By Steve Outing
I’ve been neglectful of this blog for nearly a month (till posting about Paycheckr yesterday), but perhaps I can get back into the groove. It’s just that I’ve been working hard at driving forward the Digital Media Test Kitchen at CU-Boulder’s School of Journalism & Mass Communication. And since the School is going through a “discontinuation review” and might be reinvented or replaced by a new School (or other form of academic entity) designed to be more interdisciplinary in addressing the complexities of today’s journalism and media realities, it seems like an important time to push forward on leveraging emerging technologies in the pursuit of better journalism and better informing communities.
At the Test Kitchen, we just debuted a new website, SlicesofBoulder.com, that fits that bill. Working with Toronto-based Eqentia Inc., a CU team (journalism instructor Sandra Fish, journalism master’s candidate Jenny Dean, and me) worked over the summer to produce an extensive taxonomy of the city of Boulder and its surrounding area, and find all the news and information sources online producing content about Boulder. (I.e., not just websites and blogs that fit the traditional definition of “news,” but also the information flowing out of scientific institutions, government agencies, police and fire departments, key local companies, local bloggers and tweeters, etc.)
The result is SlicesofBoulder.com, powered by Eqentia.com, which processes and slices and dices links to the content flowing from hundreds of local sources, plus finds news coverage about Boulder from non-Boulder (state and national) news sites and selected credible blogs.
What’s exciting for me about this project is that it is, I’m pretty sure, the most in-depth curated news and information site in existence about any city. (Somebody correct me if I’m wrong.) The site can serve in an in-depth manner the ongoing news and information needs of any Boulder resident with a specific topic interest (city politics, Boulder crime news, the local rock climbing scene, a specific local company like Celestial Seasonings, a specific neighborhood, and so on). It continually tracks Boulder news and and information digital content flow, and provides links to the original content. (Users can create a personalized Boulder news/info page; receive a personalized daily e-mail; subscribe to fine-grain RSS feeds; etc.)
The site could be described as a “hyper-local” aggregator in that it identifies fine-grain content feeds from sources that Google News, Yahoo! Local, Topix.com, and Outside.in don’t get to.
It’s not a creator of original content, of course, but rather a curated aggregator of local sources — so my hope is that it will help new hyper-local blogs and news outlets in and around Boulder be exposed to new users.
In addition to being just plain useful (to keep citizens informed at either a local overview level or deeply on specific local topics, and to give local journalists story ideas), I’m fascinated by the research potential of the project. It gives us a snapshot of the Boulder digital media-sphere today, and we’ll use the site to watch as the Boulder digital media landscape evolves in the coming years. (My prediction: further decline in news output by traditional local news media, and growth of small local and hyper-local news providers to make up for that.)
Boulder is a university town with 100,000 or so residents, so researching and finding all the local online sources of news and information was a doable task. (I know we haven’t found them all, and expect that the team will discover more, and that community members will suggest additional sources.) The research work to find all the sources in, say, Seattle or the San Francisco Bay Area, which both have a thriving online independent local and hyper-local media scene, would be daunting; though perhaps crowd-sourcing plus dedicated researchers would make it possible.
The surprise for me was in finding fewer individuals providing news about Boulder’s neighborhoods than I’d expected. I thought we’d find more people using the free publishing tools of the web to keep their neighbors informed, a trend that’s common in some other cities. Perhaps it has to do with demographics: Boulder’s population is one the most highly educated in the U.S., and I’m wondering if that has something to do with it. (We’re all mostly too busy to do volunteer work like run neighborhood blogs or websites?)