In my last post, I looked at the failures of newspapers who are trying to do the right thing (incorporate high-quality local bloggers) but failing because they are either opening the doors to everyone (it’s fun but mostly nonsense), they are putting the bloggers in a blogger “ghetto” all by themselves (as if readers were interested in reading any blog), or they are turning their blogger aggregation operations over to an outside company — for example, in the case of the Des Moines paper, to Pluck (note: Chris Snider pointed out in his comments that the Register is doing good work elsewhere on their site; more on that soon).
It’s not like there aren’t great examples of successful blog aggregation staring newspapers right in the face.
By embarrassingly stark contrast to clueless newspapers, the Huffington Post came into Chicago and stole the very best local bloggers from under the Chicago Tribune’s nose. HuffPo gave those bloggers an enviably simple and attractive HuffPo URL on one of the most popular sites in the world (e.g., http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-jones, and http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-cusack).
The Huffington Post/Chicago is loaded with top-notch local names (like Mr. Cusack’s) and dozens of less famous but equally high-quality bloggers. The Chicago Tribune has none (they did, however, finally launch their answer to HuffPo/Chicago: A completely separate site called ChicagoNow that proudly boasts all of 50 bloggers from the entire Chicago metro area; it’s colorful and fun, but still a blogger ghetto and mentioned on chicagotribune.com only in teeny weeny type at the very bottom of the page. Way to be proud, guys!).
(Full disclosure: When Huffington announced her Chicago plans months before her launch, I had written to the Tribune suggesting they beat her to the punch and grab all the best bloggers in the city. They never replied.)
The Huffington Post has been selling advertising on its blogger pages for months. The Tribune, obviously, only just started. Aggregation and multiple-author blogs like the Huffington Post are making money by attracting millions of unique visitors to the best content in the verticals of the user’s choice (Huffington Post, TechCrunch, Daily Kos, YouTube, etc.). Those sites don’t (yet) have the local newspaper’s brand recognition or respect. The newspaper still is the best local information source in its market (for now).
But newspapers must start doing the hard work of finding, vetting, and incorporating the hundreds of high-quality local text and video bloggers in their markets (e.g., 3,000 videos about Washington, D.C. were posted in one month alone on YouTube). If newspapers did that, they would have a wealth of new content that currently is going begging for a home, an audience, and advertising inventory. Newspapers would quickly increase their depth, reach, relevance, and revenue by weaving those high-quality local blogs throughout their websites and by publishing excerpts in the category appropriate pages of the newspaper.
Every imaginable topic is addressed by bloggers, and thus every newspaper could address every reader’s needs simply by aggregating and organizing that content. If, however, newspapers don’t do that, their competitors like the Huffington Post are very happy to step into the void to run the blogs and sell the ads.
Only a handful of newspapers “get it.” Le Monde, based in Paris, leads the field, publishing select, high-quality non-staff blogs throughout the newspaper’s website. Expert technology bloggers appear in Le Monde’s technology section. Top-quality arts bloggers appear in the arts section. Sports bloggers in sports. And so on.
BostonNOW incorporated high-quality local bloggers much like Le Monde, with nearly 4,000 local bloggers signing up to be hosted on BostonNow.com. The bloggers were highlighted on the home page and in the theme-appropriate sections of the website and the print product. The results were stunning. In less than a year, BostonNOW had at least twice as many monthly unique visitors as similar U.S. free dailies that had been publishing for 1-7 years.
BostonNOW was also selling interactive campaigns to clients who were creating their own blog presence on the site. For example, a local bank paid $90,000 to build its blog on BostonNOW to appeal to recent college grads looking for financial advice. Two condominium developers paid $10,000 each for their own blog sites. (BostonNOW was closed in 2008 when its Icelandic investors pulled the plug as a result of their country’s economic collapse.)
When I spoke at an international conference of journalists and bloggers in NYC, a renowned video blogger said, “Before John Wilpers and BostonNOW came to town, we thought of newspapers as THEIR newspapers; now we think of BostonNOW as OUR newspaper.” Web-centric bloggers who’d posted on BostonNOW and had excerpts of their posts appear in the paper began calling for tearsheets! These were young adults who had not previously picked up a paper!
Another example: BostonNOW published an excerpt from a top Boston-area blog without permission (an accident). The site editor was upset, but the blogger was conflicted. “My phone was ringing off the hook with friends telling me it was great that my blog was in the paper,” she said later. “I knew I should be angry, but I was so excited! I couldn’t wait to see the paper.” That blogger became a regular BostonNOW blogger and a motivated advocate of the paper promoting us and our website to her tech-savvy, print-averse friends some of whom became BostonNOW bloggers and passionate grassroots marketers for the paper.
If newspapers fail to embrace these new content creators, their future is threatened: “They (newspapers) are going to see the relentless emergence of new forms of media that might not even be built or positioned as competition, but which have the potential to siphon off their audience,” said Andrew Nachison, co-founder of media think tank iFOCOS, in a Knowledge@Wharton article. The message is clear: Learn to evolve or join the Dodo bird. Partner with bloggers and other emerging new media, or put another nail in the coffin of a once-thriving industry.