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Mike Martin Columbia, Missouri Blogger

Notes from Mr. Martin's presentation.

Mike is a freelance journalist who writes for science publications primarily. He often distills medical research in his reports.

He started his blog in 2005 after he "suffered some defeats at the hands of local governments."

E.G. The city of Columbia received block grants to put in curb and gutters into poor parts of town that had NEVER had curb and gutter. These neighborhoods had been segregated, historically. To make up the difference that wasn't covered, they tax-billed the residents in the neighborhood. Several were senior citizens others on fixed incomes. Martin owned property in the area and became interested in the issue for that reason.

He said, "I thought, hey, 'the newspaper's not reporting this, at least not well, and so I set up a Yahoo newsletter for my neighborhood.'"

Thus, the Columbia Heart Beat was born. It's a beat about the heart of the City of Columbia, now on Blogger.

He estimates he has broken 40 stories in this community that newspapers, radio and television have picked up on.

--That is remarkable and speaks to the power of beatblogging to break news, also, perhaps, speaks to the weakness of local newspapers to cover beats.

Stories they broke:
The Humane Society might be closed (November).
The 9th Congressional District (US) might cease to exist.
Former mayors and the current mayor and city manager were meeting without press present, except for Hank Waters, publisher of the local paper, the Columbia Tribune, who did not report the meeting for three weeks were discussing changing the city charter to pay city council members and to give the mayor veto power.

The Humane Society story became a big private and public effort. Zootoo will be hosting a parade tomorrow (Thursday, March 19th).

There has been reaction to the mayors' meeting.

Martin has also covered the use of eminent domain to take land from private owners near campus for the building of a museum. This potentially benefits sellers who would not have to pay capital gains taxes on the sale. Martin doesn't know if this is the reason for the eminent domain issue.

Martin does this on a volunteer basis. He does it because the public has a right to know, and because "there's nothing more powerful in civic life than information freely distributed to the public."

Martin is doing what many describe as beatblogging. He does not write "stories." Most of his posts are small, a few paragraphs, maybe a photo.

He does not imagine beatblogging becoming the norm in reporting. "How much of the future of journalism this reveals? I think we're all gonna be working in an online environment, but I think until I get a paid staff and can pay reporters to vet information, it's not going to be the same."

(He says this in a hypothetical context. He is not suggesting that he has any desire to design a revenue model or hire people).

But, "If I were going to establish a revenue model, I would look at donations, maybe subscriptions down the line, but advertising is different than it is in print. It's hard to weave advertising into this model. It's definitely going to be tricky."

Why would somebody want to donate to something like this?

--Martin does consider himself to be writing stories. He often links to archives at The Missourian and at the Columbia Daily Tribune.

He posits a question to himself: "What's the new doorstep for the news these days? It's email." That's where his product goes out.

Blogs have had an effect on Columbia politics.

"Class Notes with Janese Heavin" had a real effect on top-down change at the Columbia School District." Heavin has since moved, but David Farré is now doing the posts.

In conclusion: "The main issue is going to be: pay and making sure that people are not being overworked with their YouTube posts and all the other things they have to be doing."

Despite not being paid, Mike Martin displays almost an a priori expectation that people will pay for it. It's too important. People need news, and it's necessary for a functioning democracy.

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