Another “Village Soup” site in Wareham, MA

I just added WarehamVillageSoup.com to the growing list of niche news sites and networks on Jurnos Wiki.

Anne Eisenmenger, founder and publisher of one of the affiliates of the Village Soup network, sends this info in a 7/12/10 email:

“The first out-of-Maine licensee of Village Soup, we have simultaneously worked to “reinvent” the community newspaper. We think we have done that with Wareham Week, a tight-and-bright professionally written, free local tab — with distribution that has grown from 4,000 in January to more than 7,000 today, just in the 8,600-household town of Wareham. (By contrast, the circulation of the paid GateHouse competitor is probably 3,000 and falling.)”

After six months, they’re “flirting” with a financial break-even point.

The list of web-only news sites is huge, and I’m sure not all are on the list. If you include all the sites that are part of the networks, which are at the bottom of the list, we’re approaching 5,000 sites. Most cover business, tech, sports and entertainment, but a significant growing number are health, environment, state government and politics, and geographic-based community sites.

Who sez journalism’s dying?

Talkin’ about….WellCommons

For the last year, I’ve been head-down in development. My (poor neglected) blog, Facebook and Twitter accounts have seen few words, photos, graphs or video. However, now my head’s finally up, and it’s time to talk about what much of that last year has been about: WellCommons, the new local health site that we at the Lawrence Journal-World recently launched.

OMG! It doesn't look like a news web site!

It combines social media and journalism. We think it’s what journalism looks like in a social media world. It’s a little WordPress, a little Ning, a little Facebook, a little Twitter, all embedded in a safe place and a trusted source, which is what journalism is supposed to be for a community (in addition to the watchdog role). It’s unlike anything in the digital news arena, as far as we know. We launched it in beta at the end of February, it went “official” in April, and we are now continuing to nurture it and watch it grow.

Several aspects of WellCommons and Ellington Community are unique:

The site resolves the “signal to noise” complaint about the web. In other words, its architecture helps people assess the reliability of content.

One ingredient of WellCommons’ secret sauce is that it is built around groups that all function the same way, whether started by a reporter or a community member. The other is that all participants use their real names.

This is how WellCommons works: Anyone can start a group (as long as it’s related to health). If you start a group, you put your content into “news” and “resources”. People who join your group put their content into the “commons” section. Participants are able to judge the quality of the information, depending on if it’s in a group’s news or resources section (content posted by the group “owner”) or the commons section (where anybody can post), and by knowing who posted the information.

Anyone who contributes to the site — reporter or member of the community alike — does so in the same way, through a public-facing web-based interface. Participants can also follow and message each other within the site, repost, and send posts to Facebook and Twitter.

WellCommons’ approach to health reporting is community-based and solution-oriented. Most health sites focus on personal health — what individuals can do to improve their own or their families’ health. But at a local level, health is a community issue. For example, we’re all supposed to get regular checkups. But does everyone in a community have access to good health care? Our kids are supposed to eat healthy food, but do school lunch programs provide that? We’re all supposed to exercise, but does a community have enough safe places to walk, jog, bike and play outdoors?

The site provides a new advertising model. We believe businesses that provide health products and services are a vital part of the community, and should be included. Businesses can start their own group pages; they pay to do so. They have direct access to and conversations with members of the community. They can buy display ads, which, at the moment, look like traditional display ads. Eventually, those ads themselves will become social media-enabled, with content that the business can change.

We put the site together with continual input from the local health community. About 40 people — from nonprofits and the local hospital, physicians, health advocates, people who were uninsured, locavores, etc. — met regularly with the news organization’s working group, and still meet quarterly.

That’s enough for the moment. In subsequent posts, I’ll cover more of the thinking and development that went into Ellington Community and WellCommons, including comments from folks who are using it, and will answer the burning questions: Why did this happen at the Lawrence Journal-World? and…How does the Reynolds Journalism Institute fit in?

I’ll also look at the long list of changes and additions we have planned. That list is long: adding databases and resources, a goals app, allowing people to post photos from their computers (right now they have to post a Flickr url), adding topics pages (yes, Web shells!), quizzes, letting people sign on with their Facebook or Twitter accounts, etc. We’ll also be adding another jurno (we have one amazing one now — Karrey Britt), so that we have the bandwidth to do indepth and investigative stories.

Journalism, journalists, j-schools and the new era

At LJWorld.com, we’ve created a new health site called WellCommons. It’s a very different way for a news organization to serve its community, because it uses the tools of the Web to integrate community and journalism. More on this in another post.

How our community will change the structure and function of WellCommons, and, by default, its new content management system, remains to be seen — it’s barely a month old. However, I think this structure is on the right path to serving the needs of the Lawrence/Douglas County health community in a modern way.

That’s why this blog post by Chris Lynch on his Lynch Blog was so interesting: He thinks that most journalism schools will close  because they’re teaching for the past, not the future. Others have said that, but his take on it and the discussion in the comments are worth a review.

