MalaysiaKini is currently working on a community news site, KomunitiKini, to provide news and information on communities across Malaysia. The local news situation in Malaysia is a microcosm of the national news situation, but only with fewer dedicated traditional news outlets. All of the local mainstream media is associated with a constituent party of the ruling coalition. Local or regional newspapers are relatively limited and coverage tends to focus on crime with limited reporting on community issues. Independent voices or community activism is restricted to online.
As part of this work, I have spent time researching and talking to people who are deeply involved with community news websites. So, this has surfaced a couple of interesting findings that apply to programs in Asia. One of the best summaries on what appears to be working at community news websites is New Voices: What Works from Jan Schaffer, Executive Director of J-Lab at American University’s Institute for Interactive Journalism. Over the last 5 years, J-Lab through a grant from the Knight Foundation has funded and guided almost 50 US community news start-ups. The “New Voices” report summarizes findings from their experience.
To a large extent, the art of developing a community news site takes on the passion of community activism and techniques of what some might call marketing. Community activism defines the realm of interests that can be identified and will mobilize the community. The J-Lab report doesn’t call this out in detail. But when you look at the reasons that J-Lab community websites were launched they often come back to a set of specific focal point issues – an entrenched local political elite and a pending election, the pressing environmental issues, like the Asian Carp crisis in the Great Lakes. These are not broad issues like taxes or school boards, they are specific issues that people are talking about now. Building the coverage for a site around issues like these ensures both a market and a desire to engage.
[For the full post, see my Knight Fellowship Blog here.]