Editors’ Notes on founding and working at Mission Loc@l

1 November 2008

SOME BACKGROUND

The journalism industry’s falling apart. We’re asking students at UC Berkeley’s J-School to pay thousands of dollars for graduate school.  Can they get jobs in a media that’s disappearing? Earlier this year, the paper where I I got my start–The Albuquerque Tribune–folded. By April of next year the Christian Science Monitor’s daily print edition will be gone. My old friends at The New York Times are working as never before, and still wonder how long they can hang onto their jobs.

We’re a research institution. Do we have answers that might help reinvent the media model?

Who knows, but we’re giving it a try.  This fall, with the help of a Ford Foundation grant, five sections of the basic reporting and writing class for entering students are producing a total of six Web sites covering local, under-served communities.

The four-day a week class—six days if you count working weekends—has students learning the art and values of journalism as they report in print and multimedia.  We’re 11 weeks into the experiment.

In the blessed anarchy of the J-school, professors got to select their communities and then created the sites with students, community input and our incredible Ford Fellows—Richard Koci Hernandez, formerly the multimedia wizard at the San Jose Mercury News, and Geeta Dayal, who’s been working at the forefront of digital media at MIT.

MY SITE

(strike that as I read back)

OUR SITE

So deciding where to base my section was easy—the Mission District where I have lived since 1998.  I was primed for hyperlocal news by a husband who comes to breakfast asking me if I know about some skirmish in Fallujah or the details of Ecuador’s new constitution.

Increasingly, my reaction has been—but do we know anything about what’s happening five blocks away from where we live?

Not really. Do we and other people want to know?

I’m not entirely sure.

The Mission also offers great copy—it’s richly diverse in income, age and ethnicity. We have gangs, hipsters, techies, recent immigrants, gay refugees from the Castro who are starting families, older Irish immigrants, and many others.

Do they want to read about one another?  Will reading about one another save journalism?

We’re going to find out.  lc