Posted by:   Thursday, December 17, 2015

Lise LePage and Christopher Grotke in Brattleboro, VT, US
Brattleboro - a cozy town in American "Green Mountain State" - Vermont, USA. Today we offer to get acquainted with its community media iBrattleboro, and interviewed their founders.

Tell shortly please, when did you create your community media? Did you do it alone? What is your team now?
Lise LePage and Christopher Grotke started iBrattleboro.com in February of 2003. We act as guides and moderators. The number of people in the community that have signed up to contribute news, events, or opinions is now close to 4,000 people. Brattleboro, Vermont, our town, has a population of 12,000.

Did you have some funding at the start of creation? What was the amount of it?
There was no funding. We customized some open-source software, and spent a small amount of money to buy the domain name.

What is the amount of funding now? Who are the donors?
There is no regular funding. Users of the site make occasional contributions to help cover the costs of running a server, and advertisers pay for advertising space sometimes.
One of the benefits of creating a community-based media site is that it can be very inexpensive to do. The primary cost is the time involved.


Do you have salaries? Is that your only work or it is more like your hobby? 
We build web sites for people as our regular jobs, so iBrattleboro.com is a bit of work and a bit of a hobby. Hobby might not be the best word. The site is more of a service that we provide, and that we like to provide, so that people who live here can share information about the place where they live. Since we live here, too, it benefits us as much as anyone else in the town.
In terms of time spent, it does take a lot of time. We check in to see how things are going throughout the day and night, every day of the year, and every year since 2003. There are submissions to approve, comments to read, new users to approve, and so on. If we want to write anything ourselves to share on iBrattleboro.com, that takes additional time, too.

What is approximate amount you spent for your media in a month?
We pay for a domain name plus server hosting and bandwidth costs. It is hardly anything, compared to running a newspaper.

What are you goals for development of your media?
We hope that people in town continue to use the site to share their news, views, events, and other community information. The more people use it, the better it can be.

Website iBrattleboro

Does your media earn some money from advertisement or smth else?
We do earn a bit from advertising. We offer our own, local ads only. No Google ads or other services that track people are allowed. We don’t allow any ads that blink or move or make sounds. We want the ads to be useful to people in our area who might see them. We like helping businesses and organizations in our area reach our audience of people interested in Brattleboro and southern Vermont.

Can you call yourself absolutely independent media?
I think we can. We receive no government funding, and income isn’t really our goal. Our goal is to help facilitate discussion in our community, and we are extremely broad in the topics and conversations we allow to occur. We are protected in the U.S. by an internet law that says operators of web sites are not responsible for the actions of their site users, and this is very important to the free flow of information. It allows us to “publish” things we might disagree with.

What are the difficulties in your work?
Some people confuse the site, iBrattleboro.com, with those using it. This leads them to take issue with the platform rather than the ideas being expressed.
There is sometimes an issue with using real names or not (we allow pseudonyms). Some people don’t trust “unsigned” work. We find that allowing nicknames has not harmed the quality of the information people provide.
It can take a lot of time, so it is helpful if other people are on the team.
Sometimes there isn’t much going on, and sometimes we can be very, very busy.

And maybe you could give some advices for those Ukrainians who are going to create their own community media and don’t know what to start from and where to get funding from. 
First, we’d say that if you are interested in starting something like this, you should do it.
Think about where you live and what makes that area unique. Try to allow people ways to discuss the things they’d talk about on the street or with friends. 
Use a light touch. Try to follow your contributors rather than lead them. Don’t tell them what to think, but focus on making sure people are well informed. If they have the information, they can make good decisions.

It’s good to have a small team that can share work responsibilities.  Try to have someone who knows how to do programming and build sites, but also have people that are good community facilitators. Share the workload.

For funding, you can find investors, but they may want you to give up some independence. You can apply for grants, but that takes additional time and effort. You can ask individuals for support, find advertisers or sponsors, sell subscriptions, or sell other merchandise related to your media outlet. A gift from a foundation might be a great way to get a project started, but it is important for long-term success to find ways to make it work without relying on outside funds.

It’s best if money isn’t an issue. Try to use free, open-source software and keep your costs down. Try to use volunteers.

Live in the place you are doing this. Don’t try to develop a community media site for a community you don’t live in.

Interviews were conducted under the Project "Fostering Civic Journalism in Ukrainian's Regions", supported by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). The views of the authors do not necessarily reflect the official position of the U.S. government.

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