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February 2011

Community: What's in a word?

How do you define community? Is it something a group of people have in common -- a shared interest, religion, profession, sexual orientation, or income level? Or do you think of a community as something physical: a neighborhood, a block, a school district? Can you find a sense of community online or does it only really happen face-to-face? Can we choose our communities or are we born into them? 

On NewsTrust Baltimore, we'll spend the next two weeks examining the idea of community and discussing and featuring stories that affect different groups of people in the Baltimore area. 

Our host for the community topic this week is Fern Shen, editor and publisher of The Baltimore Brew. Fern will post and review stories, as well as make "picks" on the community page, and I'm eager to see how she'll help us expand our ideas of community on the site.

The Brew is one of several sites in Baltimore helping re-invent community journalism and coverage of communities (check out the "news near you" neighborhoods section for some of this work), and it's a natural fit for a partnership on this topic. 

Brew This focus coincides with the Brew's publication this week of a series called "The State of Your Block," a riff on the mayor's and governor's recent annual speeches. Brew editors asked readers and residents to send in reports about their Baltimore City neighborhoods, and writers whose reports are published get a bag of Zeke's coffee and a $50 donation to the charity of their choice. 

Additionally, the Maryland Institute College of Art partnered with the Brew on the project, and MICA photography students shot photos of the neighborhoods and residents to accompany some of the pieces.

Take a look at the first State of Your Block, a short piece of prose about an area just north of The Avenue in Hampden, by resident Michael Ter Avest. 

Because we're so community-oriented on NewsTrust -- we depend on members like you to contribute to the site and help make it a success -- this is a particularly interesting topic to tackle, and I hope the discussion will be engaging and diverse. We'll post our findings during the week of March 14. Please join the conversation on the site!


Photo credit: Fern Shen, The Baltimore Brew


Your reviews in the spotlight

In our fourth week here at NewsTrust Baltimore, our focus is on living and culture stories. So far we've had some great reviews from our members. I'm sharing some of them here today, along with some stories that could use your reviews.

The Baltimore Sun article "A historical battle over Maryland statues," pits history against history, as lawmakers debate whether or not to replace the statue of John Hanson with one of Harriet Tubman in the U.S. Capitol. Reviewers have found this article to be very fair overall. Kevin Griffin Moreno, a program officer and advocacy coordinator at the Baltimore Community Foundation and author of the blog Unsung Baltimore, wrote: "Ms. Bykowicz provides enough historical background, political context, and contrasting viewpoints that readers are able to make up their own minds, confident that they have gleaned the necessary information to do so."

In "Live to Dance" the City Paper reports on an upcoming dance event, interviewing two members of the local DIY dance scene. Asia S. Hinton, a Towson University journalism student, noted that "this story is a bit lengthy but is has all the elements of good journalism." She added that "it also does a great job in describing the emotion and passion of the two subjects in the story."

On the opinion side, the "dime a drink" tax has had its share of coverage. Rebecca Ruggles, a health care program coordinator, reviews "'Dime a drink' tax would cost thousands of jobs" critically, and said: "I think the writer is playing on fears by titling his piece 'Tax costs thousands of jobs'. He fails to address the comparative position of Maryland relative to other states which raised their alcohol taxes long ago."

Please add your voice to the discussions above, or help us review these recent stories:

Thank you for being part of our community in the search for good local journalism!


Hunting for science and technology news

In week three of the NewsTrust Baltimore pilot, we focused on coverage of science and technology topics. This news hunt ran from Monday, Feb. 14, through Sunday, Feb. 20.

NewsTrust members and staff highlighted a number of interesting stories during the week: a proposed $100 million fund for technology start-ups in Maryland, a group of computer hackers devoting time to help the citizens of Baltimore, and a presidential visit putting a spotlight on science education.

During the week, 36 stories related to science and technology were reviewed by the NewsTrust Baltimore community. Of those, 10 received a NewsTrust rating, and nine were considered above average. 

Recommended stories



Featured topic
Baltimore is a global center for medical research and has a growing tech startup scene, so it is not surprising we saw a steady stream of science and technology stories in the past week. The Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland are major centers for scientific research, and state funds have helped make them leaders in stem cell research. Now, as explained in this Baltimore Sun story, there is intense competition for state grants that can make or break high-stakes, high-cost research projects.

