Table of Contents
│ Starting out
What made you become a content creator?
Norine Dworkin from VoxPopuli: I’ve been a journalist/writer for 30 years, so I’ve been creating “content” since the dark ages of Atex computers. What drives me is a desire to provide people with information to help them understand what’s going on around them.
In my career, I’ve covered women’s health, I’ve written about art and culture, [and] I’ve created a humor website for parents. Now I run a nonprofit news site about government and politics and social justice issues. My job is the same: provide the best information available to help people make sense of where they live.
│ Successes and challenges
What are some of the challenges you face as a content creator?
Norine: Like most nonprofits, I always want and need more money and resources to do more of the things that I want to do. But VoxPopuli just finished its first round of fundraising and raised enough to hire some freelancers. I have wanted dedicated reporters in each of the cities/towns that we cover since we started last year, and we are finally putting those writers into place along with developing some key beats.
The other big challenge is getting more eyes on our content, making people aware that we’re out here. Fundraising has given us a bit of a marketing budget for that as well.
What has been VoxPopuli’s biggest scoop so far?
Norine: During the March 2021 Election for Windermere Town Commission we got a reader tip that one of the candidates had misrepresented his background in law enforcement, which was the foundation of his security business and his campaign. We dug into that and found that he had never been a sworn officer anywhere in the state of Florida or anywhere else. He was telling people — and it’s still on his website — that he was a law enforcement officer with the Sheriff’s Office. We showed that he was not. We also published court documents showing that he had been sued for nonpayment and underpayment of employee wages.
One other story that I’m proud of because it resulted in real change is that I caught a city clerk misrepresenting the city commission meeting minutes. I wrote a column about it and published audio of the meeting next to the meeting minutes. After that, the city began including its own audio of the meeting with minutes on its website.
│ Charting a course
How many writers do you have? How do you find them?
Norine: VoxPopuli has one contributing writer, plus myself and a managing editor. I was introduced to her years ago by a college friend, and I was very lucky that she had just moved back to the States from Beijing where she had been executive editor of an English language parenting magazine there called Beijing Kids. We also just hired an editorial cartoonist, and he brings a droll, New Yorker type of wit to our coverage of local politics and government.
Where do you see VoxPopuli in 5 years?
Norine: Within five years, I want to have a larger staff so that we can cover more of the stories that need reporting in our cities. Many times, stories go unreported, or sit for a while because I don’t have the resources to report on them or report on them immediately. As we grow our audience and our donor base and our sponsorship connections, that will change and we will be able to staff up to have the resources we need to do the investigative work that needs to be done.
This year we also started our first Candidates Forum for a town that has not had an election in 16 years. I hope that the Forum’s success will enable us to replicate it in another of our cities that does have elections but hasn’t had any Candidates Forums. Candidates Forums are a terrific way to get people talking about the issues that are important to one’s city.
Too often with local elections, people get the job because no one else steps up and then they stay in the job for years making decisions about planning and zoning that affect people’s lives. Elections and forums are good ways for citizens to think about who they really want holding those reins.
What are some digital publications that you follow?
Norine: As editor of a political site, I follow the Washington Post, the New York Times, Politico, Slate, The Guardian, Vox, and Bess Levin at Vanity Fair.
What do you like most about creating digital content?
Norine: The best thing about digital content is that it can be produced and updated, even corrected, in real time. It literally is news as it happens. I was at an event recently commemorating the Ocoee Massacre and I sat next to a journalism student who was learning to produce stories on his phone. Phones make citizen journalists out of everyone.
We all know the impact of the video of the George Floyd murder in the conviction of the police officer Derek Chauvin. Last weekend, in Orlando, there was a Neo-Nazi demonstration where three Neo-Nazis assaulted a Jewish man who confronted them. Bystanders videoed the encounter, uploaded it to Twitter, and shared the footage with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office. The three were charged with third-degree felonies under Florida’s hate crimes statute last week. Were it not for the video, the guys probably would have been charged with misdemeanors. This is one of the most positive uses of digital content.
What do you dislike most about creating digital content?
Norine: It’s too easily manipulated to create disinformation. With digital content it’s too easy to manipulate video and sound to make it appear as if people were at events they weren’t at or said things they didn’t say or did things they didn’t do — but it’s on video so it’s harder to deny than, say, in print where someone can protest that they’ve been taken out of context.
Also with the current vogue for banning books, some people online have pointed to digital books as the stop gap against book banning and book burning. But who’s to say that digital books won’t be edited to slice out material that’s “objectionable” to certain audiences? Or suddenly be unavailable for download?
What inspires you to keep writing?
Norine: People need local news that’s more than just “A new Dairy Queen is opening up” and “Here are the high school football scores.” They need local news that’s going to question and verify and hold leaders to account. Politicians behave better when they know the media is watching.
As larger media outlets have had to pull back coverage on local markets because of shrinking budgets, it becomes necessary for other sources like nonprofit news venues to step in to fill the gap so that residents continue to know what is really happening in their area.
│ Content syndication
Why did you decide to syndicate your content with Newstex?
Norine: This helps us to distribute our content to a wider audience. I’m hoping more people will find us and read us and, of course, if they like us, share us.
What do you think are the benefits of syndicating your content through Newstex?
Norine: We hope to gain greater readership through your distribution channels.
│ Advice for other publishers
What are the top 3 tips you can give to others wanting to develop successful digital publications?
1. Know what your mission is and don’t chase every “shiny” news story out there.
I remind myself of this regularly because I often fall into the trap of “Oh! We should cover that!”
2. Hire good people and let them do their jobs.
When you have a small staff, you wear a lot of hats. In addition to writing, I also fundraise and seek sponsorships. Consequently, I leave other jobs to the managing editor and trust that he’ll do them well. I could make myself crazy doing it all, but that would lead to burnout.
3. Type A perfectionist personalities go into journalism.
That’s what makes us good. Sometimes though when you’re running a small staff, “good enough,” is good enough.
VoxPopuli is the alternative voice for community news in the state of Florida. It covers the interplay of race, ethnicity, gender, and class with the business, politics, and local government of Winter Garden, Ocoee, Oakland, and Windermere.