Answering the question: Who is Block by Block?

Posted on October 19, 2011 by Janet Coats

I’ve written often about the New Media Journalism Initiative’s involvement in helping to incubate the Block by Block network of independent community news publishers. Most recently, I’ve shared my thoughts about the Block by Block Community News Summit, the gathering earlier this month at which these publishers shared their experiences with each other.

But I realize that I’ve not done much to introduce readers of this blog and supporters of our work at The Patterson Foundation to these publishers and their work. For the next couple of weeks, we’ll be spotlighting some of the Block by Block publishers in a series of posts we’re calling “Who Is Block by Block?” I think you’ll better understand why these innovators impress us so much.

These publisher profiles are the work of Kathleen Majorsky. Kathleen completed her master’s degree at the University of Missouri School of Journalism last spring. While she was at Missouri, she worked with Michele McLellan on the initial research that led to the first Block by Block Community News Summit.

We’re fortunate to have Kathleen helping us with some of the research and tracking work of TPF’s New Media Journalism Initiative.

There’s a wide range of publishers in the Block by Block network; we’ve chosen to introduce you to several of the publishers whose work spotlights a particular aspect of our mission in the New Media Journalism Initiative and in the broader work of The Patterson Foundation.

Our goal in the New Media Journalism Initiative is to enable innovation in “local, community-driven journalism that promotes democracy, builds communities, holds institutions accountable and motivates citizens to action.’’

The first site we are featuring, Front Porch Forum, is focused intensely on the value of building community. To that end, it reflects a broader TPF value: that of being accessible and engaged with others as an essential aspect of our work.

Now I’ll get out of the way and let Kathleen introduce you to Front Porch Forum and its founder, Michael Wood-Lewis:

Front Porch Forum (FPF) is an online space that serves small towns and neighborhoods in just about a third of Vermont. Each FPF helps improve Vermont’s local community ecosystem. Hosting these neighborhood conversations leads to face-to-face interaction and ultimately improved community.

When a neighbor posts to the conversation on their local FPF, their name, street name and email address appears in their post.

“Neighbors go from being strangers to actually knowing these people through the conversations,” says Wood-Lewis.

Wood-Lewis and his family moved to Vermont in search of community, but found it difficult to come by through traditional means so they created FPF. It was created to help Wood-Lewis and his family meet the neighbors and understand what was going on around them. Its impact on communities exceeded their expectations, but it is this impact that inspires Wood-Lewis to continue to invest in FPF’s growth.

“We are motivated by the results we see. It has made our neighborhood a better place to live and raise our kids. It’s made our city a better place. It empowers people to do the great things that people do given half a chance to be good neighbors,” says Wood-Lewis.

When Hurricane Irene tore through Vermont at the end of August, FPF played a major role in local disaster relief. People started to self-organize through FPF. Residents would list their needs on FPF and groups of neighbors would gather supplies and make their way to those in need.

“We saw this happen again and again,” says Wood-Lewis, “It’s really powerful.”

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