The people at the Citizen Media conference kicking off the ONA meeting in Toronto are from independent web sites and from start ups but also from big media companies. Jennifer Carroll at Gannett gets it. Rob Curley with WashingtonPost.com gets it. Steve Yelvington with Morris Communications gets it. Experiment, get a conversation going with the community, balance hot news with evergreen content, balance work by pros with work by amateurs, make the tech side highly functional. Test, teach, try something, evaluate, make it better. Hire tinkerers. Use Flickr. Aggregate. Make connections.
Category Archives: Hyper-local
Watching the numbers: Hyper-local news can mean whatever you think your neighbors will talk about — a house fire on the next block? a new school principal? street closing? It also can mean that readers will visit your web site again and again, increasing traffic by 50 percent or more. The Record in Parsippany, N.J., is edited by Dennis Lyons. He talked to Editor & Publisher about the success of the hyper-local strategy, which includes very frequent web updates:
"It is less of a print-driven approach," Lyons says
while chatting in his office, "being absolutely as local as we can be
and getting readers involved as often as possible." The early jump on
the Web is key, he adds, noting that the paper’s monthly page views
jumped from 3.3 million in March 2006 to 4.9 million in March 2007.
"We started out with baby steps, doing about five
updates each day," he says of his 58-person news staff, which includes
18 reporters. "Now we are up to 35 or 40." The site now covers such
events as school closings, "which we had never done before."
Reporters say they are getting used to providing
online updates throughout the day, rather than saving a story for the
print edition. Vidya Padmanabhan recalls a February fire in nearby
Washington Township, which she heard about at 6 a.m. through a tip.
Once confirmed, she posted a story, then made more calls to get
comment. She then learned a 5-year-old girl in the home had awoken her
parents to the blaze and helped them escape, and that detail was added
at 9 a.m.
Later in the day, a second reporter arranged for an
interview with the family, which was shot by a staff videographer and
posted online by the afternoon. The second reporter then wrote it up
for the next day’s paper.
Do the math: that’s a 48 percent increase in page views over one year. All that’s required: New assignments, new hours but most of all a new attitude in the newsroom. (Do the other math: 40 posts a day, from 18 reporters, means three posts per working reporter per day.) One step is to use pre-qualified community news providers. At The Inquirer, we took one small step last week, posting text and a photo submitted by the Cherry Hill Fire Department. Over the course of a few days, it received a couple of hundred page views, about what a similar staff story would receive.
Rob Curley talked for about six hours to two diverse groups from The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Daily News, and philly.com: executives, reporters, web people, photographers, editors, ad sales folks, producers, tech gurus, graphics experts. He inspired, he amazed, he energized. He demonstrated what can be done and he demonstrated what can be done to make money. He drank a lot of Red Bull. A Curley intern, Amanda Finnegan, who was traveling with him, said it’s a good thing that stuff is available sugar free.
Curley’s Seven Commandments (as I distilled the six hours):
1. Own breaking news, and make sure your audience knows it.
2. Go hyper-local, deeper than you ever imagined. Don’t just build a container, fill it. (Plenty of photos of youth sports? Yes!)
3. Database like crazy.
4. Multimedia overkill.
5. Evergreen content. Examples: Mark Twin (for Hannibal, Mo.), KU sports history (Lawrence, Kan.)
6. Platform independent: paper, web, sms text to cell phones, X-box, Wii, I-pod and more.
7. It’s a conversation. Leverage the wisdom of the crowd and make sure the audience is participating.
What scares him — or what inspires him? Facebook. (I had some satisfaction that our Philadelphia Sports News Feed group on Facebook, after one week, is up to about 120 members.) In the afternoon, Rob paid our own Jennifer Musser-Metz a great compliment. He said he was a new reporter when he first found Black Hawk Down on The Inquirer’s website — with source documents, bios on the people in the story, reader comments, multimedia. "This is journalism on steroids," Rob remembers thinking. That was when he decided to become an online journalist. We had a chance to applaud Jennifer again for making all that happen.
Beyond Red Bull, how is Rob’s work powered? One force is internology — the power of committed, hard-working paid interns, including Amanda. Who calls 300 restaurants to ask each of them 20 questions (children’s menu? hours you serve meals? vegetarian choices?) Who shoots dozens of digital stills? Who covers the county fair? The permanent Curley staff is five full-time editors-producers-developers. Amanda is one of about 11 interns on the Curley team at Washington Post-Newsweek Interactive. Her training, from Cabrini College in Radnor, Pa., is on display in this student project on war.
