A community manager to help innovators connect

Posted on April 19, 2011 by Janet Coats

About six months into my work with the New Media Journalism Initiative, I identified one need among journalism’s entrepreneurs that seemed to trump all others: The need for connection.

I heard over and over that that there was so much innovation going on across all types of journalism but that the rate of innovation had created a kind of fog of war. People with the same interests and concerns weren’t able to see into each other’s work; the result was wasted effort, resources and time.

I started thinking then about the need for a kind of innovator’s network. Today, we take an important step forward in developing that network for one group of entrepreneurial publishers.

The Patterson Foundation is enabling the Block by Block network of community news publishers to appoint a community manager. Jessica Durkin is already a student of the landscape of emerging news sites. As Block by Block community manager, she will help these publishers to connect with each other, to share both problems and potential solutions.

From the beginning of our work in the New Media Journalism Initiative, we’ve believed we can best help innovative practices in journalism thrive by providing network development. We aren’t interested in boosting a single site or effort; we believe that by getting to know a community and listening to its needs, we can help provide the tools and connection that can strengthen a whole network of community news sites.

We’re posting the announcement about Jessica’s appointment to Block by Block’s own site. I’m happy to share it with you here as well:

The Block by Block local news publishers network has appointed Jessica Durkin to serve as community manager.

In the role of community manager, Jessica will focus on strengthening connection among the publishers using a range of methods, including the Block by Block blog and the group’s social media channels. The position is enabled by The Patterson Foundation, which is working with Block by Block to identify and provide tools to help these innovative publishers meet the information needs of their communities.

Jessica begins work immediately.

“These new media proprietors assume every duty in the company to keep it going,’’ Jessica wrote in her proposal for the position. “They are news and information reporter/editor, computer technician, social networker, bookkeeper, manager, marketer and revenue generator.

“This means publishers, squeezed for time and money, need an efficient, informative network for them to learn and participate in the advancement of their emerging industry.’’

Jessica’s appointment as community manager is an important step in furthering that network for Block by Block.

Jessica began tracking independent community news start-ups in 2009 by starting InOtherNews.us, a website featuring new publishers emerging online around the country.

She is a Knight Media Policy Initiative fellow for the New America Foundation and has researched news ecologies in Scranton, Pa., and Seattle, Wash. She is on the board of directors for the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and for WFTE-FM radio, a non-commercial community radio station in Scranton. She is also a convener with the Journalism That Matters group.

Jessica is a native of South Texas and lives in Scranton, Pa., where she moved for a job as a reporter at the Scranton Times-Tribune daily newspaper. She was laid off from the Times-Tribune in 2009 in a company-wide round of staff layoffs and buyouts at the paper. Within months, she turned her attention to “the new news’’ space, especially the formation of hyperlocal information outlets.

Jessica holds a bachelor’s degree in communication-journalism from Cal Poly Pomona. She is pursuing a master of library science degree online at the University of Pittsburgh and is examining the intersection of civic engagement, journalism and public institutions. She also has an interest in Government 2.0 projects and mapping news and information systems.

In addition to enabling the community manager position, The Patterson Foundation is supporting a survey of local news sites conducted by Michele McLellan. The survey builds on the work Michele started in 2010 as a fellow at the Reynolds Journalism Institute.

The Patterson Foundation is also supporting the second Block by Block Community News Summit, scheduled for Oct. 12-14 in Chicago. Others providing support for the summit are the Reynolds Journalism Institute and the Knight News Innovation Lab at Northwestern University.

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