Knight Blog

The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Citizen reporting: Sweet spot for local information and engagement?

Nov. 27, 2012, 6 a.m., Posted by Michele McLellan

The following is cross-posted from the Knight Digital Media Center's blog. Photo Credit: The Rapidian.

Mainstream news organizations have had mixed results with citizen news reporting. While crowd-sourcing efforts such as CNN’s iReport and Help Me Investigate have yielded valuable information, many other efforts have foundered, often on journalists’ expectation that citizen-created news must look like what the professionals produce to have value.

Enter community foundation-supported initiatives to enable citizens to report news in their communities.

Projects such as Akronist.comThe Rapidian and Winnipeg’s Community News Commons are demonstrating that may not always, walk or quack like the duck of mainstream journalism – but the stories that citizens tell about themselves and their communities engage and inform nonetheless. The three projects are winners of the Knight Community Information Challenge.

Engagement is a key word here. Generally, the professional newsroom is focused on content and has a tradition of one-way delivery of that content. As digital has opened up the pathways for two-way interaction, newsrooms are challenged to envision and implement direct engagement with people.

Exploring a sustainable business model with PublicStuff

Nov. 26, 2012, 7:45 a.m., Posted by Elizabeth R. Miller

Discover PublicStuff for Your City from PublicStuff on Vimeo.

In the emerging field of tech for engagement, there’s a hunger and need to explore sustainable business models. Organizations and startups alike are looking for ways to derive revenue from sources other than their users.

PublicStuff is one startup exploring the possibilities. Funded by the Knight Enterprise Fund, its app allows people to make real-time requests to their local governments around public service issues like graffiti or broken fire hydrants. Its clients include governments that pay for its software to manage those requests.

Philadelphia implemented PublicStuff to build and launch Philly311, an app that ended up being a resource to the city during Hurricane Sandy. It was the 33rd most app downloaded in the iTunes store on Oct. 29, the day the hurricane hit. In the week that followed, over 3,000 service requests were submitted and over 3,000 comments exchanged between citizens and city staff to keep people informed as to the progress of damage reports.

lilyliuKnight recently talked with Lily Liu, founder and CEO of PublicStuff, to learn more about its business model, how cities are adopting its software and trends in how local residents are engaging with their governments.

How have you seen the app being used for Hurricane Sandy relief efforts?

L.L.: We've seen an enormous response in communities that have been impacted, Philadelphia in particular. To prepare for the storm, they directed residents to download the app to report damage and debris and to also access relevant Hurricane FAQ sections so they could stay updated and informed 24/7. Feedback we got from Philly311 area residents has been outstanding. It's evident that the community overall benefited from this type of engagement and continuous access to city services and news during a really critical time.

A lot of people are interested in successful business models. What were some of the barriers you faced in getting governments to pay for your software?

L.L.: The average cost for a city staff member to record a service request from a walk-in is $9 and $5.30 from the phone. To automate this process it's just $0.65, which is a wealth of savings. Not to mention the time that staff members save from manually having to record a request only to realize much later that the request had already been reported via another channel and staff member. Our system streamlines the process. It's actually much more cost effective for cities to invest in the software to help them manage the workflow. We've seen savings anywhere from $16,000 to $320,000 annually.

How was PublicStuff able to break down those barriers?

Students can win scholarships with #FreeToTweet

Nov. 21, 2012, 9:21 a.m., Posted by Jenna Buehler

Starting Dec. 1, the #FreetoTweet campaign will again ask students to celebrate their First Amendment rights with a tweet. The best tweets that honor freedom of speech, press, religion, assembly and petition - one from each of those categories - will have a shot at one of five scholarships. All entries must use the #FreeToTweet hashtag and be submitted by Dec. 15.

Launched in 2011 by the First Amendment Center and Knight Foundation, the “Free to Tweet” campaign sparked a frenzy of pride. More than 17,000 tweets were submitted in a single day, including a tweet of support from the White House and artists Ke$ha, Blake Shelton, Wynonna Judd, Heart and Brad Paisley.

The contest grew out of a Knight Foundation study, “Future of the First Amendment,” which looked at the role social media plays in shaping young people’s sense of First Amendment principles.

“Today’s high school and college students are tomorrow’s defenders of the First Amendment. We hope this campaign engages them in learning more about the basic freedoms we often take for granted,” said Michael Maness, vice president of journalism and media innovation at Knight Foundation.

Need some inspiration? Here’s a sampling of the 2011 winners:

Silence might be golden, but silence never got much done in a democracy. Speak now or don’t complain later. – Nicholas Creegan, 20, White Plains, N.Y.