Special thanks to Adrian!
Welcome to Rob Curley’s latest project: Loudon Extra, a hyper-local feature of the Washington Post. It’s hyper local only in contrast to the huge reach of the mother paper. Loudon County is not one small community with one stop light and one high school. It’s diverse and spread across a vast area. But the Extra project is meant to bring local search and local information to users and to involve users in keeping the site current. The ratio of pro content to am content is expected to start at about 99:1, but that could change. Right now data is at the core. From the welcome page:
We are currently building searchable databases of building permits, homes sales, and many other publicly available records. We also will be covering high school sports like this area has never seen.
I like the house of worship lookup and the web cams. The section’s story about the launch reviews Curley’s history increasing page views at other publication and asks a core question about the Post effort:
Curley’s revamping of the Lawrence site gained national attention because of the audience it attracted. In 2000 — before remaking its site — the Lawrence paper got 14 million page views, said Ralph Gage, chief operating officer of the World Co., which owns the paper. In 2006, that number had grown to 247 million, and the site booked about $2 million in revenue. The population of Lawrence is about 80,000, and the Journal’s circulation is 20,000.
Page views at the Naples Web site are up 17 percent in the first six months of this year compared with 2006, when the site was revamped, said editor Phil Lewis, with unique monthly users up 26 percent. The Web site is responsible for more than 10 percent revenue, Lewis said, which is above the industry average.
The question has always been whether a major metropolitan newspaper can successfully run a hyperlocal site like this, and how both local and national advertisers will react.
Those examples of page view increases can be enticing. More from the business story (on the data example 07newsroom discussed in this February post):
In December, Gannett Co.’s Asbury Park (N.J.) Press dumped three huge public-record databases onto its Web site: local property sales and ownership, and state employees’ salaries. By May, the paper had added searchable databases for local crime, school test scores, state deaths and public school employees.
In December, the paper’s Web site recorded 1.5 million page views. By May, the site was averaging more than 5 million page views per month, according to data from a Newspaper Association of America study, with a high of more than 9 million page views in April.
We also will be adding a powerful community-publishing section to the site, allowing readers to share their stories, photos and videos.
No sign yet that the material shared — or posted — by readers will be filtered, tagged or rated by readers, too. Various models exist for this, including the Digg model (users can add one positive — or negative vote), the Plime model (users can increase their own rating, and thus their own voting power), and — starting today — the HuffingtonPost model. [update Freedom Interactive will go live next month with their own version, with SiteLife software from Pluck.] Paul Berry, the chief tech officer of HuffPo, explains all:
We’ve added a commenter profile page which includes your bio and lists all comments you’ve posted. To add a bio, simply click on the Your Account link on the upper right hand corner of every page.
We also have a new I’m A Fan Of feature which lets you vote for your favorite commenters. They can also vote for you. Your fans will be listed on your profile page. We’ll soon be able to alert you when your fans comment on stories and when your favorite bloggers post on the site.
But we’re most excited to announce a new initiative where we will choose one commenter a month to become a featured blogger at HuffPost. Yes, a blogger! Reading through the comments on our site, we realized that our readers are an underutilized resource – smart and opinionated. Our decisions will be based on how many fans a commenter has, how often their comment is selected as a favorite and our moderators’ favorites.
Even Paul’s dad is "a blogger!" Now Paul is making it possible for others to try their hand. Who wouldn’t be excited? The wisdom of the crowds, unleashed. And for the crowds in Loudon County, the power of local journalism has also been given free rein. May success blossom in many gardens.
Distinctive visuals grab readers and hold their attention. For decades, Art Shay and other sophisticated photographers with a technical bent have used panoramic cameras including the Widelux for terrific shots. Newspaper web sites are starting to experiment with full 360-degree photography. Check out this stunning audio and visual of a memorial on the Drillfield to the Virginia Tech victims (from The Roanoke Times). Other companies, including VRWay, are posting their own versions. Panoramas.dk collects more examples and information on the story behind the photos. Now, Rob Curley is planning on using panoramas for very local, and very functional, compelling visuals on the new Loudon County hyper-local site on washingtonpost.com (emphasis added):
The site will also have several new features that the printed paper can’t match. Rob Curley, WPNI’s vice president of product development, takes on a nearly evangelical fervor as he talks up what he’s got in store. Whipping out his ever-present Apple laptop and clicking frantically, he shows off a database that includes panoramic photos of every high school football field in the county; click on sections of the grandstands and you can see the sight lines to the field. There will be podcasts of some local church sermons, real-time accounts of high-school games and highly detailed restaurant guides, too. "You want to know which [county] restaurants are open after 11 p.m. on a Thursday? Boom! There you go!" he says, triumphantly displaying such a list.
