Hartford Courant's Innovative Pro-Am Journalism Model

Last Updated May 23, 2008 6:51 PM EDT

One of the more intriguing ideas for helping newspapers and other local media organizations survive is to use digital technology to organize hyper-local multimedia reporting by citizens to complement the professional journalism produced by the staff.

The logic behind this idea is that it is far better to incentivize people in the community to help tell the news than it is to dismiss them as hopeless amateurs. One newspaper that is already doing a credible job of this is the Hartford Courant.

The Courant has not only succeeded in engaging members of its community to participate, it has taken a next logical step by reverse publishing the user-generated-content (UGC) in six micro-community editions every Sunday.

The newspaper's online portal, iTowns, hosts news breaks, event listings, photos and videos submitted by people in each of the six zones within (and somewhat beyond) its traditional circulation area. The site carries blogs from a reporter assigned to each zone; this journalist also serves as a kind of mentor-editor by gathering and presenting the UGC.

In all, the Courant currently covers 72 separate Connecticut communities with its iTowns outreach.

To me, the most creative part of this effort revolves around the six print tabloid iTowns editions that come out on Sundays. These editions offer a week-in-review column by a journalist and a small amount of other professional content, but the main draw is the UGC. This cleverly exploits an ancient truth: Everyone loves to see their writing get published!
The covers of the six iTowns Sunday editions feature works by local artists. This art also appears in an online gallery, which doubles as the site where citizens can submit new works for future consideration.

The bottom line is this: A traditional newspaper is using technology creatively to engage citizens to help produce the news (and art) in the communities it serves. In the process, it is actually expanding its portfolio of paper products!

Sounds like a viable business model to me.

(Note: I'm indebted to European blogger Jean Yves Chainon for excellent reporting about the Courant's project.)

  • David Weir

    David Weir is a veteran journalist who has worked at Rolling Stone, California, Mother Jones, Business 2.0, SunDance, the Stanford Social Innovation Review, MyWire, 7x7, and the Center for Investigative Reporting, which he cofounded in 1977. He’s also been a content executive at KQED, Wired Digital, Salon.com, and Excite@Home. David has published hundreds of articles and three books,including "Raising Hell: How the Center for Investigative Reporting Gets Its Story," and has been teaching journalism for more than 20 years at U.C. Berkeley, San Francisco State University, and Stanford.