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A DIY prototype kit for Rapidian reporters - Crafters wanted!

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From The Rapidian staff

Each week, a Rapidian staffer will publish a piece related to goings-on at The Rapidian, developments in the world of citizen journalism and tips for making the most of the site. Click here for past editorials.

We're scrappy at the CMC. No compass or stencil? Not a prob. Make a 7-inch circle on the computer and print it out. Booyah.

We're scrappy at the CMC. No compass or stencil? Not a prob. Make a 7-inch circle on the computer and print it out. Booyah. /Matthew Russell

Boohiss! The problem with printers that automatically scale: It throws off layout alignment.

Boohiss! The problem with printers that automatically scale: It throws off layout alignment. /Denise Cheng

Double-sided tape: My new BFF.

Double-sided tape: My new BFF. /Denise Cheng

From The Rapidian staff: Last week, we were invited to set up shop at AimWest's social media confabulation, an annual conference in its second iteration that's spilling out of the gills with GR's social media savviest (read: marketers).

The Rapidian is scrappy. We have limited resources, we have equipment - standard point-and-shoots and cheap recorders. We're a DIY outfit; want more coverage or analysis of something happening in your backyard? When it comes to The Rapidian, you're the only gatekeeper to that news. Staff and editorial volunteers are here to arm you with pedestrian tools and mentorship to take advantage of this community information platform.

So when Laurie asked me to assemble our reporter packs (a set consisting of a Flip cam, audio recorder and still digicam) for AimWest, I realized for the first time that we didn't even have reporter pack-ets. With just a few days to spare, I set out to put together a prototype of what we should be giving to every reporter: A collection of reporter business cards, a brochure that puts us in the context of the Community Media Center's aims and services and most importantly, a manual that explains the process new reporters go through as well as tips from fellow reporters, a publishing checklist and a quick-and-dirty style guide.

Out came the hodgepodge of tools, ranging from professional layout software to repurposed graph paper, sketch pads and a makeshift cutting pad out of a Gordon Food Service box. A total of eight hours later, we had prototypes of our first reporters' packet.

Its contents:

  • Reporter business cards
  • CMC brochure
  • Reporter's manual
    • Explanation of The Rapidian and the CMC
    • Explanation of the new reporter process
    • Services, resources and tools that we offer at The Rapidian hub
    • Tips from other reporters
    • The beginnings of a Rapidian style guide

Nothing fancy and all things we already had on hand. It was, however, the first time we'd ever put those things togehter in a packable kit.

But here's where I got really excited: The craftiness! It was the perfect project going into winter. As I did some mental calesthenics around how we'd put together a stylish folder on the cheap, I wondered if this was another way to plug in all that artistic talent in our community.

Up till now, we've only been able to funnel interested volunteers into the editorial process. Not everyone wants (or even needs) to contribute to The Rapidian this way, and we've had very few avenues for leveraging the excitement and community talent around The Rapidian.

If you go to The Division Avenue Arts Collective, their manifesto hangs off the back of their door. Fourth point down: "We support the transition from a 'Do It Yourself' (DIY) attitude to a 'Do It Together' (DIT) community." 

Can we take a cue from that manifesto? I've long imagined an army of crafters and designers who'd apply guerrilla marketing tactics, who'd take the best of Grand Rapids design-and-make sense and use it to the advantage of a citizen powered platform. After all, we're a publicly programmed platform. We're neighbors supporting neighbors, so how much of a stretch is it really to all apply our talents to increase the flow of community information and dialogue?

We have 400 contributors. We have 1,300 registered users. Many more read The Rapidian. So here's the question we've not asked enough, especially to you artsy, crafty wonders out there: How can we come together in a confluence of talent, energy, and bonhomie to enhance this community resource? What would a Rapidian crafting session look like?

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I really like the idea of bringing together creative people no matter what the setting, but as I love the Rapidian too, I love this! To clarify for myself though, you are envisioning creatives and DIT'ers of GR to come together and make some guerrilla marketing happen for the Rapidian?

