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Columbia Missourian

DEAR READER: News of your neighbors works, mostly

By Tom Warhover
July 30, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT
An online survey of subscribers to the Missourian’s Neighborhood News e-newsletters suggests you like what you’re reading.

Of the 145 subscribers who responded, 71 percent said they were somewhat or very satisfied with Neighborhood News.

Dear Reader,

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An online survey of subscribers to the Missourian’s Neighborhood News e-newsletters suggests you like what you’re reading.

Of the 145 subscribers who responded, 71 percent said they were somewhat or very satisfied with Neighborhood News.

Neighborhood news coordinator Anna Codutti developed the questionnaire as part of her final project for her master’s degree at the MU School of Journalism.

My analysis: Awesome, with room for improvement.

The newsletters project began more than two years ago with three neighborhoods and has grown to 12.

Newsletters are delivered by e-mail about once a month except in the summer. Stories are also posted on the neighborhoods blog as they are written.

These newsletters were conceived as a joint effort, with residents submitting articles, as well as reporters. Survey comments suggested more could be done here.

About 70 percent of survey respondents said they would contribute story ideas. A sizable minority also said they would contribute written content or calendar listings, and would participate in a neighborhood level “community marketplace.”

There were plenty of good ideas.

Here’s one:

“I would like to see short notes about city and county rules/ordinances/zoning -- like do you know you are supposed to have a permit if you have a swimming pool and you live in the county? The city only works on complaints about tall grass at a residence?”

I didn’t know, but am happy to find out.

Another suggestion: “Summarize how other neighborhoods identify and solve problems.”

The reader cited the Smarr property story as an example, referring to about 85 Old Southwest families who collected donations and bought a lot in the neighborhood.

The land could have been used to build apartments. Now it’s a park.

The newsletters have steered away from content that could run in all newsletters. After all, we have the Missourian for information of community-wide interest.

But I like both ideas. They wouldn’t be written as traditional news articles but as tips for useful information from one neighborhood to another.

Would you donate for Neighborhood News to be printed?

Most people said no. That’s what I would expect from Web or e-mail users, although 17 percent said they would pay “less than $5.”

Some neighborhoods have more computers and Internet access than others. Even within connected neighborhoods, there are plenty of people who just don’t do the Web or e-mail.

It would be nice to provide a print version for those people. Nice doesn’t pay the bills.

So far, the Neighborhood News concept hasn't been a replicable idea for other cities. No normal newspaper could devote the number of reporters, and the newsletters haven't generated revenue.

The Missourian, a not-for-profit organization, has a small army of journalists-in-the-making from the MU School of Journalism. Neighborhood news in other cities is often done with a handful of people, or even just one.

The newsletters, some survey respondents suggested, should:

Improvements to the newsletters will have to be balanced with the needs of the print and online Missourian, Vox, MyMissourian.com and other special sections.

Still, the Missourian’s editors believe in the project enough that it is being expanded this fall. There will be 17 newsletters by September.

Tom