The Ypsilanti Courier’s parent company launches Community Media Lab, in hopes of having community members create content for free

I just learned, thanks to a reader of this site, that the parent company of the Ypsilanti Courier has launched a community journalism support center in downtown Ypsilanti. According to a release from the Journal Register Company, the facility, called the Community Media Lab, has already opened its doors on Michigan Avenue, within the SPARK East business incubator… The following is from their release.

Heritage Media-West, part of the Michigan cluster of Journal Register Co. publications, has selected Ypsilanti, home of Eastern Michigan University, for a Community Media Lab. We have seen a hunger in this community for local news, and there is a large student population and academic community interested in learning and gaining hands-on experience, as well as numerous volunteers and nonprofit groups interested in sharing local news and being involved in the community.

We feel the community has been underserved by the media since the closing of its only daily newspaper decades ago. A Community Media Lab in Ypsilanti would provide a learning-based and collaborative environment, as well as a vehicle for the community to document and chronicle the important events that will shape its history, while sharing community news and diverse voices. The Community Media Lab also will provide a talent pool for Heritage Media to draw on to further our mission of bringing news and information on a variety of platforms to our audience at Heritage.com, while engaging them and including them in the process.

Our goal is to teach the community to gather and report news on a variety of platforms, from creating video and podcasts to photo slideshows and sound slideshows to timelines, locator maps, info graphics, live tweeting, creating Storified compilations and databases, and become collaborators with Heritage.com, bringing the outside in and creating a transparent community newsroom.

We believe the community is open to using new digital technologies, blogging and sharing content on social media. Some of our partners include Eastern Michigan University faculty, professional journalists, public relations gurus, videographers and photographers, as well as student journalists and community bloggers. They will help lead workshops on podcasting, videography, photography, use of social media, reporting, narrative writing, resume writing, and collaborate in other ways such as sharing content. We also plan on recruiting high school students, from across the county, who have an interest in digital media to offer them a vehicle where they can showcase their skills while getting advice and support from professional journalists.

We will have journalists on site from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday at the SPARK-East building, 215 W. Michigan Ave. in Ypsilanti, beginning April 2, 2012, and will offer occasional workshops in the evening beginning in mid-May. Our staff will be available to work with student journalists, community contributors and community group media liaisons. Our goal is to also collaborate more with the community to crowdsource stories. A public blogging station will be set up and community contributors will be encouraged to work and learn on site at the lab, where there are comfortable chairs and desks. Those who have laptop computers, smartphones and photography/video equipment are encouraged to bring them and use them…

I am trying to give the company the benefit of the doubt, as I think that, on the whole, this might be a good thing for the community. (I think that Ypsilanti could really benefit from having more bloggers covering community meetings, and the like.) My concern however – and I hope it’s unfounded – is that this is being undertaken by the Courier’s parent company in an effort to generate inexpensive content, which could then be sold to the Courier’s subscribers… While I have no problem at all with non-profit community journalism sites, for which citizen reporters volunteer to go out and cover local meetings, and the like, I have a pretty significant problem with for-profit entities capitalizing on volunteer effort, generating revenues for themselves. And that, unless I’m missing something, is what this looks like to me.

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12 Comments

  1. Edward
    Posted April 12, 2012 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

    AnnArbor.com launched with the same idea in mind. As I understand it, though, very few people came forward to develop content for free. And, as a result, most of their material is now paid for. They don’t pay very much, especially compared to what they used to pay, for articles written by full-time reporters, but it’s more than the nothing being offered by the Courier.

    Hopefully, people will see right through this.

  2. Jepson
    Posted April 12, 2012 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

    Hours for training are: “9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.”

    Apparently, they aren’t interested in anyone with a job or seeking an education.

    I look forward to some top-notch journalism!

  3. rodneyn
    Posted April 12, 2012 at 10:26 pm | Permalink

    If you don’t like the direction that the Courier is taking, then be a true Contrarian and buy a couple of 2-year subscriptions to the newspaper. Keep one for yourself and give one away to a friend or neighbor! If we want a solid local newspaper, then we must support it by subscribing to the print edition.

  4. Edward
    Posted April 13, 2012 at 5:42 am | Permalink

    If you don’t like what they’re doing, you should give them money.

    I like the way you think, Rodneyn.

  5. Tommy
    Posted April 13, 2012 at 6:51 am | Permalink

    A for-profit entity capitalizing on volunteer effort, generating revenues for themselves. In America? No fucking way! Your concern is probably well founded, Mark.

  6. Knox
    Posted April 13, 2012 at 8:12 am | Permalink

    The test will be if you can take their blogging workshops and use their facilities, and then not allow them to use the pieces that you develop. Assuming they won’t allow this to happen, it’s nothing more than a clever attempt to generate free content. The Ann Arbor News tried to do the same thing when they transitioned online. I think they found, however, that people don’t want to work for free. Now they pay a pittance.

  7. Posted April 13, 2012 at 8:19 am | Permalink

    Yeah their freelance rates are pretty lame, supposedly only $35 for a piece. That’s pretty poor for a serious newspaper. To me it’s a way to get free or super cheap labor. I doubt it will work out. It sucks because I really wanted to work with them, but I can’t work for so little pay.

    I got meats to eat ya know?

  8. Eel
    Posted April 13, 2012 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    “We feel the community has been underserved by the media since the closing of its only daily newspaper decades ago.”

    I like that they agree that they’ve been underserving Ypsilanti.

  9. Posted April 14, 2012 at 7:25 am | Permalink

    If it turns out anything like AnnArbor.com, it will be a complete waste. Just read an article on Yspi’s housing authority and Mr. Temple getting paid his vacation pay while in a Texas jail. What was most dishonest about what AnnArbor.com did (among several things), was placing a picture of a dilapidated home in the Township next to the headline on the Yspi housing authority–as if the two have any connection. They had run the same picture yesterday with an article about the Township acting to knock the building down. AnnArbor.com folks are either the stupidest people in the county, or very dishonest folks. Mark, you provide an essential service to Ypsi, thanks.

  10. ChelseaL
    Posted April 15, 2012 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    This has been going on for some time, Mark. It’s the reason people like me are trying to navigate career changes in middle age: “Oh, we can’t PAY you anything, no…”

  11. Brainless
    Posted April 16, 2012 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    There is a glut of free content: YouTube, Facebook, Blogger, Twitter etc. ALL have more free content than god. Getting into the free content business is a sucker play. This is a fail out of the gate.

  12. anonymous
    Posted April 16, 2012 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    They’re not going to be giving the content away for free, Brianless. They’re going to repackage it and sell it back to the subscribers of the Courier. It’s a brilliant business model, if it works. My guess, however, is that it won’t. I have a hard time thinking that people will want to cover City Council meetings for free.

One Trackback

  1. By Will the Courier print its own obit? on June 12, 2015 at 5:57 am

    […] For what it’s worth, I don’t blame the employees of the Courier for anything that’s happened. As I discussed not too long ago with former Courier reporter Krystal Elliott on The Saturday Six Pack, I think all the blame lies with ownership, who, contemplating decreasing ad revenues in the internet era, chose not to invest in their papers, but instead to slash costs as much as possible in hopes of siphoning off a few more years of revenue. [Some of you may recall that the Courier attempted in 2012 to transition to a business model in which community members produced ….] […]

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