May 7, 2006

River City Reader to morph into multimedia interactive web smorgasbord

A story by managing editor Jeff Ignatius of the River City Reader previews some of their ambitious plans to morph from, as he puts it, "a newspaper with a Web site" to "a multimedia company that publishes a newspaper." as they institute several
"projects and concepts" over the next few months. It seems they've considered everything short of a dating service or a My Space concept.
Even more exciting, though, are the opportunities for genuine and meaningful collaboration.

Many media outlets, of course, allow their readers to post comments on articles, and when we re-launch the Reader Web site in the next few months, we’ll do that as well. Blogs and podcasts have become ubiquitous and give virtually everybody the opportunity to express themselves. They also give people the ability to consume media in the form most convenient for them – text, video, or audio.

But comments and blogs and podcasts by themselves don’t amount to much in the larger concern of community discussion; even at their best, they tend to be a series of people talking, rather than discussing, debating, and building consensus. Beyond those methods, the Reader will employ the same tool behind the wildly successful Wikipedia (, which has shown that accuracy, thoughtfulness, and even-handedness can come from a virtually unmediated process.

Think of the possibilities.

What if, instead of shouting at each other at public meetings about a pork-processing plant, a hotel/casino project on Davenport’s riverfront, or the "market district," the community came together in a virtual space to find common ground? What if as the result of this genuinely public process, the community could present interested parties with carefully crafted alternatives to the often binary choices they’re asked to make – alternatives that might not have even been considered? What if, by expanding the conversation beyond people with vested interests – and wresting control of the forum away from them – companies and government could build greater consensus, thus reducing the level of rancor while increasing community investment?

That’s our admittedly idealistic vision. Honestly, we don’t know whether we can pull it off, but we’re going to try. A draft of the mission statement for our new Web site reads:

"To empower citizens and their community using Web tools that foster discussion and collaboration.

"The primary goals include:

• increasing the amount, usefulness, and openness of public debate on issues of civic interest;

• expanding community knowledge and wisdom; and

• improving public policy and projects.”

The statement was crafted with civic issues such as the Isle of Capri hotel/casino in mind, but it will probably be revised to reflect a similar approach to the arts. The artist-roundtable idea stemmed from a dissatisfaction gleaned from a Figge Artists Advisory Council meeting regarding the level of discourse in the mainstream media. This is our first effort at boosting the amount and sophistication of that conversation.

Fundamentally, that’s our interest with all of our planned endeavors. We don’t merely want to allow comments on articles simply because everybody else allows comments; while comments are a useful tool, they generate a lot of noise and little discernible benefit. We want to use interactive, multimedia, and collaborative tools to make the Quad Cities better.

Looks like RCR is planning on leap-frogging from the text only, web reproduction of a print medium with no blog era into the audio-text-video-wiki-streaming-podcast-interactive-multimedia, and more all at once realm. It's ambitious, but as online presences' evolve, it sounds like they want to ensure that they'll be there with a little bit of everything, and then some.

It's an intriguing plan with plenty of promise on paper, and it will be interesting to see how it evolves and plays out. As stated in the article here, it sounds like it has great potential.

Will this force other local coporate media outlets to become ever more flashy and technologically advanced? Will it result in a site with so many bells and whistles and high-tech features that it will overwhelm and/or turn off average readers?

(And just as an aside, the article states that podcasts are now ubiquitous. It's certainly a growing technology, but I'm about at the point where I know what it is and it's certainly not on my "must have" list. But I'm curious as to how many readers out there are regularly podcasting like there's no tomorrow. Let us know, would you?)


At 5/08/2006 12:26 AM, Blogger tiz said...

QCTimes and QCOnline both allow comments in their stories now, and frankly I don't care for it. I'm all for open and public dialogue, but I wish they would segregate their comments into a message board or something else seperate from the stories. Because of this I think it's only a matter of time before someone claims censorship or some moron attributes an off-color comment (there are many of these) to the paper itself, the QCTimes/Dispatch fear liability, and the idea goes the way of the dodo. The comments there are too visible to someone who just wants to read the stories.

It'll be interesting to see how the wikipedia approach works for RCR. Look at the edit history on wikipedia for any current event-related entry to see what I mean. I remember in 2004 they eventually had to lock down W and Kerry's entries on there.

I listen to the "Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me" and "Onion Radio News" podcasts regularly. You can find both of these on radio so it's more of a timeshifting mechanism here.


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