DEERFIELD, NEW HAMPSHIRE — When Denise Greig and some colleagues founded New Hampshire-based digital newspaper The Forum in 2005, web-based journalism hadn’t really made its way to the rural communities that it served. “When we took on [this project], we were explaining the Internet to our funders,” laughs Greig, the current chair of The Forum’s board of directors. Six years later, with The Forum averaging 14,000 hits per month from Granite Staters who have found its blend of local news and commentary a welcome addition to the region’s civic life, it seems she and her fellow creators are having the last laugh.
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Based in the town of Deerfield, New Hampshire, The Forum describes itself as a journalism website “serving the towns in the shadow of Pawtuckaway [State Park & Forest],” which include Deerfield (pop. 4280), Candia (pop. 3909), Northwood (pop. 4241), and Nottingham (pop. 4785). Although all four of these towns are a short drive from the state capital, Manchester, and within an hour’s drive of Boston, they still weren’t getting very much news coverage. Generally the state’s major newspapers restricted their coverage to major news events within the towns, such as fires, flooding, and so on. “We were in a vacuum,” Greig says, “and wanted to fill the news void.” According to its “About Us” page, the site aims “to provide a source for news and current information, and an outlet for the sharing of events, opinion and creative expression,” as well as providing “content to help citizens make informed decisions about local issues [and] facilitate community debate.”
While The Forum also publishes three annual print issues (one in February for the March elections, a summer edition every July and one in October for the November elections), it is primarily a digital entity. The main purpose of these print issues–which typically contain around twenty-four pages of original content, including opinion letters and candidate statements–is to spread knowledge of the Forum’s existence and to encourage people to visit the site and begin following it regularly. Another push to increase readership is scheduled for August, when the Forum will begin publishing a four page print edition of original content (also available online) every other month. This monthly edition will not be mailed to individual households, but will be available in libraries, restaurants, and at various local events.
Run entirely by volunteers (including local teachers, lawyers, and writers) the Forum is a nonprofit funded mainly by donations from local residents, but also receives support from advertising: local businesses run ads on the site as well as in the periodic print issues. The site was originally begun with the help of the Knight Foundation’s J Lab New Voices project, which has donated both grants and services to help set up numerous citizen-run news projects.
With neither a centralized office nor a managing editor, the ten regular editors and numerous rotating writers and reporters independently decide upon and research story ideas, writing and editing them on their own time, in their own homes. Though the reporters do the majority of the writing, the editors occasionally contribute stories themselves. Everyone meets regularly to discuss content and their plans for the coming issues, but more often than not they “gather online in the inbox,” Greig says, referring to the fact that stories and ideas are passed around through e-mail rather than in person.
The sections of the site are broken down by both subject matter and town, so that visitors have the option to read about the happenings of a specific area (“Deerfield Family Movie Night Outdoors at the Gazebo!“), politics (“What’s Really Behind Debt-Ceiling Politics“), entertainment (“Eagles Tribute Band to Play at the Palace“), or sports (“Beautiful Weather and Baseball“). There is news in each category for each town.
Many of those involved have never had formal training in journalism, and many of them have full-time jobs. Greig herself is a practicing attorney and nurse. “No one is making a living off of this,” she explains. Still, Greig is extremely optimistic about The Forum’s future. The site has no interest in expanding its coverage to other towns, but Greig would like to strengthen the news they already supply–and hopefully introduce younger journalists to the project through outreach and internships.
While the Forum is the main news site for its area, there are several other small newspapers that service other nearby towns. However, she doesn’t see these other publications as competition, but instead as partners, even linking to a few of them on the Forum’s site: “This is not a situation where you want to isolate yourself. You want to open the doors. You want to link to everybody.” With that attitude and dedication, it’s easy to see this little paper going very far into the future.
The Forum Data
Name: The Forum