The Village of Tracy is located approximately 40 kilometres outside of Fredericton, New Brunswick. It has a population of just over 600. Putting that number into perspective, there are movie theatres in Toronto that hold more people. In comparison, those movie theatres also have a economy that is self-sustaining, bringing in revenue and spending it in the same location, while Tracy serves mostly as an out-of-way
subdivision with lower property taxes. With very little industry worth noting, the majority of Tracyites travel daily to the neighbouring towns and cities of Saint John or Fredericton for employment. Even the village’s high school students are bused 40 minutes away to the town of Oromocto for education. The profile for the village of Tracy on the Canadian government’s website lists ‘Roads’ as being the third key attribute, just above garbage pick-up. Suffice to say Tracy is your typical, small, backwater town. This is it’s strength.
Although Tracy is a blip on the map when comparing populations to most towns and cities, the social structures that are in play are infinitely more interconnected then the average city dweller. If you were to compare a Tracyite to a Torontonian by drawing a simple web of the number of connections made during a day, or a lifetime may be comparable as well, the connections in Tracy are much more central, much more localized. The simple fact is that everybody truly does know everybody else in the village. This is evidenced when certain incidents happen within any one person’s life. As dark as it is to say, Funerals are huge in Tracy. Everybody comes out for them. The same goes for cancer benefits or anything ailment related. There is a support structure that is present that you cannot get in a larger town. There are times when a city or town comes together to root on a sports team or usher in new legislation, but the support of a tiny community deeply personal. It is on a first name basis with everyone.
When developing an online presence to cater to a community such as Tracy, the first thing that must be achieved is that same kind of intimacy. Because this is a project based around a community that knows it’s own people personally then there is no room for anonymity. In order to participate in any of the online components on the site then you must declare yourself as a member of that community by becoming a “citizen.” The citizen of Tracy IS a citizen of the online site, they are one and the same. No avatars, no fake handles. In the online community on the internet at large this is an unenforceable problem. However, on a site that represents citizens of a small town in the real world, imposters or fakers can and will be easily identified. The online Tracy community will be able to easily identify those that are abusing the system, making people up and have that profile eliminated. If there is no “Charles Barkley” there will be no “Charles Barkley” on Tracy-Online (or TracyFace.)
Because online anonymity is an issue being addressed on a large scale in the world today many sites are turning to Facebook to represent their real-world counterparts. I am discouraging that in this project, at least in the initial stages. Facebook profiles are projections of a person to everyone that they “friend.” http://apps.facebook.com/profile-maker/ Becoming a “citizen” limits that profile to the town that it represents. It has a singular purpose and there is no need to worry about how it’s presentation will be reflected to other social groups (work, school, etc.) Where Facebook profiles are accountable to the world, Citizenship is only accountable to the town that it is serving. The end result should be simple. Removing the veil keeps citizens accountable for everything said and done on this site, while the new, town oriented profile gives everyone involved a singular purpose and focus. This construction of the online person is the vital backbone of this project. It is more important then the content that this site provides. This is where it will differentiate from the popular format of providing content and hoping that people consume it. If done correctly, and the site installs a sense of loyalty and community, citizens will generate their own content and the effect become exponential afterwards. But the personal investment of the citizens is what makes or breaks this site. It is the same theory that builds social networking, without healthy participants and without daily activity the site dies and becomes another stale web page with list of articles to scroll through. This idea of an online community should serve as a vehicle for the same kind of community interactions that take place in the real world but are simply more accessible by being online.
The user generating their own content can be admittedly hazardous, especially in a small community that sometimes thrives off of gossip and hearsay. To combat the site from becoming a simple rumour mill, it should be run by two levels of administration. The first level is community selected admins. These admins will be charged with patrolling the site for anything deemed inappropriate, offensive, or damaging to the community at large. (Countless current websites are policed by community admins, I won’t link to any, but chances are you’ve been on one and not even known) It is important to have the community elect who it is exactly that does the policing as to not create a monopoly on information. The process could be generated during the sign up process when a citizen is creating his or her profile or there could also be elections held on a regular basis. The importance needs to be on having the rotation or selection done frequent enough as to not to not create a community stranglehold on information. Also, a conflict of interest needs to be avoided, so elected officials within the community cannot become admins. The flow of information should be in the hands of the citizens only. For this reason I am also banning corporations or anyone with the last name Irving from controlling the news here.
The second level of administration is going to the only paid employees of the site. Two hired journalists, both of which need a background in IT and multimedia. This will serve as the website’s maintenance and upkeep crew. Also, where this is not a newspaper, there needs to be a level of interaction and polish that will attract citizens daily. It is true that this site will attract visitors based on it catering local news and events as well as a personal investment, but the truth is that in the year 2011 this site will still be competing with other, very large, organizations for an individual’s simple attention. Attention needs to be kept, not just from other news sites, but from all other web pages. A strong multimedia presentation, a professional level of polish can make a website competitive. Many smaller newspapers have failed in making the transition to the online arena simply because they callously just threw up their content onto the web. That content, originally built for a physical paper medium, does little, if anything to take advantage of the tools that make the internet such a useful medium in the 21st century.
In addition to bringing luster and maintenance to the site, journalists bring a level of professionalism to the rest of the content on the site that is not generated by the citizens. Having articles written by individuals trained in that specific craft is very important to the credibility of the news and features on the site. That said, it is also vital that these two hired journalists be from outside the community. In a small town it is too easy to be biased about certain business or procedures, having them come from out of town creates distance and perspective, both of which can be rare commodities in a small, rural town. It is the same principle applied to allocating police officers throughout the country. Having someone who is impartial in charge lessens the likelihood that integrity will be compromised. A small town like Tracy can have a lot of benefits with having a close-knit community, but it can also get nasty when personalities clash. Hired professionals counter this potential problem. Also, as the site grows to better reflect the community, the journalists grow with it, complementing each other as time progresses.
