We are not, of course, researching community media in a vacuum. Even in Evanston, there are other media professionals trying to solve the same information-delivery issues at which we’re looking.
This week, I grabbed his digital ear — email, that is — to talk about his new website, its possible monetization and the difficulties of dealing with RSS feeds.
Here’s what Sinker said:
Local Fourth: When did you start?
Daniel Sinker: All News Evanston started last week — it’s the latest in a few different data presentation projects I’ve been working on, the main other one being the Chicago Mayoral Scorecard. I find the question of data presentation a really interesting one to play with, and I like making things that other people will use — both these projects get to scratch those itches.
LF: How do you describe your site and what was the impetus?
DS: All News Evanston is a site that aggregates the feeds of most of the news organizations, both large and small, that cover Evanston. The idea came about after the recent spate of bomb threats at the schools in Evanston — I found myself having to “make the rounds” of all the sites that dedicate coverage to Evanston in order to get a clear picture of what was going on. That seems terribly inefficient to me, so I built something I could use. Then I realized that it would probably be helpful for others as well, so I made the site official.
LF: Could you give us some insight into why this site will be good for Evanston residents? What is your role in news ecosystem?
DS: We live in an interesting point in local news — there’s a lot of experimentation from major media companies, and there’s also a lot of great work being done by passionate individuals and, as a result, there is a wealth of coverage of our little town. That’s amazing — really and truly, it’s kind of staggering to me just how much coverage Evanston now has.
But it creates a state of information overload. As a result, I think that most news consumers stick with one or two sources. With All News Evanston, many of those sources are collected and a short excerpt of the story is reprinted with a clear link back to the full story. It’s good for Evanstonians that want to be fully plugged into the news in their town, and it helps to spread readers to the multitude of sites covering the town. Connecting people who want news with people who publish news is a great place to be in this ecosystem.
LF: Can a site like this be monetized?
DS: I’m currently running some simple Google AdSense campaigns on the site, mainly out of curiosity. So far, in the week the site has been active, it’s made $1.27. So there’s that. There’s a lot of meta-discussions about aggregators and advertisements and, to me, if this site becomes part of that meta-discussion then it’s failed in its mission of bringing together all this great reporting. In other words, if the ads get in the way, they’re gone.
LF: How many man hours did this take to create? And how much time will it take to curate?
DS: I built the basic skeleton for the site in a few hours. When I decided to make it public, a lot more work went into info-polishing and user design. But the real push was probably about seven or eight hours worth of work — a lot of that was just wrestling with feeds. Because I’m a little obsessive about design, I’m still tweaking that end of things, as well as rolling in some new features (like today, I launched a search box that will search all the sites feeding into All News in one click). I’m a tinkerer, so there’s still ongoing work on the project.
In terms of curation, like I said, dealing with the feeds was a lot of the initial work. But now that they’re feeding in, there’s no real curation — it’s a feed-based site, no editorial curation involved. That said, there’s always grooming the feeds. Last night I added a second feed that the City of Evanston has that I think qualifies as news. When a certain major university in Evanston fixes their category-based RSS outage, that feed will be rolled in. There’s one independent Evanston news site that doesn’t have a feed, so if they ever go live with one, that would be rolled in. So yeah, feeds — they’re a pain. But they’re also kind of amazing.