I don’t agree with his concept of The Reader Elite — Webworld just isn’t organized that way. It’s organized into overlapping cells of topic areas. And if that topic area relates to someone’s profession, then that person is likely to pay for the information. You don’t have to look far to see examples of that in the journals that serve the energy, environmental law and technology, financial, scientific, etc., communities.

Where people are struggling with the idea of pay walls and paid content is in the kind of coverage traditionally provided by newspapers, television and public radio. Paying for noncontextual information is mostly a pipe dream in Webworld.

However, people might pay for an investigative piece if it’s in context of continuing coverage of that community. So, for example, continuing local health coverage might be supported by advertising from businesses that provide products and services for that community. However, investigating corruption in a state physicians’ review board might require three months of two people’s time. That’s something that you’d want to pay people expert in the field to do, and, if it’s important enough to the community, they might donate to that project. A contextual SpotUs, so to speak.

Explaining targeted ads

One of my favorite columnists is Steve Smith, who shares duties on MediaPost’s Behavioral Insider with Laurie Sullivan. Today, Smith provided some great clarity about targeted advertising, also known as digital ad targeting. It’s important for jurnos to wrap their heads around this, because it’s a useful technology, if not abused. (Oh how often have we hudroids said that about so many new technologies, including nuclear.) In Take Two Targeted Ads and Call Me In the Morning, Steve says:

How do you explain the technology behind digital ad targeting quickly and fairly enough so the consumer can make an informed choice about opting in or out, sharing their surfing history, etc.? Whatever regulatory or legislative measures come down the pike related to digital advertising in the next year, the industry still needs to find ways of translating a dark targeting art perfected by engineering dweebs into concepts and language that my 78-year-old dad can understand without reaching for his pistol.

It’s worth following the progress of behavioral marketing developments — and Behavioral Insider is a good place to start. (Dear FTC: I received no remuneration or gifts for this plug. And I’ve neither met, nor had communication with Smith or Sullivan.)

Newspapers need to grok online advertising, too

Newspapers’ Online Strategies Failed in 2009 — in yesterday’s MediaDailyNews, Eric Sass pointed out that newspapers’ online revenues have been falling along with their print revenues. The reasons, he says, are that online revenues were concentrated in online classifieds, and those never became independent from print classifieds. As print continued to plummet, they took online revenues along. Also, newspapers haven’t grokked search and display. Here’s a chart he picked up from NAA and IAB.

I’d add that newspapers also don’t understand that it’s rapidly becoming a niche news world, and have completely missed the boat on focusing their efforts on developing niche news sites. The mile-wide, inch-deep approach, i.e., news for a general audience doesn’t work anymore. But if newspapers shake off their ties to print, call themselves news organizations, and do develop niche news sites (which means developing community and walking away from the we-talk-you-listen old-style journalism), they’ll need to modernize their ad departments, too, and learn how to sell online as successful niche news sites have been doing for years.

They could learn from Federated Media, Netshelter.net, ESPN, Gawker Media, etc. (for a long list of niche news sites, check out the Jurnos wiki) and repeat their mantra:

Sell community, not content.

Sputters and Launches

While 24/7WallSt lists the top 10 newspapers that are likely to close or go entirely online, a newly laid-off journalist is a week into the launch of another niche site.

On Feb. 23, Greg Hernandez was laid off from the LA Daily News, where he’d been doing the Out in Hollywood blog. Seven days later, he launched Greg in Hollywood. greginhollyHe had help from some very talented friends, and they worked ’round the clock to do a technology makeover on him (new computer, iPhone, Twitter lessons…he had the blogging down) to get him up and running. Here’s the whole story, from his perspective. I just loved how they found their graphic designer via Twitter.

Then read searchmeister Danny Sullivan’s account from a tech and search perspective: Behind the Scenes from the Greg in Hollywood Launch. Fascinating.

Since the launch, Greg’s doing three to seven posts/day, and seems to be having a blast.

So far, he’s using Google ads, but is soliciting advertising on his site. I’ll check in with him in a few months to see how the new jurno’s doing.

To add to the case studies on ReJurno, I’m interviewing jurnos from a couple of other Web-based niche news organizations this week: John Cook at TechFlash and Justin Carder from CapitolHillSeattle. Quite a few geographic- and topic-based sites have been launched in Seattle….enough starter to get a network going?

Making a Living with QuincyNews.org

When Bob Gough lost his job as news director at a Quincy, IL, TV station in October 2007, he had a choice: Move tquincynewso another city or figure out another way to stay in the journalism biz in Quincy. He didn’t want to move — Quincy was his home. He had a wife with a successful career there, and three kids who weren’t keen on pulling up roots.

So, he figured out another way: He found a couple of local investors and, on April 28, 2008, launched a local Web-based news organization: QuincyNews.org.

The good news: he’s making a living….$1,000/week. He loves what he’s doing. The site is growing. And so far there isn’t any bad news.

Check out all the details, from soup to nuts, in ReJurno’s latest case study. And if there’s anything else you want to know, just ask and we’ll be glad to provide more info.