Up until this point not much has been discussed in terms of actual content. It has been suggested that much of the content is to be created by the citizens themselves while also placing a certain emphasis on professional and traditional journalism. It needs to be addressed that although the citizens and their involvement on this site are the most crucial part of the project, the site does not revolve around them. In a comparison to Facebook, another somewhat similar network that has users at it’s core, this close-knit community site needs to have the community and it’s news at the heart of the development. Citizens, active citizens, are to be simply thought off as a support structure that uphold and deliver the content. They are the medium, the site is simply the presentation of that result.
In terms of actual articles and what will be on this news site, I propose traditional methods of journalism, as they are time tested, but emphasis on their delivery in an online medium. Taking advantage of the internets capabilities are crucial. http://edition.cnn.com/2004/HEALTH/08/05/world.hunger/index.html In addition, citizens on the site are encourgaged to publish their own content. This can be anything from ‘news from the backyard,’ to an on-going saga of wedding preparations. (Yes, Tracy really is that small. Everybody knows who’s getting married and one which weekend.) Ongoing blogs are also encouraged. There needs to be a strong connection of citizens, individuals contributing their own material if they so desire, in a commen area. This is what separates a small community from a metropolis. Even a population twice or three times the size of Tracy may not benefit from this type of setup, simply due to their size, which in most standards is still insignificant. Here, it will thrive. However, any content that is generated by citizens on this site, must be labelled as such. Blogs and opinions need to be identified as such, as not to blur the lines between hard news and it’s relevance. Also, remember that their is no anonymity on Tracy-Online. People are much less inclined to manufacture news, or overstep their boundaries when they know that they can be held personally responsible for their actions. That said, there will be incidents where things will evolve past the announcements, events, and news and cross the line into the mundane, or offensive to certain parties or families in the community. The admins are there for such instances, also going up to the top brass of the two journalists if need be.
Other news, specifically that generated around the two journalists will be focused on the larger and more influential issues that will come about. Elections, government policies affecting the community, tragedies, annual events, and sports (a big part of this town) all fall under the jurisdiction of the hired journalists. Being small arena, it is true that Tracy will not always produce the most bleeding edge news stories, but that is to be countered with a continuing flow of content simply featured in and around the community. Features, profiles, visiting incidents past, are all worthy of publication and their is an audience that will readily consume that information. It is important to realize that this site can never compete with the larger news organizations, nor should it. It concerns itself only with the exclusive content that it has access to.
An additional aspect of generating content that would be an interesting deviation from traditional news and news reporting, would be to alternate in assigning a citizen the duty of writing an article or reporting their news. Such a task would not be optional, and a person could see “Their Day” coming in advance. They could choose to not write anything at all, but the event would still feature them for that allocated period of time. This gives certain citizens the spotlight for a time, reporting their news or opinions, on a schedule instead of simply expecting them to contribute. Putting the onus on that personality to produce, and having the community expecting to hear from that person, who they know personally could produce interesting results. In the very least it would provide additional content that is directly community related and keep the site fresh on a daily basis.
To address the question of funding I suggest a multi-tiered solution. Operating costs should remain low due to only having a staff of two, and publication online via web-hosting can be very cost effective compared to producing a physical product. Local business can be encouraged to advertise, there are over 50 different businesses in the area that supposrt neighbouring towns as well as Tracy. Having a strong percentage of market penetration should sell the online space seeing how it is catering directly to real people in the local area instead of just flooding the online atmosphere across a global span. http://www.smalltownpapers.com/ Also, I suggest finding sponsorship through government grants and programs, both for starting the project and maintaining it. A relationship similar to that which the CBC maintains is preferable, although on a much smaller scale. As village council allocates much funding for the community at large, government funds could also be obtained in such a way as long as it was effectively demonstrated that such a site was beneficial to the community at large.
Much of this development, as well as the direction, that I have chosen to pursue for this project is based around a semi-annual event that takes place in Tracy, as well as the neighbouring municipalities of Fredericton Junction and Hoyt. Every so often the television stations of TSN or the CBC host events in small communities. Whether it be hosting pre-season NHL games, or simply broadcasting ‘SportsCenter’ from within the community, these events are massive for small towns. Fredericton Junction recently constructed an Olympic regulation hockey rink with seating for 600 people after 20 years of community fund raising. No small feat, considering that most of the kids that did the majority of bike-a-thons, bake sales, and other fundraisers are now moved away or too old to join the young hockey teams that play there. However the new facility has become the centre of attention in the ‘Tri-County’ area in which it resides. When these events are hosted by the CBC or TSN, they normally have on-line voting to determine which community hosts the event in Canada. The entirety of the three communities come together for a furious month of voting. He event is primarily organized via a Facebook page. Dates and places are announced as to who will be hosting vote-a-thons at their home where people group together with their lap-tops and vote for hours on end. The elementary school opens it’s doors to their computer labs, hosting a “Community Access Center.” This action, all taking place, organized, and executed in the on-line sphere has netted them a hosting of ‘SportsCentre’ http://www.newswire.ca/en/releases/archive/August2009/18/c5785.html
and top five placing for the race to host an NHL pre-season game via the CBC ‘Hockeyville’ competition (I have no doubt that they will obtain that someday.) The point is that that fever, and sense of online community, really is there. There is no obstacle to overcome, as this has already been achieved, the success of it has already been shown on a national level. Creating a continuous online presence, such as this project that I am proposing, simply keeps that momentum going instead of having it only available at certain times a year. This bridges communities and citizens with a common cause that they all support, and that is the community itself.