Thursday, May 20, 2010


Billionaire journalism, local news, public toilets

by Larry Geller

So much to read on the web. And so many ways to find it. Among the links in’s Media Savvy newsletter this morning were two new journalism projects that bear watching.

One website headlined Toronto’s project to install new, self-cleaning public toilets, which caught my eye.

On the scale of things, the toilet article is probably of some interest to Disappeared News readers, particularly those in Honolulu, where peeing in public is treated as a crime rather than a public health issue to be solved by our City Council. So here’s that story. It’s snipped from the Open File website, which I’ll describe later.


How many people does it take to open a can? Dozens of media representatives showed up to watch Mayor David Miller cut the ribbon at the highly anticipated public toilet at Queens Quay W. and Rees St.

The blue and grey building is the first of 20 coin-operated, self-cleaning washrooms that will open in Toronto over the next few years.

Twenty-five cents will buy people access to a toilet that sanitizes itself automatically after each use. The stall is fully accessible, climate-controlled and fitted with a smoke detector, escape hatch and several emergency buttons.   [Open File, Pay as you go at harbourfront, 5/19/2010]

The article has some attached comments, mostly about the economics of operating the proposed toilets. It includes a map mashup under the heading “Where this is happening.”

Open File

Open File is a new website designed as a hyper-local and participatory news venture headed by journalist Wilf Dinnick, formally from CBC, CTV and CNN. It is supported by venture capital.

The website is simple, perhaps basic, but open and functional. It clearly could benefit from a makeover in the future, but that’s not the important thing. It works as a platform for what they do. They launched their website on May 11.

OpenFile, a Toronto based news site, is attempting to reinvent the online news industry through open source citizen journalism, PBS reports.

According to OpenFile's website, the group's aim is to create a "vibrant, ever-evolving local news conversation among newsmakers, news-gatherers and news readers."    [, Toronto-based open source site aims to reinvent online journalism, 5/18/2010]

Click the link for the full article, it’s pretty short. It does say that readers not only suggest stories, but that they contribute additional content, comments and even videos. And yes, the venture is intended to turn a profit.

If successful, Open File should be a local asset, and a source of news about their communities. They are looking to expand to other locations in Canada and the US, according to this article.


DNAinfo?? It was named by the billionaire who started it, Joe Ricketts. Billionaires can pick whatever names they like for their news ventures, of course. The website covers New York City, but Ricketts is not from there:

There are scores of community news sites in the city, but DNAinfo is particularly improbable: It's the brainchild of Joe Ricketts, the billionaire founder of TD Ameritrade and owner of the Chicago Cubs, who grew up in Nebraska and now lives in the wilds of Wyoming.

Like seemingly everyone else these days, Mr. Ricketts wants to figure out the future of news, and he has chosen the streets of New York to conduct an experiment of sorts. The name of his venture may sound more like a bio-genetics company than a earnest news site dedicated to zealously cover community board meetings and the like, but Mr. Ricketts chose the name (which stands for Digital Network Associates) to reflect the organization's multimedia ambitions.  [The New York Observer, Three Birds, a Billionaire and the Hyper-Local Future of News, 5/18/2010]

DNAinfo’s website is wordpressy but slick, with a map mashup showing story locations on the left of the home page. It offers also a daily newsletter and there’s a video update.


According to Ms. [Leela] de Kretser [who oversees the editorial operations], DNAinfo now has roughly 25 editorial employees and is continuing to hire. In addition to embedding reporters in specific neighborhoods, the site also has a handful of reporters covering beats such as politics, courts and crime. The organization, said Ms. de Kretser, incorporates social media, but it wants its professional, compensated writers to start the neighborhood conversations.

"Free content can be really interesting, particularly if you get enough of it that you can be choosy," she said. "You set the tone of the conversation reasonably high with well-done news stories, and then add the free content-not the other way around."

Click the story link above the pic for more on their potential profitability as well as comments and criticisms of the venture.

Honolulu needs a new approach to public toilets, and with the merger of its two daily newspapers, to journalism.



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