Fireworks at Journal Register Co: ?Ben Franklin Project? Successful at All 18 Dailies

By: Mark Fitzgerald

All 18 Journal Register Co. dailies published a print newspaper and Website content on Sunday July 4 using only free tools available on the Internet.

The Independence Day editions were the next step in Journal Register’s “Ben Franklin Project,” which began in April when a small daily and a weekly produced newspapers using free social media tools to crowdsource stories or get story ideas; Google Docs and Scribus for writing and composing stories and ads; and other tools for office functions.

“This is a nice moment for the company,” CEO John Paton told E&P Sunday.

Paton said the project is about achieving “independence” from legacy publishing systems and developing a new way of thinking about how to bring compelling journalism to the papers’ communities.

“The Ben Franklin Project not only proves that websites and newspapers can be freed from the restraints of legacy, proprietary publishing systems, but also heralds the potential of an open and transparent newsgathering process,” Journal Register said in a statement. “The Project allowed audience members to help shape editorial story budgets through crowd sourcing.”

Among the stories featured in Sunday’s editions were an in-depth exploration of property taxes and community revitalization projects and reports on childhood obesity.

There are cost-savings implications from the project, said Jon Cooper, Journal Register’s vice president of content.

“The collaborative nature of the Ben Franklin Project has provided opportunities for innovation and created an environment where the best ideas will win out,” he said in a statement. “Journal Register’s employees have developed new low-cost solutions to long-standing, legacy issues.”

Among them is a combination of free software programs he said “could serve as models for future development of billing and ad tracking interfaces.”

The Ben Franklin Project is the subject of an article in the July print edition of Editor & Publisher.

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