It’s interesting how the news about Backfence’s demise was pretty quiet. I wouldn’t have noticed had I not started a Google alert on citizen journalism about a week ago.
And the American Journalism Review ran an interesting piece recently on the failures of Backfence (which focused more on the business model than the journalism of the venture).
Here is the main problem with Backfence, and many similar citizen journalism Web sites that go under: they don’t build community.
It was the same problem with Dan Gillmor’s Bayosphere (and strangely enough, Gillmor hopped onto the Backfence bandwagon about a year ago). People open the doors to a community Web site thinking people will just come and post stories and photographs. They don’t get onto the ground to nurture the Web site.
It’s how journalists have crafted community journalism over decades. We don’t sit in an office waiting for the phone to ring. We get out of the office and embed ourselves into the community we cover. We visit the coffee shops, dog parks, delis, libraries, town halls and wherever else people and news may be.
The same goes for community/citizen journalism Web sites. People can’t open the doors and expect people to come. We need to get out the door and speak to people and encourage them to get involved. We need to teach them that they need to be part of the conversation with the journalists rather than sit back and listen.
And when you have a thriving community online, the advertising dollars will follow. Advertisers will see the popularity and want to get involved.
And that’s what didn’t happen in places like Backfence and Bayosphere. The doors were open and there was no encouragement for people to post. A professional journalist wasn’t there to guide people and get people involved.
I hope people see the lessons that can be taught by the failings of these sites and learn from them.