NOWCastSA: journalism building community
NOWCastSA is a nonprofit community journalism organization. What does that mean? For NOWCastSA, it means lots of live-streaming events and innovative, interactive, public participation in the news. It means the democratization of information by encouraging community members from all segments of the City’s population to be involved in sharing stories. It means publishing news and data you probably won’t see from any corporate run newspapers or TV stations.
I was fortunate enough to be involved with NOWCastSA from the very beginning. NOWCastSA was fertilized in the mind of Clarence “Reggie” Williams, former President/CEO of the San Antonio Area Foundation, after hearing a presentation by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The Knight Foundation’s idea was to fund projects which created public-fueled media venues where neighborhood news and under-served populations could have a voice. more from Reggie The Area Foundation applied for, and was awarded, a two-year challenge grant from the Knight Foundation.
Board members were recruited from public health organizations, city and educational institutions, and traditional media organizations. I was one of two Area Foundation representatives on the board and attended the bi-monthly meetings. Here we tried to wrap our heads around this non-traditional concept of community participatory news and all the technology that could be used to make it happen. It wasn’t easy, but it was interesting. The name NOWCastSA was decided on before we even knew what it would mean.
Funding of NOWCastSA was contingent on collaboration with Community Information Now (CI:Now)–formerly ACCIS. CI:NOW is a “partnership of over 25 public, private, governmental, educational and healthcare organizations working together since 1998.” CI:Now operates a collection of tech centers (NOW:Tech) which help adults learn how to use computers and the internet. But mostly, CI:NOW has lots of data. For years, the entities involved in CI:NOW have been gathering public health, education, demographic and other data. The kind of data researchers love. NOWCastSA was tasked with bringing that data to life in a way the general public could use it. This was one of the thorniest pieces of the project.
After about eight months, two people were hired to spearhead the project from the boardroom to the construction site: Charlotte Anne (C-A)Lucas , a much experienced, award winning journalist, and content director of MYSA.com in the early days. Victor Landa, bi-lingual TV news director and anchor, columnist, and teacher. These two were to be trailblazers, inventors… guinea pigs: “At this point it was all innovation,” said Lucas, NOWCastSA Managing Director. “Every idea that came up, we said ‘yep, we can do that.'” So, the whole first year, we were doing crazy shit.”
The Knight Foundation renewed the two-year challenge grant. Thinking “if we build it, they will come,” NOWCastSA.com went live in 2010. “It was admittedly slow to get off the ground,” said Lucas. As Landa went on to other endeavors, professionals such as videographer Antonio Rodriguez, and other San Antonio journalists were hired and the staff solidified. With a few new board members, efforts were energized, a strategy evolved, and projects began to come to fruition.
Working out of their donated offices at the San Antonio Public Library, NOWCastSA.com gained a reputation for producing live webcasts of civic events and health related projects. Staff and volunteers provided free journalism and digital training. This past year, almost 500 stories have been shared on NOWCastSA.com which resulted in more than 1 million page views. CI:Now data is translated into maps that help locate free immunization providers, early polling places, and things for teens to do when school is out for the summer.
Three year’s after going live, NOWCastSA.com has established its place in the news landscape of San Antonio. NOWCastSA reached the goal to become self-sustainable last year. They picked up underwriting and sponsorships from Methodist Health Ministries, SA2020, the 80/20 Fund and others. They collaborated with the City, SAHA, and various cultural organizations, like Luminaria. “In a great collaboration with SAISD, NOWCastSA used its equipment and expertise to help a Brackenridge High School teacher and his students webcast 10 San Antonio high school graduations to mobile devices and computers around the world,” explained Lucas.
“We see journalism as information, but also community building,” said Lucas. During the MLK March on Monday, the call went out for participants to “email or text your photos to NOWCastSA.com for a community slideshow that showcases San Antonio’s annual celebration of tolerance and justice like never before.” Watch for their multi-part collaboration project telling the history of the Eastside of San Antonio. Already, 57 places of interest, have been documented, given QR codes, and will be included in a visual history archive available on NOWCastSA.org.
So, if you are wondering what community journalism is all about, come to NOWCastSA.com.
Photos courtesy of NOWCastSA
San Antonio activist and nonprofit veteran Laura Carter believes in enabling the community to work from the heart, not just the wallet. Laura is currently Communications Director at Providence Catholic School where her job includes working with traditional, creative, and social media public relations and marketing.