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Citizen journalists report on California county

October 20, 2013

From the Knight Foundation Blog

The best products and services are often the ones demanded and designed by consumers themselves.

Residents of San Benito County, Calif., about 60 miles south of the high-tech epicenter of Silicon Valley, are benefitting from their initiative, after expressing the need for a new source of information. That desire led to the creation of BenitoLink.com in the last year. The site, which received a $150,000 grant from Knight Foundation in May, is a free digital news resource for the county’s approximately 56,000 residents. BenitoLink has news, commentary, event listings and a classifieds section, all tailored to the local community.

County resident Bob Reid, who was recently hired as BenitoLink’s content director, said the area “has been in a media shadow for a long time.” Compared to adjacent counties closer to San Jose and San Francisco, San Benito County is more rural and sparsely populated. The county’s largest city, Hollister, used to have two newspapers actively covering the area. But much like other newsrooms across the country, the local papers have reduced their coverage or installed online paywalls.

Vision San Benito County, an initiative of the Community Foundation for San Benito County, spearheaded BenitoLink’s creation after nearly 1,000 county residents shared concern for the lack of sufficient local news and information. (Vision San Benito County received $20,000 in seed money from Knight in 2011.)

“Our goal is to connect our community,” said Reid, who is also an experienced journalist , vocalist and guitarist. “BenitoLink was born out of people feeling that there was no place to go to find out what was happening in the community … So we’re hoping to not only fill that need but to help the community be aware of who they are by reflecting back who they are to them.”

Reid works full time on the site, alongside a part-time staffer.  A team of five volunteers and Vision San Benito County’s executive director also contribute by reviewing the site and making decisions on a weekly basis. Just recently, BenitoLink launched a redesign to make the the site’s presentation more engaging, easier to understand and simpler to administer. But Reid said BenitoLink’s sustainability relies upon community members contributing news and information. Read more at the Knight Foundation Blog.

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