I’m back in Cambridge this morning after a great couple of days at the ONA conference in Toronto.

The highlight of my trip was time spent with Courtney Lowery and Matt Frank of NewWest.net.

I look up to those guys. Unlike most ONA types, they’re balancing
great local journalism with the urgency of an independent business.

news site and their corporate parent is trying new approaches to local
news. But the New West folks are hungrier and humbler than anybody I know. They
loose their jobs if the site doesn’t work, so they think differently.

Listen to Rob Curley talk about the Louden Country Extra, and
you’re awed by the depth and quality of the site. It’s like the Ritz
serving up Sunday brunch. Endless richness.

Talk to Courtney
and Matt, and you hear similar instances of excellent journalism. But
you also hear stories of conferences, community meetings and reporters
who can sell advertising space over urinals. This isn’t the Ritz. It’s
a parent doing what it takes to put dinner on the table.

That kind of thinking excites me. There are no hangups about
what should be done and what has been done. Just deep value for
information, community and story-telling — and a youthful willingness
to try anything that might advance those values.

9Neighbors is a very different approach to local news in a
very different community. Nevertheless, we emulate New West’s bold, unfettered style.


For the Networked Journalism Summit

Earlier this week I went down to New York for the Networked Journalism Summit organized by David Cohn and Jeff Jarvis. In preparation for the event, David asked all the participants to answer a few questions about their work and background.

Here are the questions and my answers.

Your work in networked/citizen/collaborative journalism.

I’ve spent the last year and a half bootstrapping Faneuil Media,
an online news startup. Initially, my partner Theo Burry and I focused
on creating content for news sites using public data and open
applications like Google Maps. Last year we broadened our scope with
Atlas, a mapping tool that simplified map and data work for news sites.

Last week we launched our newest project, 9 Neighbors. 9 Neighbors
is a local news filtering service for several Boston-area communities.
The site uses social data — primarily relationships and browsing
histories — to determine which bits of content are most useful to
members of a community.

What are your goals?

We have two goals:
(1) To build a healthy, growing business.
(2) To make it easier to find quality, relevant information on a local (town and neighborhood) level.

Notable achievements?

The launch of 9 Neighbors is our most significant, concrete
achievement. More broadly, we are proud to have enabled and been
responsible for lots of online news experiments. Our mapping and and
data projects on Boston.com, NYTimes.com and other sites were some of
the first of their kind published on major news sites. Atlas, our
mapping tool, made it possible for dozens of major newspapers and local
news sites to begin experimenting with Google Maps and data. Our
business has also been an important experiment, demonstrating one more
approach to independent online news.

Lesson you’ve learned (including mistakes you’ve made)

We’ve learned that today it is very, very hard to build an
independent business when your primary product is content. Content is
abundant, and therefore cheap. Attention is scarce, and therefore
valuable. This is why we’re now focusing on filtering tools, which help
people use their valuable attention more efficiently.

Are you getting revenue for this? How?

We’re earning money from advertising, right now primarily from our
mapping tool, Atlas. In the future, we expect 9 Neighbors to generate
additional advertising income.

What’s next? What do you need to get to the next level?

We just launched 9 Neighbors, so right now our focus is on getting
feedback from users in our Boston communities, then iterating on the
product. We’re also beginning to look at how we can partner with local

Anyone you’d like to talk with, learn from, or work with at the summit

I’m interested in speaking with people who are producing local content.