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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Failed citizen journalism experiment?

No, I'm not talking about Assignment Zero or Backfence. I'm referring to iBurlington — "Burlington Vermont's Blog" — a local citizen journalism site, launched in 2005.

Creator Brian Brown had high hopes for the project, which he modeled after the successful CJ community iBrattleboro. In March of 2005, Brown told Seven Days  he expected to sign up more contributors and get more traffic than iBrat, if only because Burlington's a bigger city.

But it didn't happen that way.

Despite spurring bloggers like Haik Bedrosian to start their own sites, iBurlington never really caught on. At some point over the last year, Brown quietly abandoned the site, despite the fact that it still displays his info. For the past several months, iBurlington's only contributor has been marijuana activist Cris Ericson.

If you're a Vermonter, you may remember Ericson from the ballot — she's a perennial candidate, who ran for Governor and Vermont Senator in 2006 as an independent. The headline of her latest post — IS IBM CREATING WEAPONS THAT COULD TARGET JEWS BASED ON THEIR DNA?

Yes, in all caps.

I emailed Brian at his iBurlington address to ask him about the site. He responded saying that, though he had set it up so that all postings would be approved by him, somehow in the last year postings had been getting through without his approval.

"I haven't bothered to read them or pay much attention to them," he writes, adding that he has "no plans" to go further with iBurlington.

Brian hasn't responded to my follow-up email, but as someone pointed out in the comments thread on the last post, Brian is apparently living in Wisconsin, working as a consultant — at least according to his website, which looks like it hasn't been updated in a few months.

I guess it's safe to say that Brian has walked away from iBurlington — which is too bad, I think. I worked with Brian briefly on the Winooski Eagle site, which he's also apparently abandoned. At one point, he had plans to host a whole network of citizen journalism sites. Guess that fell through.

Creating a thriving online citizen journalism site is a huge commitment, requiring a lot of face-to-face human interaction and organizing. You have to let people know the site's out there, you have to teach them to use it, and you have to inspire them to care about it. And you have to be willing to do all of that essentially for free. At least at first, and possibly for a long, long time.

These are things iBrat's founders have said again and again.

Incidentally, two members of the iBrattleboro community traveled all the way to North Beach in Burlington for the Bloggers BBQ last Sunday. Yet another measure of iBrat's success.

Front Porch Forum founder Michael Wood-Lewis was also at the BBQ. FPF is a neighborhood email newsletter, not really a web-based tool, but it's definitely succeeding in some respects where iBurlington failed. That just occurred to me as I was writing this post, and it's definitely something to think about.

July 17, 2007 at 10:46 AM in VT Blogs | Permalink


As if on cue, Dan Gilmore has published his Citizen Media Progress Report.

Posted by: bill simmon | Jul 17, 2007 1:42:42 PM

Failed citizen journalism experiment? Sometimes I feel like a failed citizen experimenting with journalism myself...

But after reading this post, I submitted a post to iBurlington and it's up! My italics tags didn't work, but whatever. It must be that no one but perennial candidate Cris Ericson has posted in a long long time. "Perennial Candidate." Ouch. That moniker is the kiss of death. Ericson will never win an election now. It's a good thing Bernie won mayor before the phrase was invented.

Brian's probably waiting for someone to make an offer for the iBurlington.com URL. Maybe the city should buy it. I still think the city of Burlington should have an official blog where participants would use their real names and have their identities verified by the city clerk. There could be forums exclusive to elected officials. That way the city council wouldn't have to wait until Monday night to deliberate. They could always have an open running public dialog. People could see their councilors, school commissioners, etc. debating live with a click. It would have to be an official, public trusted site. People would have to have confidence in it. It's a revolutionary idea if I could just explain it better.

Posted by: Haik Bedrosian | Jul 17, 2007 10:25:14 PM

FYI, iBrattleboro just topped 8,500,000 pages visited.

Check it out.


Posted by: Brattlerouser | Jul 18, 2007 4:02:29 PM

Contact these guys:


I think they're Vermonters.

Posted by: H. Flyer | Jul 19, 2007 12:23:53 PM

I've been following this citizen journalism thing for quite some time now.
While ibrattleboro.com certainly seems to be pretty active, most of these sites have fizzled.
There is one main reason why this has happened.
Writing articles is hard work, as any journalist knows. Hard work deserves compensation. As far as I know,
no citizen journalist site offers to pay their writers.
In this country, like it or not, most enterprizes run on capital. No money, no enterprize.
Pay citizen journalists to write useful, entertaining and insightful content and people
may read it. Otherwise all the altruism in the world won't keep a site afloat for very long.

I work for my local Public access TV station. In some ways, public access TV is like a citizen journalist site.
The big difference is that public Access Tv is funded by cable subscribers. It's a pretty sweet deal actually.
It also allows the station to actually PAY me (albeit a small amount) to learn to use broadcast quality equipment.
It's strange that more people don't produce ther own Public access TV shows. So few in fact that they actually need
to pay people like me to go out and record stuff.

For citizen journalist sites to work, They'd need to
1. provide useful content that people want to read on a local level.
2. Pay content providers.
3. Sell advertising to aquire the capital to do the above.

Only then will people provide quality content that others want to read and allow the site
to sustain itself.

Posted by: vtstream | Sep 5, 2007 11:27:06 PM

Well said, vtstream.

Posted by: Cathy Resmer | Sep 6, 2007 8:41:56 AM

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