— from AJR
Those sitelines might help more news organizations see their way clearly into a future where visuals play an even more valuable part — both for utility and for grand, eye-catching statements.
In Chicago, Crain’s does it. It’s an interactive guide to golf courses and readers can search by state, by city (Crown Point, Ind., for example) or town, or by other characteristics (by par). How much use will it get, how hard is it to build? It seems friendly to users and a good foundation of layering on extra information, including golfer comments.
The Buffalo News has signed on with YourHub.com, giving readers across the Buffalo area a chance to start blogs, post news items, and post video. YourHub started in Denver, a joint venture of Scripps Howard and Media News, with the technical work done by Indigio. Leigh Balcom, sales and operations manager in Bufalo, has been impressed, according to news articles:
“The best thing about YourHub
is that it allows people to report on things the newspaper may not,” he said.
“Events like Little League games, neighborhood events and even some issues
affecting the community.”
The Buffalo YourHub has more
than 550 registered users who have generated more than 2,000 pieces of content
since the site went live.
“I hired two online
interactive managers who go into the community and talk up the product and
encourage people to post content,” Balcom said.
There is competition. The Tribune Company devised its own software for TribLocal. And one of the more promising new businesses that is already doing the same thing is Village Soup, which started in Maine. Village Soup is doing so well, that the Knight Foundation is giving it a grant:
VillageSoup in Maine receives $885,000 to build free software to allow others to
replicate the citizen journalism and community participation site
The optimism that shines through this and the other grants is a great counterweight to some of the negativism occasionally heard at industry gatherings. Read more about the other Knight grants, to Adrian Holovaty, to a project on high-tech civic media, to computer students studying journalism, to a journalism incubator in Arizona.
" "Ultra-local is definitely the way to go. If you promise ultra-local, you’ve got
to be able to deliver it. The number of journalists we have  is huge
compared with many other regional papers – but, even with that many, we can’t
deliver ultra-local news all the time. To do it, we’re going to need another 500
reporters – we can’t take them on, they’re going to need to be citizen
journalists. They want to get this information out there; we need to say ‘yes,
we’ll be your electronic parish noticeboard, come give it to us and it will be
in the Express & Star’ – whereas, if you just set it up on your own, you’re
only going to have a limited audience. " — That’s Keith Harrison, deputy editor of the UK’s second biggest regional
newspaper, the Wolverhampton Express & Star
A publisher from Iceland is starting a free newspaper in Boston with a heavy dose of user-generated content. Writers can sign up for blogs, photographers can sign up on a designated photo-sharing service, people who shoot video will be invited to contribute, too. If it follows the plans being discussed so far, all this will bubble up from the cyber world and the editors of the print publication will harvest the best stuff each day for the fiber product. A Google news search turns up nothing, but a blog search turns up many postings. For example, the top managers are running a blogspot blog about the project, where this post says (in part): "BostonNOW wants to encourage active participation in our online and
print community, so interested contributors will only need to follow a
few steps to be considered for the print publication. As soon as the
BostonNOW website (bostonnow.com) goes live (scheduled for Monday,
April 16; the day before our first paper is published), you would
create a BostonNOW account."
Are they testing a new Nokia camera phone? This post shows the view from the BostonNow office.
Steve Garfield at Off On A Tangent blogs about a meetup: "I went to a meeting tonight about the new free paper that’s launching in Boston
soon called BostonNow. In this
picture, Editor-in-Chief John Wilpers is talking to bloggers about how they can
contribute to the paper. We had a far ranging discussion with lots of ideas
shared from everyone."
Newspaper Innovation has some details: "The paper is financed by Icelandic media company Dagsbrun. Russel
Pergament, former publisher of the Boston Metro and Am New York is
running the operation. He is also CEO of the American branch of
Dagsbrun, called 365 Media USA, which has plans for free dailies in
other US cities as well. Chief editor is John Wilpers (Washington
Examiner, Boston Globe, the Boston Herald and Boston Metro). Wilpers to
PBS: “I was the editor that took it [Boston Metro] from about 150,000
readers to 500,000″."
"Citizen journalism ranks low on revenues and readers. It ranks high on perceived
value and impact. While it aspires to report on community, it aspires even more
to build community." — that’s an excpert from a new report based on a survey of 191 community journalism site, each sent 60 questions. Another project from J-Lab: The
Institute for Interactive Journalism