Seeking another tech-powered engine for the Maryland economy, Governor Martin O'Malley has proposed a $100 million fund to support bioscience and technology startup businesses. At the Center Maryland blog, Donald Fry has a thoughtful analysis of this proposal.

Also during the week, President Obama visited Parkville Middle School in Baltimore County to discuss his education budget plan and make a pitch for improved science education.

Led by the Baltimore Brew, several news outlets covered the city's first Civic Hack Day, an attempt to put techno-wizardry to work for Baltimore. North Baltimore Patch interviewed Mike Brenner, the organizer of the event.

Technology and online networks have helped topple dictators in Arab countries in recent weeks. Entrepreneur Dave Troy asked on his blog last week if similar forces could revolutionize Baltimore's political status quo. Be sure to check out the discussion on NewsTrust Baltimore around this provocative argument. 

Mobile electronic devices are everywhere these days, and Maryland legislators have been struggling to find ways to discourage drivers from enjoying too much of this technology while in traffic. Community member and Baltimore Freedom Academy teacher Andrew Pham wrote that a Baltimore Sun story on driving-and-texting laws offered a "great explanation of the issues, from multiple perspectives. I appreciated that there was a comparison to the use of cell phones and their penalties. I would have liked a better explanation of the procedures pertaining to passing the change to the law."

Another good review comes from Towson University student Melanie Losover, who commented on a story about green building practices: "While the article was definitely informative and got right down to the facts, I would have liked to see a little more detail behind each of the projects and how they will benefit each community. It was good that the author was able to get a quote from Governor O'Malley and another expert, but I would have liked to hear from someone living in one of the communities that is to benefit from this program."

Thanks to our community
We'd like to thank our community members and media and educational partners who helped find the stories that were part of this news hunt. If you are not yet a member of NewsTrust Baltimore, please sign up and join the experiment; your voice is needed and welcome.

This week, we're seeking good journalism in the culture and living categories. These sorts of stories are very important in a city that has more cultural riches than any one person has time to explore. What are some news sources that help you find what's most interesting? Let us know in the comments.

Please help us post and review stories on these topics -- the success of this social news experiment depends on the participation of members like you.

Thank you again, and see you on the site!


Black history in the news

It's a wonderful coincidence that NewsTrust Baltimore launched on the eve of Black History Month. There has been a lot of news about the people, places and events that have made history in Baltimore and beyond. Here are some of the stories we've found:

  • Baltimore Magazine's feature on Ethel Ennis gives us a glimpse into the world of one of Baltimore's jazz greats, who is also an active civic leader. 
  • The Maryland Reporter piece on Hattie Harrison celebrates the history of the oldest Maryland state senator.
  • The Baltimore Times published a series written by columnist R.B. Jones that looks at politics, leadership and lessons for and from African-Americans. Check out his History Lessons Parts I, II and III to read more.
  • The Superblock development project has been in the news quite a bit, introducing a new generation to the historic sit-in for civil rights at Read's Drug store. There have been several articles about this. 
  • There's also news about the future, with a Baltimore Sun report that census data has shown that black-owned businesses are growing.

Please review these stories and post your own! You can use the topic tags "black" "race" and "history," as appropriate, to associate the stories with Black History Month.


Help us find good journalism about culture and living

This week we're focusing on culture and life in the Baltimore area, and our guest host for these topics is Evan Serpick of Baltimore magazine. Evan is a senior editor at the magazine, and he'll be helping post and review related stories during the week. You'll also find his picks on the culture and living pages.

Over the weekend, we wrapped up a week that focused on science and technology coverage, and you can still review and rate those stories under the sci/tech and technology topics. We'll post a round-up of that news hunt later this week on the blog.

We depend on your participation to make this experiment a success -- please join us on the site!


Making sense of the news as a community

Now in our third week of the NewsTrust Baltimore experiment, we have begun to build a great community of reviewers. I'd like to highlight some of the members and reviews that are making us all look at the news with a new perspective.

The Towson Patch article "Speed Camera Support: Grassroots or Astroturf?"  was a well-reviewed article. Towson University professor Stacy Spaulding comments, "Bryan Sears does an excellent job reporting the connections between a neighborhood advocacy group and a public affairs strategy firm whose client will receive more county speed camera contracts." She also adds, "The article casts a frightening shadow behind these increasingly common Facebook campaigns."

