editor of the Industry Standard technology magazine. "They don't feel a part of it. They don't feel like they can impact it and therefore they don't trust it. So I think we are trying to create a different kind of conversation: Get in here and be a part of it," Weber said.
Your Mom is the brainchild of a group of graduate students at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Rhodes, a native of Newton, Mass., and a master's degree candidate, was part of a class that had to come up with a plan for a new media product.
The name came from a late-night brainstorming session. When a fellow student threw out the idea of Your Mom, "we started laughing so hard," Rhodes said. "It was unexpectedly clever," she said, connoting rebellion against established authority figures like, say, your mom.