Why can't a newspaper be more like a blog? Part V: Community and karma

Every blog is part of multiple communities. MediaSavvy is part of the online publishing, news, telecom, and Web theory communities. You can tell by looking at the list of blogs (the blogroll) on my nav bar. I link to those guys and many of them link back to me.

Now, imagine a newspaper Web site with a blogroll. Jonathan Dube says newspapers should give community members blogs on their site, but he doesn’t say that newspapers should promote local weblogs that they don’t host.

The typical newspaper web site’s home page is a roach motel: readers can enter, but they can’t get out, unless they click on an ad. Some news stories may provide a few relevant links in a news story, but it feels like noblesse oblige.

I could make a compelling argument that newspaper publishers should support local bloggers for the karma alone, but why bother? I know most publishers are less interested in karma than in cash. And most publishers would make more money if they shared the wealth of their traffic with local bloggers.

On the Web, karma translates into reputation really quickly. And reputation is the old-fashioned word for the Holy Grail of nineties marketing — branding.

A newspaper may be a dominant media brand in its community, with boxes on every street corner and a wad of newsprint plunked on a third of the doorsteps every morning. But what is its share of its community’s Web diet? I don’t know what things are like in your home market, but here in the Bay Area, the big three newspaper publishers are competing with a host of free dailies the do a better job of covering individual communities than they do. By associating yourself with a constellation of neighborhood and community bloggers, most online newspapers could serve their community better.

And why on Earth would any publisher want to host blogs? Why put up with the liability, support headaches, creeping editorial responsibility, and general managerial overhead? That’s so ten years ago! That’s why God gave us Tim Berners-Lee. Anybody can create a Web site. And the (minimal) hassle of setting up a blog filters out the folks who’d never maintain a site in the first place.

If newspapers are going to survive, they’re going to have to get local in a hurry. Why is the A section of most newspapers national and international news and the B section local news? That’s backwards. And local news is even more important on the Web. People are going to the local daily for local news. And they should be going there for other links to the community.

On the Web, focus matters. And newspapers should be focusing their site on local news. When I built Coastsider, I worked hard to link to lots of local sites. This was as much about necessity as strategic vision. But I also know that this is going to come back to me in reputation, audience, and revenue. Every newspaper in the US should be aware that this kind of online community building is already taking place in their home markets. They either can surf this wave or be swamped by it. There is no other option.

On the Web, more even than real life, your reputation is your fortune. It’s the source of your network and the your network is the source of your customer base. Branding on the Web isn’t about advertising. It’s about reputation. It is your karma. Google, Yahoo, eBay, Amazon have translated good karma into big money and there’s no reason why newspapers can’t do the same.

Be a good neighbor: Think locally. Act locally.

12 thoughts on “Why can't a newspaper be more like a blog? Part V: Community and karma

  1. Newspapers can learn the blogging lessons
    MediaSavvy has some great comments on how newspapers can embrace the increasingly important blogging phenomenon, with a tone of exasperation at the rigidity that makes them slow to move in that direction. Why for instance don’t newspaper sites link to

  2. The audience of a typical (local) paper newspaper tends to have a common interest in affairs pertaining the geographic area in which they live (and in which the newspaper is distributed).
    If such a newspaper launches an online version, since most of its content will come from the paper newspaper and is thus local in nature, the online publication would be advised to adopt a similar (local) focus.
    But online publishing certainly doesn’t have any intrinsically local slant. Indeed, one of the strengths of online distribution lies in its ability to reach a geographically dispersed audience to find those that share some common non-geographic (and hopefully underserved) interest.
    While a site with a local focus does tend to enjoy having a relative absence of competitors, that may not be enough to offset the other factors.
    Since there may be much larger audiences sharing non-local interests, it might arguably be more logical for the online newspaper to focus on *non-local* news, rather than local news.