The Baltimore Sun article "Lawmakers look to outlaw reading texts while driving" has this thoughtful review by Towson University student Asia S. Hinton: "Not only was the story interesting, but it brought about many facts that were unknown to me. For example, I did not know that it was only illegal to text while driving, not including reading a text." Asia suggests the reporter could have included "a link to the State Highway Administration, that way readers could look on the website themselves to view more rules and regulations of texting and talking while driving."

And on the opinion side, Bob Herrschaft , a regular contributor to our national site, reviews "The Inner Harbor: What the World Can Learn From Baltimore,"  reading it as "a nice perspective of what has been done in the past to regenerate Baltimore's Inner Harbor and the influence it has had on other cities attempts to revitalize a decaying waterfront."

Lastly, our live news comparison on the Marc Steiner Show Wednesday night gave us a chance to look critically at three stories, all about the same incident - the City Neighbors Middle School protest of the potential demolition of Read's Drug Store. 

Gigi Wirtz, communications director at the Baltimore Community Foundation, reviewed the article "Baltimore students march to save Read’s, site of historic desegregation sit-in"  noting that "the first photos you see are not in front of the building in question, but a much more beautiful, well-kept structure," which could impact how the story is read. 

Malaika Aminata Clements, a Morgan State journalism major who joined us on the air, felt that the same article "used colorful language and gets the reader interested in what is being said" but also that the story could be improved by "showing us why this event is so important, not only locally, but globally."

You can read and review all three stories that we compared from the Baltimore Sun, WJZ-TV, and the Baltimore Brew, and share your own perspective! 

Thank you for being part of our local news experiment -- we are truly community-driven. I will continue to highlight our the reviews and members who help us all become more critical news consumers -- maybe your review will be next!



Business news coverage in Baltimore

In our second week of the NewsTrust Baltimore pilot, we took a closer look at business news coverage, with a focus on real estate and development. Our guest host for this news hunt was Jay Rickey, the editor and publisher of Citybizlist Real Estate Baltimore, and he helped surface business news stories from a variety of Maryland publications. This news hunt ran from Monday, Feb. 7, through Sunday, Feb. 13.

Together, we found a number of good stories during the week, including follow-ups about a proposed Wal-Mart in the city and news about Superblock development. Also during the week, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake gave her State of the City address, covering several business-related items. Census data was revealed in the later part of the week, which spurred a number of articles and analysis pieces.

During the week, 40 stories covering business issues were reviewed by the NewsTrust Baltimore community. Of those, 14 received a NewsTrust rating, and 14 were considered above average.

Recommended stories



Featured topic
During this week, we took a look at real estate and development in Baltimore City and County, as well as the state of Maryland, and found some interesting stories. 

There was no shortage of news about real estate, both commercial and residential, and highlights included stores from The Baltimore Sun about vacant properties, green homes in the Oliver neighborhood, a state grant for development of an old printing plant, and the Superblock. Investigative Voice wrote about the struggling Convention Center hotel, and Bmore Media published a column about what other cities can learn from Baltimore's Inner Harbor. 

The Daily Record featured follow-ups from its EBDI "Too big to fail?" series, including an editorial that was reviewed on NewsTrust Baltimore.

A proposed Wal-Mart in the city also drew some heat from independent blogs, including a piece from The Mobtown Shank and one from Baltidome. NewsTrust member Christopher Siple said: "I'm glad that blogs like Baltidome catch things like this that would otherwise fall through the cracks, and blogs like Shank can amplify it effectively."

Members had thoughtful comments on other stories, including Brittani Bowling's note about the Oliver homes piece from The Sun: "This story does a good job of painting a picture of improvement in East Baltimore. It brings in the point of view of experts, those affected, and gives hope in what might not typically be a very hopeful topic. I enjoyed reading this story."

Tina Carroll said of Sun reporter Edward Gunts' Superblock coverage: "Gunts' story highlights community sentiment in respects to an ongoing development project. This is something often overlooked by the media."

