A news site that has allowed its users to write and submit their own articles is shutting down, citing unspecified "business issues."
Backfence Inc. had "hyperlocal" sites serving 13 communities in the Washington, D.C., San Francisco and Chicago areas. Residents were allowed to write on any topic, including event announcements and neighborhood traffic congestion, without the meddling of editors.
The idea was to get readers and viewers more involved in news production with the help of the Internet, camera phones and other technologies.
"We hope we have provided you with a valuable local forum," Backfence told its readers. "Unfortunately, business issues are forcing us to close our doors and shut down the site."
Backfence never drew much traffic. Its 13 operations collectively haven't received enough visitors in a month to reach the threshold needed for comScore Media Metrix to properly measure. Normally, comScore needs at least 50,000 to 100,000 visitors.
Mark Potts, the site's co-founder, refused to comment on the reasons behind the closure, saying they are proprietary. He acknowledged the company wasn't successful, but said people shouldn't dismiss the concept of citizen journalism.
"Along with our investors, we remain very enthusiastic about the potential for user-generated hyperlocal information and citizen journalism," Potts wrote in an e-mail. "Backfence was a pioneer in that area."
Set an example
Jay Rosen, a New York University journalism professor, said others can now learn from Backfence's failure.
"The first attempt, if it has some good ideas in it and some dubious ones are exposed, will make future projects easier and raise our chances for success," Rosen said. "Backfence may have succeeded brilliantly in evolutionary terms."
Many traditional media outlets along with standalone startups have been pushing citizen journalism as a way to expand their offerings, particularly for community developments that may appeal to a relatively small number of people but are very important to those few affected.
Last year, Backfence acquired another pioneer in citizen journalism, the San Francisco area's Bayosphere, which was created by former newspaper columnist Dan Gillmor.