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Michelle Ferrier

MICHELLE FERRIER Dr. Michelle Ferrier is an associate professor in the iMedia graduate program at Elon University in North Carolina. She is interested in the intersection of community advocacy, education and journalism.

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Project Blog: Womens Community News Franchise

This project sets out to create a complete infrastructure, to be franchised, for those who want to launch hyperlocal news sites. Services will include a Web platform, software development, market analysis, some content, and legal and marketing assistance. Such an infrastructure, says former editor Michelle Ferrier, will permit citizen journalists and community members to "focus on what they are most passionate about - building their community conversation through good local information and networking."

Project Report

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Former editor Dr. Michelle Ferrier, one of three winners in the New Media Women Entrepreneurs awards,  has been working to develop a complete infrastructure, to be franchised, for those individuals or groups want to launch hyper-local news sites.  Ferrier is an associate professor at Elon University in North Carolina and teaches in the iMedia graduate program.

She reports that she’s had a busy time in the projects first three months.

Ferrier established a business structure as a limited liability partnership called Creative Technologists, LLC based in Greensboro, North Carolina and interviewed and/or visited six potential technology partners for the development of the content management system for the community sites.

Ferrier then researched and received quotes on several different companion print products. As part of the learning process, she made contact with competing companies and products being offered in the hyper-local space to see what they were offering. And then she created nondisclosure and teaming agreements with Creative Circle Advertising Solutions of Providence, Rhode Island.

These negotiations included a licensing agreement for use of their CommunityQ content management system and an exclusive nationwide right to sell the platform to potential hyper-local news operators.

Then she created nondisclosure and teaming agreements with Inner Eye Studios of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Inner Eye Studios will be Ferrier’s technology partner in the development of the mobile application and other ancillary technologies to the content management system platform.

She established a project blog at that details the project development along with informational content of use to hyperlocal developers. She wrote a series of blogs on the pros/cons of content management systems resulting in significant buzz and viewership that extended to the Reynolds Journalism Institute Collaboratory site and Journalism That Matters Collaboratory, two potential audiences for the franchise project content and services.

Finally, she found a physical location for the business in the Wagon Works Digital Media Incubator, developed by Inner Eye Studios in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

“The principals of the incubator will help establish the technological supports for the franchise project and provide marketing and business support for the development of the franchise business,” said Ferrier. “They will also assist in the development of a pitch package for local venture capital firms.

“By December 30, 2009, I intend to begin the design and development of the content management system front-end and back-end systems. In addition, a design for the mobile application system will be developed in conjunction with the above partners.”

For all the good things that have happened, Ferrier says that she has experienced a significant setback. Foreclosures, as well as business closures, in the West Volusia, Florida area have had a direct effect on the advertising and readership of a potential hyper-local publication that Ferrier had planned to help launch in the area. Due to the economic downturn, Ferrier and the content partner that she works with in the area both felt that the problems with starting a new enterprise in the area would serious compromise its chances of being successful.

“Due to this loss, I have been assessing other locations for the viability of the hyper-local concept,” says Ferrier. “I’m going to use an online contest to solicit interested hyper-local operators, and to develop a prospect list for potential clients. The contest will held in January 2010, with the winner of will begin development of their local site by March 2010.”

Ferrier plans to attend the Journalism That Matters regional event in Seattle, Washington on January 7-10, 2010. She’ll distribute promotional materials for the contest and the Women’s Community News Franchise effort. And she plans to attend the Journalism That Matters conference in Detroit June 4-7, 2010, where she will be one of the principal organizers.

“This ‘mashup’  conference is designed to stimulate and incubate innovative journalism ventures,” says Ferrier.” I intend to cultivate additional contacts for content, technology and distribution.”

Ferrier also plans to continue to explore a variety of funding sources such as foundation, venture and personal, to sustain the franchise development in subsequent years.  The development of a venture capital package is on the drawing board.

The next three months will see more work to build the hyper-local “toolbox,” including the design and development of the content management system/mobile application and contest/marketing materials for the franchise idea. Ferrier will also launch a proof of concept site and select a partner for the site.

   • Posted by Michelle Ferrier on 01/14 at 02:11 PM

Reflections on Slow News Movement at JTM-PNW

Sunday, January 10, 2010

After several days at the Journalism that Matters -Pacific Northwest gathering, we’ve been asked to reflect on what ah-ha moments, actions and emotions we’ve developed during our time. One of the most intriguing ideas to come out of the JTM session I hosted on Locally Grown News was the idea of slow news.

The first ah-ha moment for me came when I looked at what was happening nationally and the movement toward producing fewer papers—going from a daily metro newspaper to perhaps three or four times a week publication. While this has reduced expenditures and is often accompanied by layoffs, I began to think that the change signaled a difference in how news was produced. Even with fewer employees, do the news staffs feel that they can produce more thoughtful, context-filled, richly sourced stories with the additional time they now have?

This thought carried into the Locally Grown News session where we examined using the locavore movement—eating locally—as an opening for conversations and sharing of news in a community. The idea is to use the analogy of the farmer’s market, rather than the town square, as the metaphor for doing news differently in a hyperlocal space.

image Our group found the food metaphor a rich way to explore not only how hyperlocals might use this content niche as a focal point, but began to examine the food cycle itself and how it maps to the roles, practices, behaviors, rituals that define a different way of doing journalism. What rich, fertile ground (oh, the puns!) that helped to grow our vision of a new kind of news process.

Slow news is the deliberate, thoughtful, context-filled, nurturing journalistic enterprise. It is news as food, news and information that feeds a community. My initial thoughts generated multiple questions that we could ask ourselves as journalists and media producers:

  1. Who is fed by this information? Who is starved?
  2. How does this information nurture the community?
  3. Where did the seeds of this idea come from?
  4. Who contributed to the preparation of this story?
  5. Where else/how else/in what other forms might this story be produced?

Our collective passion for what we do as journalists and foodies led us to produce a diagram that maps our roles as media in the food cycle.

   • Posted by Michelle Ferrier on 01/10 at 09:44 AM

New Year, New Name, Fresh Start for Hyperlocal Incubator

Thursday, January 07, 2010

So here I am, back after a brief hiatus, taking Locally Grown News on the road. I’m roadtesting the concept of a “sustainable journalism incubator” at the Journalism That Matters “Reimagining News & Community in the Pacific Northwest in Seattle on January 7-10.

The concept of an incubator morphed from the franchise idea. Why? The goal is to create a collaborative environment, regardless of name. However, the term franchise has lots of legal connotations that were not intended in the original project concept. So the Women’s Community News Franchise has morphed into the rich environment that an incubator can create.

My goal is still the same: Create locally grown owner/operators of hyperlocal online communities. Give them the training and the tools to get started. Provide them with ongoing coaching to be sustainable. Create a community of operators that help each other by sharing their unique talents. Use technology to connect people and affirm the value of place and neighborliness.

A virtual/physical incubator might best service the hyperlocal niche with services, support, planning, development and content. I’m here to recruit beta testers for the Locally Grown News concept and the Pacific Northwest is a great region full of entrepreneurial spirit and folks committed to quality journalism.

In December, I completed several critical tasks:

  1. Legally formed an LLC.
  2. Negotiated contracts with software developers for both the content management system and for mobile-application development.
  3. Found a domain name that reflected our local flavor (can’t resist the metaphors) and the content area that we’ll focus on (more on that later).

So I’ve laid the groundwork and am ready to go. I’ll be sharing ideas and experiments from the Journalism that Matters conference and hopefully bring back some beta testers as well!

   • Posted by Michelle Ferrier on 01/07 at 09:42 AM