News comparison
Over the final weekend of this news hunt, several sources covered a student protest at Read's Drug Store, a civil rights landmark, and we have a news comparison set up on the site this week to see who covered it best.

Please rate and review these stories from The Baltimore Brew, The Baltimore Sun story, and WJZ-TV and let us know which you prefer.

Thanks to our community
We'd like to thank our community members and media and educational partners who helped find the stories that were part of this news hunt. If you are not yet a member, please sign up and join the experiment.

This week, we're seeking good journalism about science and technology, and we're off to a good start. Please help us post and review stories on these topics -- the success of this social news experiment depends on the participation of members like you.

Thank you again, and see you on the site!

This blog post was updated on Feb. 24, 2011, to correct the number of stories included in this news hunt. 


Kicking off week 3: How we're doing so far

In our first two weeks, NewsTrust Baltimore has had more than 25,000 page-views, with more than 5,000 visits from 2,800 unique visitors -- wow! It's thanks to our dedicated members and media partners that we had such a strong launch, and activity on the site continues to grow. 

Our community now includes more than 300 registered members, 169 of whom are reviewers -- together, we have posted more than 759 story reviews so far. Many of our members are adding thoughtful ratings and comments, and they include Tina CarrollMichael Corbin, and Laura Perkins. As a community, we're discovering some of the best local journalism in Baltimore.

In the first week, we highlighted news about politics, and our second week focused on business. You can read more here about the results of our politics news hunt, and we'll feature a roundup on business news on this blog later this week.

This week, we'll discuss science and technology news, with a specific spotlight on technology. We're off to a good start, with news about Baltimore's Civic Hack Day, a new wireless "triple play," and electric cars.

We've also had a warm welcome from Baltimore-area news organizations, including many stories from our media partners. Check out our press page for more info, and here are two stories that stand out: 

We're continually working to add more sources, particularly independent media outlets and blogs. Our source page is here, organized by medium, and we welcome your suggestions and additions. Please leave a comment below and let us know who we're missing.

I'd also like to introduce Andrew Hazlett, who just joined NewsTrust Baltimore as a writer and researcher. You'll see his posts and reviews around the site, and he'll also be pitching in with our Twitter feed and Facebook page. Please follow and "like" us to keep up with what's happening on the site.

As always, thank you for your interest in this social news experiment. Please sign up and get involved on the site if you haven't yet had a chance -- our success depends on the participation of members like you. 


Teaching ourselves some new tricks

As a media educator since the mid-90s, I often find that students come to the class with a very solid worldview and assess the quality of news less on its journalistic merit than on how closely it aligns with their own beliefs.

I've noticed the same is true for me as I get older -- and it's easy to read the news seeking reinforcement for what I already think. 

That is why the review process here at NewsTrust Baltimore is so great: it shakes up our expectations, and helps us look at journalism with a less jaded eye. By taking the time to break down a news story into its parts: the facts, the balance, the sources, the relevance, we give ourselves a chance to think more clearly about the news, and learn how to separate fact from opinion. In the end, we hope, we will become better informed and more thoughtful news consumers (and, for some of us, news producers).

This image does a great job of illustrating how easy it can be to jump to conclusions!


Image from the book "unSpun: Finding Facts in a World of Disinformation," by Brooks Jackson and Kathleen Hall Jamieson

Here are some ways to help you think differently as you evaluate stories:

Review stories using the "full rating" form. This is a selection in the drop-down menu at the top-right of the review form. Roll up your sleeves and dig in! With 10 thoughtful questions about the quality of the journalism, you will be analyzing the news like a pro in no time.

Leave a note. Sometimes justifying your observations is difficult. By leaving a note explaining why the story is good (or not so good) journalism, you help make your case. It's possible you may also discover that your review needs to be updated to reflect your notes (this happens to me often!). I see the notes as a way to keep ourselves honest: if you are willing to say it, then you can stand behind your rating. (If you have a personal opinion of the subject matter of the article, use the 'Comments' tab for your thoughts.)

Check out reviews by Tina Carroll, Michael Corbin, and Laura Perkins to see some great examples of thoughtful, critical reviews.

Read and comment on other reviews. We're working as a team to find the best local journalism. Even though we're all at separate desks, by commenting on (and rating) each other's reviews, we are collaborating on this experiment, and building a broader discourse on the journalism and news of our community.

