Thursday, December 15, 2005


LOCAL: Citizens ply public with local e-news - The Boston Globe

PUBLISHED: December 15, 2005

Citizens ply public with local e-news

By Lisa Kocian, Boston Globe Staff

Robert Falcione is showing off his website when he hears the crackle of his police scanner. He abruptly stops
what he's saying, picks up the handheld device, and turns up the volume.

''Two trees [down] on the wires; I'm not going to go for that one," he says, waving off the police chatter with his hand.

But it doesn't take much more than that to get his journalistic juices flowing. He posts new photos and writes every day
for his Hopkinton news site.

Without knowing it, Falcione, editor of, has been on the cutting edge of a growing trend in e-news. All across
the country (and as close as Watertown and Holliston) people just like him are diving into what has been dubbed ''citizen
journalism." It existed before with printed newsletters or even small independent newspapers, but just in the last year or
so, experts say, online versions are proliferating.

''If 2004 was the year of the blog, 2005 is unquestionably the year of citizen media. It's taken off like wildfire since
the beginning of the year," according to Jan Schaffer, executive director of J-Lab, The Institute for Interactive
Journalism at the University of Maryland.

Lisa Williams, a 35-year-old stay-at-home mother, started, which covers Watertown, in February. She estimates
she has about 1,200 visitors daily. Her site is more blog-like than HopNews, but she does commit what she calls ''random
acts of journalism."

''I have two small kids -- you have to put off youthful fantasies of taking off for India. H2otown let me travel deeper
rather than farther," she said. ''And that was probably one of the major reasons [for starting the site]. I needed to stay
out of trouble. I needed to get a hobby."

Before she had children, she was a technology analyst. Williams considers herself more of a blogger than a journalist.

But that's not unusual -- and maybe not even all that problematic -- in the world of citizen journalism, according to Dan
Kennedy, a visiting assistant professor at Northeastern University's School of Journalism.

''In a way what's going on is old-fashioned," said Kennedy, former media critic for The Boston Phoenix. ''Certainly you go
back 50 to 100 years and look at the weekly newspapers in hometowns across New England and across America, you weren't
really talking about people you'd consider to be professional journalists the way we do today."

''This is not a priesthood. It's not even a profession; it's a craft," he said. ''Anybody who has some brains and is
dedicated to learning the craft can do that."

Kennedy said he has tried to quantify such local news sites but found no good list, but there is no doubt the number is

J-Lab's Schaffer said there are also more foundations like hers offering grants to such nascent efforts, and mainstream
media outlets are putting ''fewer feet on the street," making more residents hungry for local news. Last year, her
organization received 243 proposals for 10 grants for startup print or electronic news efforts.

''The common refrain is 'Nobody is covering us,' " he said.

Falcione, 58, started his site more than two years ago because he wanted an outlet for his photography. He thought he
would post the police log too, just for fun. Then he got carried away one night when he went to take photos at a
selectmen's meeting.

''I sat there and I said, 'I think I'll just watch this thing,' " he recalled. ''I wrote a little story. The church wanted
a one-day liquor license for their event, their bazaar, whatever it might be."

Now Falcione, who is originally from Dorchester and moved to town in 1979, goes to a couple of town board meetings each
week and reports on what happens. A few other people help write up news and features, and thanks to some local
advertisers, Falcione can even pay his freelancers for some of the content. also offers video and sound on the

Site traffic has almost tripled over the last year from 13,000 visits in November 2004 to 35,000 in November.

The future is a question mark for sites like HopNews and H2otown. But there seem to be at least two directions they could
go in.

Schaffer said that volunteer citizen journalists have been married to mainstream news at places like in
Colorado, which is produced by the Rocky Mountain News but features stories from regular people.

The other way to survive and maybe even thrive is through advertising, said Kennedy.

''Although I certainly don't think it's necessary that people figure out how to get rich doing citizen journalism, it
would be nice to figure out how a two- or three-person operation could cover a community and make a living doing so
because if this remains a strictly voluntary effort, I think there's going to be a real limit to how far it can go," he

Lisa Kocian can be reached at 508-820-4231 or by e-mail at
© Copyright 2005 Globe Newspaper Company.

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