A look back at the Block by Block Community News Summit

Posted on October 11, 2011 by Janet Coats

Eighteen months ago, when Michele McLellan first talked with me about the possibility of bringing together independent community news publishers to talk about their work, I had no idea what to expect.

Going into this year's Block by Block Community News Summit, I had a very clear idea about what I'd get out of this event: A sense of optimism about the future of community news.

I got that, and more. There is a growing sense of confidence among the publishers. They've built community news sites and survived during the worst recession of our lives, filling local information needs even as traditional media shrink in so many communities. These publishers are focused intensely on the how questions: How do I best serve my community? How do I build a business that will sustain my mission as a news and information provider?

I wish all of you who care about the future of local news could have been there. But even if you weren't with us in Chicago Sept. 29 - Oct. 1, you can still get a sense of what Block by Block was all about.

If you are interested in seeing some of the panels from Block by Block, our friends at the Reynolds Journalism Institute captured video at the event and have posted it on their site here. You can see the general panels and selected breakout discussions, getting a flavor for the conversations that went on in Chicago.

Michele McLellan, whose research into emerging local news sites was the spark that ignited Block by Block, has posted the results of the survey we conducted of attendees. Of the 135 folks who attended Block by Block, 55 have filled out the survey so far. You can find the results at the Block by Block website here.

In general, satisfaction with the event was extremely high. Of the 55 people who responded to the survey, all but two rated it as either extremely or somewhat satisfying. Not surprisingly, panels and breakout groups on revenue generation rated well. There is no more compelling conversation right now than one about sustainability.

But it is also clear that there is a wide range of needs among site publishers. As more new publishers continue to enter the space, there will continue to be a need for learning focused on true start-ups as well as on the maturing sites and their evolving business and journalism models.

As we continue to digest the feedback and all that we learned at Block by Block, we'll keep thinking about the tools, techniques and conversations that can help local news publishers thrive. We at The Patterson Foundation are pleased that we've been able to help bring the Block by Block network together, and we're excited about the ways publishers are working to help each other achieve both journalistic and business success.

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