Observations from the New Media Women Entrepreneur Summit

By Talia Whyte, founder and director of Global Wire Associates, freelance journalist and 2009 Environmental Justice Fellow at the Institute for Justice and Journalism, University of Southern California

Online movers and shakers made a splash last week at the first annual New Media Women Entrepreneur Summit in Washington D.C., where ideas for digital innovations with a woman’s touch were highlighted.  Both professional and citizen journalists showed off their latest projects, including Teresa Puente, former Chicago Tribune reporter and founder of Latina Voices.  Puente said she started the site to address the dearth of Latina perspectives in the mainstream media in Chicago.  Since launching last year, the wildly successful site has produced over 80 articles and has plans on recruiting more writers and having a more national focus in the near future.

While most the sites featured at the summit were commercially operated, there has been growing interest in nonprofit journalism.  Melissa Bailey, managing editor of the New Haven Independent, a news site launched in 2005 which is “produced in conjunction with the Online Journalism Project, a not-for-profit effort to promote professional-quality “stand-alone” and “hyperlocal” news sites on the Internet.”  With a staff of four, the website has succeeded in being seen as competitive with other local media outlets.  It also receives financial support from groups such as the Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut and Yale-New Haven Hospital.  When asked if the site’s reporting is heavily determined by the large number of health related sponsors, Bailey said that while many stories on the site deal with health, this is because the readership has a strong interest in this topic.

Engaging readers in not only what they read, but also being content producers was an overarching topic of the day.  Maureen Mann, founder of the daily news site ForumHome, said that community engagement is central to the site.  ForumHome is an all-volunteer operation run by community residents, which started out of a need to cover issues concerning rural New Hampshire but given little attention by the Concord Monitor and Union Leader. Because half of the population has Internet access, they a print editions for special events, such as for information regarding local elections or school board meetings. The site has become the go-to place for news and information, receiving over 3.5 million unique hits in 4 years, thanks largely to its “citizen newsroom.”

“People are realizing that if they want to read the news in our community, they have to report the news themselves,” Mann said.

However, the elephant in the room is with all this content being done for free by nontraditional journalists, what does the future hold for traditional journalists who are losing their jobs due to the changing newsroom?  No one had a clear answer for this, but this will surely continue to be up for discussion more now that traditional news outlets reinvent themselves.

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