Microjournalism: How Will Cities Respond?

From Grist comes this very interesting story about one reporter's experiment with new media: When Adam Klawonn quit his job at a shrinking major ...
by | June 23, 2009
 

From Grist comes this very interesting story about one reporter's experiment with new media:

When Adam Klawonn quit his job at a shrinking major metropolitan newspaper in 2006, he did what so many other journalists have: launched an online news operation that looked a lot like a newspaper's web site, only with less stuff.

On The Zonie Report ("A New Kind of News for Arizona"), he set out to cover growth, immigration, the environment. The big issues. "The traditional papers were going local, and they were pulling back their bureaus," said Klawonn, now 30. "It seemed like it was just wide open."

And from the start, he seemed to be doing everything right--learning enough PHP to slap together a sharp-looking Web site; shooting videos and producing podcasts; painstakingly tagging articles into a dozen geographic categories; looting his bank account for a freelance budget; hiring a New York Times stringer for what turned out to be award-winning environmental reporting.

After two years, though, the Zonie Report was a commercial failure. Advertisers stayed away and readers weren't keen on buying mugs and t-shirts to support the site.

So Klawonn came up with a new idea:  Rather than focus on issues around Arizona or even around Phoenix, he decided to cover one very narrow topic: the new light-rail line in Phoenix.

So last year, Klawonn started sketching out the plan that, this week, landed him a $95,000 Knight News Challenge grant: a news service devoted entirely to Phoenix's six-month-old light rail system. Its working title is Daily Phoenix.

Plan B is narrower. Much narrower. Old idea: regional trend stories about migrant labor. New idea: opt-in text alerts about train delays. Old content: "In Prescott, a water war escalates." New content: the details of every crime within a five-block radius of each rail stop.

With his business partner, newly minted Arizona State MBA Aleksandra Chojnacka, Klawonn will offer businesses a chance to be included in twice-daily text messages to mobile subscribers. "It might be, 'Two-for-one sandwiches!'" Klawonn said. "It might be, 'Extended happy hour over here!'"

Who knows whether he'll be successful?

But I have to say, the idea of a news site focused so narrowly on one piece of transportation infrastructure (which, by the way, I wrote about last year) does seem to capture the bloggy, Twittery way people seem to like getting their information these days. I, myself, regularly read a blog solely devoted to the businesses along my regular bus route, the 42 line in D.C. So I get the appeal.

It does further blur the lines between blogging and journalism, though. And I wonder how the city of Phoenix will respond to press inquiries from Klawonn. Will he have the same access as a reporter for the Arizona Republic? I'd be surprised. 

It'll certainly be an interesting experiment to watch.

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