Deerfield, NH’s ‘Forum’ Takes on Local Paper

At first, there was no news coverage for the 15,000 residents of a central coastal New Hampshire area including the little villages of Deerfield, Candia, Northwoods and Nottingham. Manchester’s Union Leader, a family-owned paper that is fairly notorious for its politically charged, NH primary coverage every four years, basically ignored the area.

But then three years ago, the residents started their own news site and called it The Forum. Today, the site, a recipient of the 2007 Knight Batten Awards for Innovations in Journalism has 240 contributors, sells ads to local businesses and even publishes an occasional print edition on special occasions.

More importantly, the site has prompted the Union Leader to provide local coverage in two of its four communities. The site’s founder’s attitude, however, is “too little, too late.”

“If they had this three years ago, we wouldn’t exist, says Managing Editor Maureen Mann, who spoke last week at Knight Batten’s Awards Symposium at The National Press Club in Washington, D.C. “But now we know how to do this.”

Mann feels that the typical voice of a citizen far surpasses the Union Leader’s professional journalism. “It took people a couple of years to realize that we don’t send reporters when a news event occurs. They are the reporters.” But now, the site has 1.6 “reporters” for every 100 residents. That’s going to be hard to overcome.

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