J-Lab Director Jan Schaffer: 'Community News Sites Are Not a Business Yet'

Jan Schaffer, director of J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism at American University in Washington, D.C., invested $833,000 in 46 startup news sites from 2005-09 as part of the New Voices project, but she told Alan D. Mutter, author of blog Reflections of a Newsosaur, “Community news sites are not a business yet.”

In her assessment of New Voices, which was backed by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Schaffer said, as reported by Mutter:

Again and again, we’ve seen volunteer New Voices efforts that are sustaining themselves with little income. There is a mismatch between instilling sustainable civic demand for local news information and developing sustainable economic models. While most of the New Voices sites are exploring hybrid models of support, none is raising enough money to pay full salaries and benefits.

(Most of the entrepreneurs in her program) get little to no compensation for the untold hours of work they put into their sites, or run their sites on top of paid jobs elsewhere.

Citizen-journalism math is working out this way: Fewer than one in 10 of those you train will stick around to be regular contributors, and even then, they may be “regular” for only a short period of time.

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