Wick Communications

Swing your partner!

In Online media on March 10, 2011 at 4:45 pm

Lately, several large newspapers have gone to bed with bloggers in their area, including some who have traditionally trained their venomous snark on those very traditional media outlets. Strange times make for strange bedfellows.

Blame J-Lab. The journalism think-tank has been providing seed money that has paid for curators and other managers to assimilate community journalists in with the more old-school variety.

Suffice to say it’s an experiment – series of experiments, actually. Whether you consider them a success probably depends on the way you define the term. At places like the Miami Herald and the Charlotte Observer and the Portland Oregonian, which have benefitted from J-Lab largesse, editors have sought out the best community partners and offered them space in a variety of ways on the newspaper’s online products.

The Miami Herald gives selected participants the keys to the content management system (OK, some administrative access) and allows its partners to post directly to its site.

The Charlotte Observer has gone so far as to use content generated by non-staff bloggers on its front page. I know! It’s blasphemy … it’s also an acknowledgement that the newspaper just can’t cover as much ground as it once did. (By the way, the image at the top of this post was provided by Steve Gunn, director of Strategic Products and Audience Development at the Observer.)

The Portland Oregonian – sometimes known injuriously as “The Death Star” in local blogging circles – goes to citizen journalism meetups to bridge what can be a cultural divide. It is now in the process of partnering with these same bloggers for content…

Though most have tried to make money, by claiming new page views that can be used in determining online ad rates or even sharing revenue for advertising on third-party sites, none have successfully done so.

So why do it? Well, there are several answers to that one. First, it enriches the experience for readers. Isn’t that what we’re all about? Can you honestly say you cover everything as well as you would like? Why not bring in experts – just as you might local expert columnists in the print version – to provide their own perspective?

Secondly, if you don’t do it, somebody else will. We don’t want to lose our community to aggregating upstarts like Patch.com. We want to be the one-stop-shop for local readers.

Thirdly, this is free (or largely free, depending on the model) content that freshens your Web site. Who doesn’t want that?

The devils are in the details. All of those involved in the J-Lab experiments are adamant that you need a written contract outlining what you can do with the submissions, whether you can run them in the paper and so on. And all of them say the “care and feeding” of citizen journalists can drive you crazy. This isn’t easy.

It’s an interesting idea and I think we’re going to try it at the Review. I’ll let you know how it goes.

To learn more about the J-Lab project, visit here.

— Clay

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