The Future of Journalism

CLT BLOG From left, CLT Blog honchos Matthew Tyndall, Justin Ritchie, and Justin Ruckman

CLT BLOG From left, CLT Blog honchos Matthew Tyndall, Justin Ritchie, and Justin Ruckman

Justin Ritchie, Justin Ruckman, and Matthew Tyndall are citizen journalists, but their vision goes beyond CLT Blog

The raffish crew behind CLT Blog likes to joke about the Future of Journalism, or FoJ for short. They joke about it on Twitter, at coffeeshops, and in the official CLT Blog newsroom, which they sometimes call the "FoJ Lodge," and which doubles as the living room in the rental house where the two co-founders live.

But things are quickly getting serious at the FoJ Lodge. The site, cltblog.com, has a devoted and growing following, and the guys behind it have been pitching their software ideas to venture capital groups. The editor of The Charlotte Observer invited the two young founders to his office for a chat. And it seems that, somehow, CLT Blog may actually play a role in the much-discussed Future of Journalism.

Justin Ruckman, twenty-five, and Matthew Tyndall, twenty-three, both students at UNC-Charlotte, founded CLT Blog in November 2007. There was no grand plan, no designs on the FoJ. "We wanted to cover some of the cool stuff around town that no one was talking about," Tyndall says. They opened a Twitter account, put up a splash page, and began photographing events. They printed business cards so people wouldn't think they were just creeps with cameras. Then Tyndall talked his way into the pressroom for a speech that Bill Clinton gave on campus. Two weeks later, they launched the site.

Their coverage of the Olympic trials at the U.S. National Whitewater Center first showcased what they wanted to do. They sent multiple photographers, who posted pictures minutes after shooting them. They live blogged it; they uploaded video. They've since brought that same approach to a winter snowstorm (or "SnOMG"), spring flooding, restaurant openings, and protests at Duke Energy. Ruckman says he and his co-conspirators are "online natives" and they expect "rich media" -- lots and lots of pictures and video.

The principals -- Ruckman, Tyndall, and Justin Ritchie -- have no journalism background. They are not bound by convention. And they've grown up online. So they cover stories the way they want to, not the way they think they're supposed to. They put up dozens of photos. They sometimes write stories in bullet points. They link to other news sites. They mix commentary and reporting. They cover what they want, when they want. And -- this is most important—anyone can contribute to CLT Blog (well, anyone who doesn't mind not getting paid; the site is all volunteer and has no revenue).

"A large contributor base is our core idea," Ruckman says from a couch in CLT Blog's newsroom, as various blips and bleeps emit from several computers. They aim to remove the barriers between news and news distributors, with a subtle layer of editing in between. "Anyone who's a reader can be a contributor at any given time," Ritchie adds. "We'll help to foster that connection."

To them, the site is fun and necessary, but it's not the end goal. They're developing what Ruckman calls "a suite of citizen media software tools."

"I really feel the future of quality journalism is in epic, large-scale collaboration," Ruckman says. Their software will help connect an army of contributors, allow them to collaborate and submit the story or photos or whatever, and then be connected with editors who will curate it and help make it better. "People are already online sharing stuff; this is another platform to share stuff that's maybe got slightly higher standards and slightly more thoughtful content."

The trio is planning a redesign of CLT Blog to help show off their software tools, and they will also start selling ads. But don't think that accepting advertising will dent the independent spirit of the site. "We're always going to talk about the things we like, whether or not they pay us to do it," Ruckman says, "and we're not going to front on stuff we don't like even if they do pay us."

They plan to keep pitching their ideas to venture groups, hoping to get enough seed capital to put their ideas into practice. And if it never works out, well, so be it. "If at the end of the day we're back where we were two years ago, and we're not relevant anymore and people are making their own stories and we helped spur it but we never make anything off it, I'd be happy," Tyndall says.

Still, adds Ruckman, "There's a lot of important stories out there that if we don't step up and tell them ourselves, then they won't be told."

Photo: CLT BLOG From left, CLT Blog honchos Matthew Tyndall, Justin Ritchie, and Justin Ruckman



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