At some time in the next several hours the Vanguard will go from the current site, which we just built last December, and will launch a brand new site. We may be offline for a few hours today, but the wait will have been worth it.
While the second site served its purpose and helped launch the Vanguard to unprecedented heights in terms of readership, contributions and influence, it was rushed, out of necessity in the collapse of the previous site last December, and was beset by problems from the start.
But I want to discuss the future rather than the past. In July we celebrated our eighth birthday, and it gave us time to reflect on the foundation of the Vanguard – born during a very tumultuous chapter of our city’s history. At that time I was really amazed at the first entry dated July 30, 2006.
I wrote, “This blog will be the voice of truth for the City of Davis. This blog will expose the lies and deceptions whether they come from the City Council, the Davis Police Department, the DA’s Office, or the City Manager. This blog will be the source of hard-hitting reporting and news that you will not get from the Davis Enterprise.”
I have been reading a lot of Guy Kawasaki in the past few weeks. Guy Kawasaki made his name as the “chief evangelist” for Apple in the mid-1980s. It was in that time that Apple rolled out a truly revolutionary product, the Macintosh. Prior to the Macintosh, he would explain, the computer was a tool for experts who could understand and manipulate computer programming languages.
The Macintosh allowed the average person to be able to interface with a computer with a minimal level of proficiency by clicking on icons and adding text. By doing so, Apple would democratize computers and bring them to the mass public in a way that was not possible previously.
At the time, everyone was trying to build a better and faster MS-DOS. After that time, the world was trying to build on the concept of Macintosh.
When the Vanguard first launched, a lot of people did not know what to make of it. So they resorted to comparing it in terms they could understand – typical mainstream construction of a newspaper. The truth is that the Vanguard is not merely a reposition of mainstream newspapers on a new medium that is without mass or physical boundaries.
The Vanguard is, in fact, to the newspaper what Macintosh was to MS-DOS.
Observe the following. The classic newspaper represents typical one-way communication. The journalist, columnist, letter writer, or editorialist speaks to the readers. They report the news as they see it. They commentate on the news as they see it. And the readers can either take it or leave it.
Yes, the reader can engage in a delayed and long-distance dialogue through letters to the editor, but for the most part papers are bound by their physical limitation.
It is worth noting that even when traditional newspapers meet the new media era, they struggle to break out of their confines. The Enterprise has attempted a number of different comment configurations and, while they briefly had some engaged readership, they never had a dialogue space where the writers and readers could interact on an exchange of ideas.
While it is true that one of the motivations of the Vanguard was to get a different voice out to the public, our chief frustration in 2006 was the inability to get alternative voices and messages out to the public for fear of retribution and ostracism.
This consideration is why the Vanguard, through modifications and revisions, has been steadfast in allowing the reader to comment without fear. Some believe that this leads to mean-spirited posts, but we have found over the years that people who post under their own name can be just as pointed and critical as an anonymous poster.
Moreover, we believe that the marketplace of ideas can overcome the limitations of anonymous commenting.
As the Vanguard has evolved, we have worked hard to develop professional codes of ethics – while these may resemble some of the ethos and code of conduct for traditional journalism, our vision is different. We view democracy as a process, not a sterile transfer of information. We view our primary mission as one of education and engagement. Allow the people access to information about their government and their community and then they can decide which way to go on things.
On Wednesday, the Vanguard hosted a candidates forum. That may not be a typical venue for a media organization, but it is a typical venue for a public engagement organization. On October 16 at 6:30 pm, at DMG Mori Seiki, the Vanguard will host a community discussion on Innovation Parks.
Our new website will enable us to continue to develop and innovate. This year, our readership has soared – some months we have averaged between 5000 and 6000 unique visitors per day. The city’s recent poll showed that seven years ago, the Davis Enterprise was by far the most utilized source for local government information. By June of this year, the polling showed that the Enterprise market share had collapsed and they had been nearly caught by the internet.
The Vanguard and its vision are not standing still, either. In addition to reaching out from behind our computer monitors to engage the public in community debates and discussion, the Vanguard is innovating on the computer screen.
For the first time, we will have a dedicated section for community announcements and for what we will call “Letters to the Vanguard.” We realize that sometimes the public wants to weigh in on their own issue and they don’t want to write a full op-ed. This feature – similar to a letter to the editor – will enable the public to submit shorter pieces, either about community events or their views on the issues of the day.
Once we launch, we are working on community partnerships that will bring new information and facilitate more public understanding of the political process.
We are excited about this new era and we hope that a new stable web environment will allow us to push forward more changes.
One last point, with new models for news and engagement, comes a new financing model. The Vanguard had operated for several years under the auspices of the Vanguardians, a Glendale-based non-profit with a similar mission. A month ago, the Vanguard ‘s own 501(c)(3) status was approved.
While the financing is in place for our new website, we rely on advertising and community donations rather than paid subscriptions to fund our costs. As we grow, the costs to maintain the site continue to grow, as well.
A number of our readers are also contributors. We have a group of people who graciously and generously donate on a monthly basis, with their contribution automatically debited from their credit cards. If you can help us on an ongoing basis, please click here – your generous contribution can us maintain our infrastructure as well as go into a pool to fund new features and innovation. Please donate today.
Thank you for reading the Vanguard – this should be an exciting time.
—David M. Greenwald reporting