A couple of my colleagues have questioned why we are using precious resources to run the Southeast Michigan Media Lab, my ideaLab project that morphed into a full-time job along with the addition of new responsibilities. But others, particularly those who understand the value of community engagement, totally get it.
I think the numbers from the last six months — keeping in mind the media lab doesn’t have a full-time staff and only has my attention part of the time — speak for themselves.
I launched the Southeast Michigan Media Lab exactly two years ago under the name Community Media Lab after winning funding from the corporate offices of our parent company, at the time Journal Register Company, now Digital First Media. My proposal was the only one, out of about four in Michigan, to get the coveted funds. Last summer, I had the pleasure of helping Maryanne MacLeod at sister publication The Macomb Daily launch a second media lab, the Macomb Regional Community Media Lab, adding to DFM media labs across the United States.
The Southeast Michigan Media Lab, housed in Ypsilanti, strives to bring the audience inside the newsroom as content-sharing partners, as does the Macomb media lab. But there has been some discussion as of late about the words “inside the newsroom” since the media lab in Ypsilanti is housed at SPARK-East, a business incubator, not a newsroom.
I interpret “bringing the audience inside the newsroom” as having an editor or journalist working with individuals and establishing partnerships, and embracing their contributions just as they would from a member of the newsroom. For example, I work with individuals interested in writing news, sharing photographs or media galleries, producing video and audiocasts, and work with them to get that content ready for publication. All of our news sites link to our blogging partners, and I work with bloggers to improve their sites.
In addition, at the Southeast Michigan Media Lab, we — in partnership with professors at Eastern Michigan University and professionals in the community — hold free workshops in digital media and social media for the public. Some of our outreach also includes working with journalism, marketing and public relations students, as well as members of the senior community interested in learning more about digital communication.
We chose Ypsilanti for the Southeast Michigan Media Lab for a number of reasons, which I outlined in my original proposal, and I still believe those reasons are valid. Beyond what was mentioned in my proposal, The Saline Reporter building, where our Washtenaw County newsroom is located, doesn’t have adequate space and it would have been too costly to remodel to include the media lab. Moreover, the lab, based on its central location, attracts people from as far away as Oakland and Macomb counties, as well as Wayne County’s Downriver community and western Washtenaw County.
But back to the numbers.
We’ve had a total of 527 visitors to the Southeast Michigan Media Lab and Macomb Regional Community Media Lab (at our brick-and-mortar locations) in the last six months, since we started tracking. I think it’s safe to assume one could double that to get a year’s picture.
We’ve hosted 35 workshops for the community in the last six months, which is an average of nearly six per month. In fact, on Meetup.com, where we draw some of our audience, we have a combined 155 “labbers” — 119 associated with the Southeast Michigan Media Lab — who have voluntarily asked to be notified via the service every time we schedule a workshop. That says something.
We’ve had 2,117 views of our two blogs (CommunityMediaLab and Macomb Regional Media Lab) that chronicle our media lab activities. Admittedly, both Maryanne and I could do a better job of producing more content for these blogs and keeping them fresher, which will attract more readers. If we did, we could easily triple that number.
The Southeast Michigan Media Lab has had 25,864 views of its PowerPoint presentations uploaded and shared with the public, and our workshop attendees — virtual and those who come in person — on Scribd over the last two years.
On the Southeast Michigan Media Lab’s YouTube channel, where we house videos from our workshops and blogger events, we’ve had 1,053 views since its inception a year ago. In all, viewers have watched 3,671 minutes of our videos. I could do a better job with this, as well, promoting the channel and directing audience there.
Combined, we have 524 likes on Facebook and 1,683 followers on Twitter , which is more audience than six of our branded new sites’ Twitter accounts. We’ve also tweeted a combined 5,424 times — 4,818 of the tweets coming from the Southeast Michigan Media Lab Twitter account, which was established two years ago. In comparison, a reporter at one of our dailies, who admittedly doesn’t tweet much but is working on it, has 211 lifetime tweets.
The Southeast Michigan Media Lab also has a Tout account and shares original video, as well as those from across Digital First Media. Since August, that account has shared 1,094 Touts and has 294 followers. The account also ranks 18 out of 30 at The Oakland Press for views, as the account is linked to the Oakland Press group on Tout. So, we capture more views — and share more content — than some of the reporters who are supposed to be incorporating Tout into their daily coverage.
With numbers — which demonstrate the outreach — like that in just the last six months, during harsh winter conditions that sometimes lead people to hibernate, who could deny the value of our media labs? Not only is the work we are doing building stronger relationships between Digital First Media and the communities we cover, but it’s bringing more content to our sites and providing our audience a forum to share their voice and outlet to learn new skills.