LEXINGTON, KENTUCKY — The tagline on the Lexington Commons homepage defines the site as “The Voice of Lexington,” which is quite appropriate, considering it is written entirely by volunteer citizens of the city and its surrounding suburbs. Because of this, all of the stories featured have a very personal feel. Much of the site’s content deals with the local nonprofit sector—“Celebrating Nonprofit Organizations and Volunteers!”, a permanent banner headline on the homepage blares—but local government and business also get considerable attention.
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Lexington Commons is the first journalism site created by the Kentucky Citizen Media Project, an organization formed by the University of Kentucky’s Department of Community and Leadership Development, which aims to eventually initiate citizen-based community news sites in cities and towns throughout the state. The site covers a broad range of topics from politics to nonprofit organizations to culture, filling each vertical with locally focused and community-minded news.
Seungahn Nah, an assistant professor at the University of Kentucky and the director of the KCMP, says Lexington Commons was created in response to a lack of information about Lexington’s nonprofit sector and the citizens it serves. The site highlights work done by these organizations, coverage that inevitably doubles as a window into the many aspects of the community in which the nonprofits play a part.
The site launched in January of 2009, and the day to day operation is run by editors and project coordinators employed by the KCMP. Nah splits his time between his teaching at the university and his duties as the site’s project director. The site employs a full-time webmaster and one “full-time” volunteer blogger who is on call to write whenever the need arises. A number of other volunteer blogger/ reporters post on a daily basis, but feature articles come at a somewhat slower pace—new ones are usually added once or twice a week.
Lexington Commons is developing a two-pronged relationship with local public radio station WUKY. The site posts written versions of the radio stations’ audio reports. In addition, WUKY provides some technical support for planned Lexington Commons’ Citizen Journalism Workshops, which will offer basic journalism training to locals interested in writing for the Commons. The curriculum includes how to recognize and write a story, how to post stories, blogs, and podcasts, and how to develop basic journalism skills like writing ledes, structuring stories, and interviewing.
As a nonprofit organization, Lexington Commons funding comes from individual donors and grants from local foundations. It also receives funding from the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government. The site was awarded a New Voices grant from the Institute for Interactive Journalism (J-Lab) in 2008.
Nah has many plans for the site’s future, but he’s already achieved his primary goal of building a largely volunteer run site that is as intimately involved with its community as the nonprofits it covers. As an area with a large number of nonprofit organizations, Lexington is no doubt well overdue for a site of this kind.
Lexington Commons Data
Name: Lexington Commons
Principal Staff: Seungahn Nah, project director; Sara Tracy, project coordinator.
Affiliations: University of Kentucky; Kentucky Citizen Media Project; Revenue source, other: Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government.