Failed citizen journalism experiment? | 802 Online

Failed citizen journalism experiment?

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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.

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