Yes! Exactly! I would love to see all of us engaging our imaginations and creativity because we feel ownership over The Rapidian. Whatever things we can envision together because I am so certain I'm overlooking some obvious and not-so-obvious ideas. I'm almost afraid to set more parameters than a sense of community ownership because, to be honest, the thought of possibly overlooking or unintentionally excluding some amazing idea sort of terrifies me.

Just brainstorming here, but what about a Rapidian zine? Not something that has articles and such, but something that describes it and fleshes it out through the eyes of the current staff and contributors? The call for contributions could be "any printable content (drawings, paintings, poems, atricles, rants, stories) that speak to the importance of citizen-powered news." These could then be assembled by volunteers (assembling parties are awesome) and then distributed around the city for free. The printing shouldn't cost much. I'm thinking put them out at restaurants and coffee shops, but those nifty little knit-graffitti pockets around town could hold them too!

Could an artist add drawings or sketches to a story, instead of photo and video? Would be great for the home page or a lead article.

Absolutely! I think that's a possibility. Are you talking about assigning illustrators to accompany stories by other contributors, creating stories in illustrated form or both? Here are two articles, both illustrated by Matthew Reidsma, which touches on both:

I really would love to see illustrations coupled with community information on the site. You've touched on something here, Dave: Pushing the boundaries and conventions of journalism rather than only replicating the same media (audio, video, text, photography).

Well, I think it could be neat as a start if an artist wanted to create an illustration for a published story to have them contact the author and discuss the addition.

As for illustrators contributing stories entirely within their medium such as what Matthew has done is awesome too!

 nice idea... though i am still waiting for my official Rapidian Decoder Ring.... waiting....waiting....

I know, right? I mailed in my 6,789 required box-tops YEARS ago and it still hasn't arrived!

 Okay, I’m just going to throw this out there…this may just be my inner beader talking. However, I know other than myself, there are many people who express themselves through the wearable art that they create. So, my idea, to take found objects throughout Grand Rapids, maybe items that help to represent favorite things about the city, or topics from the latest Rapidian articles and create these topics into art that can be worn to spread the word about this local tool.

Also, you could take the photos, or like Dave suggested, drawings or sketches and scale them down to button form, and this too could be part of the walking media. I think it would not only be a good marketing tool which the whole community could be involved in, it is also green art, and being green is always good!

I really like this idea! Wearable art always gets folks talking. I think you should run with this and maybe make some prototypes for inspiration for the rest of us!

Given my interests in artifact, art, and curating, and inspired by Cecilia's reference to objects, I wonder about putting artifacts from stories on display in some fixed physical space. The nature of the displays could be factual or imaginative, but the key would be that they related to articles in the Rapidian or even could operate in conjunction with "projects" in the Rapidian. This could be a storefront window or even a gallery space of some sort. I have lots more thoughts on this of both practical and conceptual nature.

We do have a storefront window at The Rapidian. We occupy the front office of the Community Media Center annex on Wealthy Street. Totally a possibility.

I love the storefront idea! Many people could be involved and it would be a lot of fun to switch it up every couple weeks or so for new visual interests.

Okay! So Rapidian staff talked about it at the end of last week, and we really love all the ideas streaming in. We can't act on a lot of them before the end of 2010, but we thought we'd get started on hybrids and variations of some of them just to get the ball rolling.

So here's the idea: December social around populating our store front windows!

We'd like to see people bring in an artifact that is a response to a Rapidian article that resonated with them. We'll tap volunteer photographers and print those images out on the spot, create a photo/artifact map around articles to place on our windows. A "year in review" via artifacts via photos, if you will.

Hopefully it'll lay the groundwork and whet appetites of passerbys for grander plans around storefront/artifact displays when everyone comes back in 2011.

Anyone interested in helping out with the social?