Editor's Note: Introducing the Alameda Community News Project

Editor's Note: Introducing the Alameda Community News Project

Michele Ellson

About a month ago I ran into a friend while covering a school board meeting. When I told her I was getting ready to launch a new local news website, she laughed.

“Didn’t you learn anything from the last time?” she asked.

The question was of course intended to be humorous. But my answer is an emphatic “yes.” Over these last several months I’ve come to realize that people really do want news – and that there’s a lot of it that you’re not getting right now.

The news business has been decimated over the past decade, with Bay Area newspapers losing nearly half of their newsroom staffs, according to a study conducted for the North Valley Job Training Consortium and the SF Public Press. In Alameda County alone, some 84 percent of media jobs disappeared over the past 10 years, the study found. And fewer reporters and editors means less access to things you ought to know about.

The disappearance of professionally-produced news and corresponding rise of the Internet and social media – which have given armchair pundits and public officials the same access to audience that those who own the barrels of ink once controlled – has caused many a journalist to ruminate publicly on the purpose of our profession, and on what we have to offer our communities.

I think our duties are simple: Be present, pay attention and ask questions.

Alameda has its own publicly owned electric company and hospital, and you can expect us to keep an eye on both. We’ll report on school board and city council meetings so that you know what your public officials are up to. And we’ll go beyond that basic level of coverage, offering in-depth reporting on issues that require more explanation.

Our Island is home to a number of bloggers who share their opinions on the day’s issues, and most of what city and school district officials have to say about those issues is posted on their own websites. Our job is to tell you what is going on around you – not just what people have to say about it – and to immerse ourselves in the details of the public’s business deeply enough to offer you a true understanding of the issues your leaders are dealing with on your behalf.

Sometimes, our duties will involve facilitating what will be painful public conversations about issues that affect us. But you can be sure those efforts will always be carried out with an eye toward bettering our community, not attacking it. We need to be just as accountable as the people and institutions we’re writing about.

My advisory committee and I put together this beta version of our website to ensure you get the news coverage you need now, and we’re working on a more fully realized site that we hope to launch within the next few months. But to do that, we’ll need your help. If just 200 of you donate $50 each by clicking the “Donate” button at the top of this site, we will reach our individual donation goal for this year. That same donation from just over 900 people would cover our budget this year. And since we’re a nonprofit – courtesy of our fiscal sponsor, Community Initiatives – your donations are tax deductible.

Thank you for joining us on what I think will be a very exciting journey, and also to the other online media chiefs and community members alike who helped us to be here today. If you’ve got any questions about who we are and what we’re doing, comments or suggestions, please feel free to drop me a line at michele@alamedacommunitynewsproject.org or by leaving a comment below. We appreciate your interest and support.