Also posted at the AIM Group blog.
Howard Owens posted a very thoughtful, and thought-provoking, blog item arguing that “local” as a media strategy will make even more sense in the future because of societal changes that are drawing people toward smaller geographic communities. He’s talking about the reasons behind Gatehouse’s new site The Batavian, (which was covered in this blog a couple of weeks ago) but he could be talking about any community:
The beauty of the web for local news is not only does it give us a new chance to refocus on true local news, but it makes it easier to enable the strong civic engagement that only comes when people talk with each other. Through comments and blogs and UGC video, we have a chance to pull people away from “American Idol” and into a real dialogue about the issues that matter most to their home towns.
Meanwhile, another site is taking that very tack, this time more of a grassroots approach. The West Seattle Blog covers that neighborhood like a small community newsletter, except it uses video, crisp writing, and instant coverage. This morning, for example, I’m reading coverage of a neighborhood association meeting, and it was posted about midnight last night — with video. According to coverage in TechNewsWorld.com, founder Tracy Record was an assistant news director for the local Fox affiliate, and left in December to focus fulltime on her neighborhood blog. She has since been joined by her son, and her husband, selling ads. “We say that we’re sustainable,” she said. “We decided on a leap of faith to live on this job last year. We had a 401k, we were living off savings for a while. We’re not drawing on that anymore.” Record is now able to pay freelancers, and she hopes to hire an additional staffer by the end of the year.
Two models approaching local as an opportunity: one from a media company looking for new growth, one from a citizen looking to meet a need in her neighborhood.
A lot of this stuff runs under the radar of typical industry coverage because it’s so small. And that’s too bad, because taken in the aggregate, it’s big. There’s a lot happening at the community level that adds up to significant experimentation — and possibly, oppportunity.
Another sign of the maturing of blog technology as a solid publishing medium. (Anybody remember the 365 Days’ War over what was or wasn’t a blog?)
Now here’s a WordPress blog layout that looks more like a newspaper or magazine than a blog.
As a format within a local media site, this has potential. The all-important first screen displays multiple entries, stories, or photos. Comments are on a continuation page, keeping the home page compact.
A lot of blog layouts serve up one post in the first screen, which is fine for a solo blogger, but it’s limiting if you have multiple entries per day, or even per hour.
I haven’t spent any time poking at this to see advantages over the many other excellent WordPress skins, but it’s is worth checking out if you’re running a site with multiple entries. If you try it out, please share reactions in comments below.
(I’ve also posted this on the AIM Group’s new site, where I’m also blogging. I’ll be cross-posting some items as appropriate, and will note when that’s the case.)
Gatehouse Media has a fascinating experiment going on in Batavia, N.Y., to see what an online-only local news service might look like.
So far it looks like a blog, where each article is a blog entry, and people can add comments, and the whole thing is a long scrolling page. But The Batavian has a lot more going on. There are links to headlines from other local media, job postings, for-sale listings, photo galleries. There are many postings every day. There’s a two-person staff dedicated to the site, one for news and one for sports. Howard Owens, a Gatehouse exec who also is a prolific blogger (when the spam doesn’t wear him down) is acting as the site’s publisher. Philip Anselmo is news editor and Brian Hillabush is sports editor.
Gatehouse’s newspapers all have websites, and some are very advanced in both audience strategies and business strategies. This is Gatehouse’s first freestanding site, and it’s going up against the existing paper in Batavia, The Daily News.
Hillabush’s first day on the job was yesterday. He’s eager to get the community engaged in helping shape the site. “The really innovative thing we’re doing (with sports) is getting the coaches involved in writing their own blogs,” he said by phone today. “You kind of lose something when a coach calls the newspaper after a game and a reporter writes the story… I really think this is going to take off.”
The new guy knows what he’s talking about. He was a sports writer at The Daily News for eight years and in local radio in Batavia before that. He knows every coach in the area. He plans cover 3-4 games a week, writing stories and shooting photos and video. Plus recruiting those coaches.
Why jump from the daily newspaper to a startup like The Batavian? “Howard’s a big reason why I took this job,” Hillabush said.
Owens is a vocal (and controversial) proponent of just-do-it news video and community engagement. And The Batavian gives him a live testbed. Owens covered two fires with simple video cameras, one in Corfu and a fatal fire in Batavia. Heck, just today (9/11/08), he posted five news items.
“We picked Batavia because it’s a neat, vibrant town,” Owens says in his blog. “It’s close to our home office; and the daily newspaper there was doing nothing on the web.” Note: “doing nothing on the web” these days often is code for “not doing much on the web.” Here the phrase is literal. The Daily News site is more like a postcard than a brochure, and the copyright says 2003. Which will make Batavia all the more interesting to watch. Will the Daily News step up? Will The Batavian draw its audience? Or create a new audience?
For all The Batavian’s ambition, there isn’t much sense of an equally ambitious business model, no doubt a combination of the current bloggish design and the priority to build a viable audience. That could be an even tougher experiment: if there’s a new model for engaging a community’s residents, could there also be a new model for engaging its businesses?