  3. On the Web, there will be plenty of other sources that will do a better job of covering non-local topics than any daily paper, with a few obvious exceptions. In your home market, you can provide recipes because of your role in people’s homes, but on the Web, why bother? There are too many other, better sources.
    On the Web, the only strategy for success is to cover your local market in a way that is uneconomic in print.
    National and international news should be treated as an add-on to your local coverage. I could make a strong argument that US newspapers should expand their state coverage online, regardless whether they are in the state capital.

  4. The Next Big Thing
    Local newspaper media monopolies are ripe for the picking. My next project — give me a couple years — is…

  5. Barry,
    You should be careful declaring something as “the only strategy for success.” That almost guarantees you to be wrong 🙂 Same with excessive use of “should” (as in “you should do this”).
    If we assume the website has locally-oriented content, then sure, you would do well to publish to people who are interested in that content.
    But that’s a key assumption. As I mentioned, for a local newspaper going online, that’s a good assumption. For an issue-oriented blog, it’s not such a good assumption.
    The reasons that many urge newspapers to focus locally are the reasons you mention: (1) there’s not much competition, (2) your newsgathering is inherently local, and most important, (3) your audience is very interest in that focus.
    All I’m saying is that when you remove the assumption that the online news site is sponsored by and depends on content from an existing local physical newspaper, the benefits of pushing a local focus basically disappear.

  6. Why newspapers should be more like blogs
    This sounds like a manifesto for UrbanVancouver. I can tell you that in Vancouver because the local broadsheet newspapers have bad websites with only a portion of their articles online and links that rot quickly, the web diet of the…

  7. Regarding your comment: “Jonathan Dube says newspapers should give community members blogs on their site, but it didn’t occur to him that newspapers could link to local weblogs that they don’t host,” that’s not actually true.
    It has occured to me — and I think it’s a good idea and support it. I just didn’t mention it because many sites already do so; and because the list I posted was not meant to be a comprehensive list of everything a news site should do — just offer up some good ideas that most sites aren’t doing…. just as you have been doing with this excellent series.

  8. Jonathan D: Good point. I changed it to read:

    Now, imagine a newspaper Web site with a blogroll. Jonathan Dube says newspapers should give community members blogs on their site, but he doesn’t say that newspapers should promote local weblogs that they don’t host.

    I softened your omission from “didn’t occur” [poor wording] to “didn’t say”, but I’ve amplified my point from “don’t link to” to “don’t promote”
    I’d be interested in some examples of newspapers that are doing a good job of this.
    By the way, if I haven’t said so, I think your list is great. The last few years have been so lean that no one in the newspaper business has been innovating much online.

  9. Web sites as applications
    There’s been a lot of talk lately about “improving” the UI of the Web. Mostly by trying to add standards for “rich” clients. Gruber has come back with an equally thoughtfull, and in my opinion, correct analysis of the Web&…

  10. I disagree with some of this. While i fully believe in hyperlocalism and community karma, I would tend to side with Terry Streichen regardng assumptions. Don’t underestimate or assume you know what your readers want online until you get to know them.
    I suggest introducing comments on articles, and for the purposes of learning your community set a system where comments have to be approved before they go live. You really get to know the community, and what their interests are.
    The results may surpise you; a lot of international and national stories get a huge amount of comments. This is why I disagree strongly with the idea of blowing off national and international news as a mere add on. Sure people can go to ther sources, but if youre a news site, most of your traffic is going to be form otherpoeple at their workplace; they dont have the time or want to risk being seen by their boss to sift through 5 differnt sites for their news. You need to provide a relevant mix, but make it unique and hand pick those stories as opposed to running a bland autonomous AP feed. Even AP runs material not found in the mainstream if you dig hard enough – and your readers will respect you for it. You dont have to inundate and it should never eclipse local coverage – but dont make the mistake of blowing it off.
    Web content managers should well look into the work of Doug McGill and his work in tying global trends to local interests.

  11. Excellent point about comments on national and international news. Adding comments to these stories can give them a local angle they otherwise don’t have. I missed that completely.

  12. What Newspapers Can Learn From Blogs
    Barry Parr has written an excellent series called Why Can’t a Newspaper be More Like a Blog?. He outlines very well why I am so frustrated with online news sites, so much that I now only check Google News. This…

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