Thank you all for welcoming NewsTrust Baltimore and getting involved. Please sign up if you have not done so, keep reviewing if you have, and tell your friends to join us!


Results of politics and Maryland Legislature news hunts

Omalley2 In our first week at NewsTrust Baltimore, we focused on politics and, specifically, the Maryland General Assembly. We asked the community to help us find good journalism on these topics, from Monday, Jan. 31, through Sunday, Feb. 6. We were fortunate to have a wonderful guest host, Howard Libit, a founder of Center Maryland, who previously worked at The Baltimore Sun as reporter and editor for 15 years.

It was a great week to talk about politics on NewsTrust Baltimore. In statewide news, Gov. Martin O'Malley gave his State of the State speech on Thursday, Feb. 3, and several key topics were up for debate in the General Assembly. We also had some interesting discussions surrounding Baltimore City politics, including stories on East Baltimore Development Inc., Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's plans for the city and a look at the selection process of City Council members. 

During the week, 74 stories about politics were reviewed by our community. Of those, 24 were rated and 23 were listed as "most trusted." 

Recommended stories
Here are some of our top rated stories on Baltimore politics last week:



Featured topic
We drilled down into the Maryland General Assembly during this week and found sources from across the state that had compelling things to say about the governor, the Assembly and state politics. 

Howard Libit, our host for this topic, sought and posted stories from a variety of sources, including the Hagerstown and Frederick newspapers, The Gazette community newspapers, as well as pieces from Baltimore heavyweights like The Baltimore Sun, WYPR and The Daily Record. Libit said of the experiment:

"While I have always been a consumer of a lot of different sources of news, looking at stories through the NewsTrust filter forced me to think more critically about what is being reported, what is missing, and how stories are written. It was definitely a useful exercise in fine-tuning how I think about coverage of news. I was pleasantly surprised to see so many different media outlets producing so many different quality stories."

Trusted member Christopher Siple pointed out a theme about Maryland's leadership in Baltimore Sun editorials, Kevin Moreno said that a column on Republian "rising stars" offered "brief but interesting perspectives on a group of legislators who stand poised to impact not only their party, but state policy as well," and Rebecca Ruggles offered some reasoned criticism of businesses' contributions to state funding.

In their reviews of other political stories last week, NewsTrust Baltimore community members also posted a number of thoughtful comments about The Daily Record's informative series of investigative reports on EBDI development, Sun Magazine's profile of Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and an editorial on police and firefighter unions in Baltimore City.

News comparison
We also put together a "news comparison" of State of the State coverage on Thursday afternoon, just a few hours after O'Malley's noon speech. We asked reviewers to rate and compare an Associated Press story, a Baltimore Sun blog post and a Washington Post story

The Washington Post story received the highest marks, with a rating of 3.8, and it had the most context and depth. The Baltimore Sun post had the second-highest rating, of 3.6, and the Associated Press piece had the lowest, at 2.7. However, we should take into account the time-stamps on the three stories: The Post story was last updated close to midnight that day, and it likely mirrors what was published in Friday's newspaper. (The URL was likely kept the same from earlier updates to later write-throughs.) The Baltimore Sun blog post was posted at 4 p.m. the day of the speech, and the Associated Press story was published just two hours after the speech ended. The longer time frames of the Post and Sun stories accounts in part for their context and depth, although two hours can be enough time to add in some quotes and analysis in the AP's case. 

Thanks to our reviewers
We'd like to thank all the NewsTrust community members who participated in helping post and review politics stories, and another big "thank you" to Howard Libit for his involvement. Covering such a key topic as politics in the first week of NewsTrust Baltimore's launch had its share of challenges, but we found some excellent journalism about Baltimore City and the state, and we'll continue to discuss politics throughout the pilot, even as we focus on other subjects. 

This week, we're seeking good journalism about business and real estate development, and we appreciate your involvement. If you haven't already, please sign up as a member of NewsTrust Baltimore; the success of this social news experiment depends on the participation of people like you. We're also making an effort to ramp up our coverage of independent sources and their work, and we encourage you to post stories from sources we may not yet be aware of. 

Thank you again, and see you on the site!


Photo Credit: The Baltimore Sun

This blog post was updated on Feb. 16 and Feb. 24, 2011, to correct the number of stories included in this news hunt. 


This week's topics: real estate and development

Happy Monday! Last week, with your help, we discussed and reviewed some excellent stories about politics and the Maryland General Assembly. On Thursday, we put together a "news comparison" of coverage of Gov. Martin O'Malley's State of the State speech; we'll have the results from that later this week. You can still participate by reviewing the three stories, which are highlighted in the right sidebar of the Maryland Legislature page.

This week, even as that General Assembly conversation continues, we're shifting our editorial focus slightly to talk about business and, more specifically, real estate and development in the Baltimore area. The Daily Record just published an in-depth investigative series about the East Baltimore Development Inc., and I expect there will be some follow-up news this week. (By the way, check out the reviews and comments on those features -- there's some great conversation happening!) Development is always a great topic in Baltimore, as neighborhoods and blocks are constantly in flux, and we're starting to see development pick back up as the economy recovers.

Our host for this topic will be Jay Rickey, editor and publisher of Citybizlist Real Estate. Citybizlist was an early partner and supporter of NewsTrust Baltimore, and we're delighted to have Jay's help and expertise this week.

On a related note, I want to highlight an upcoming Baltimore Brew project, where editor Fern Shen is asking readers to discuss "the state of your block." Information about Baltimore's neighborhoods can be left in the comment field of that post. We'll keep an eye on this series and feature the final stories when they run the week of Feb. 28.

Thanks, as always, for your reviews and participation. We're off to a great start because of members like you!

Not a member yet? Click here to sign up for our free service!

-Mary Hartney, local editor


Some (not-so) secrets about making your reviews count

Gf1squaresm_bweller Hi there! We're so glad you have joined us for our local news experiment, NewsTrust Baltimore. I'm Gin Ferrara, the community manager for this project, and I will be writing a weekly blog post about you - the reviewers, consumers, educators, students, and editors of NewsTrust Baltimore. My job is to make sure that you have the support you need to fully participate in our search for good local journalism and become more critical news consumers and producers in the process. 

I'd like to start by sharing some (not-so) secrets with you: how to make your reviews count. You have gone to all that effort to read a story and thoughtfully rate its journalistic quality -- now what? Here are some things you can do to spread your influence and encourage others to review, too.

  1. Sign up and use your real name. To review on NewsTrust Baltimore, you first need to sign up, using your real name. To keep the site open and welcome -- we like to think of it as "a clean and well-lighted space" -- we need all of our guests, members and reviewers to put on their name tags and be who they really are. On the national NewsTrust site, we have found that this encourages folks to be both respectful and willing to stand behind their opinions.
  2. Fill out your complete profile. Once you've signed up, go back to "My Profile", and fill in all the information about yourself, on each tab, from "Account" through to "Contact Info." The more you Bluemanred
    share, the more transparent you become, and the more your reviews count! This is also a chance to share your credentials and expertise. Adding a picture is a part of being transparent, too, and will prevent you from appearing as a little blue alien in your reviews. And we think you'll find it's nice to connect faces to reviewers; it helps to have some real-world touch points. 
  3. Write a note and a comment with your review. To learn how to review, check our Quick Review Guide. At the bottom of the review form are the words "Expand your review." If you click on that, you will see a window for Notes, Exapndreview as well as Comments, Quotes and Links. Write one or two sentences on the Notes tab about why the article was/was not good journalism. A thoughtful comment about your personal feelings on the subject can be added on the Comments tab. Adding your favorite quote from the article and sharing links to more information on the Quotes and Links tabs will add even more information and will build a bigger discourse on the writing, the subject, and the perspectives of the Baltimore community. 

This week we've had some great reviews -- check out these insightful notes and comments by Khalilah Harris, Christopher Siple and Stacy Spaulding.  I'll be highlighting more reviewers and community members each week, so go ahead and jump right in!

Thank you again for being part of the NewsTrust Baltimore community. 


About NewsTrust Baltimore

  • NewsTrust Baltimore is a local news experiment that aims to help Baltimore residents find good journalism about their area. Our web review tools let you rate the news based on journalistic quality, not just popularity. We're non-profit, non-partisan, and committed to helping citizens make informed decisions about democracy. More »

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