Newspaper leaders have been hearing for a while that it is local content and the depth of the relationships with local audiences that will help spell a way out of the financial dilemma U.S. papers find themselves in.
Although nearly all newspapers are striving to transfer the value of the print brand online, some are faring better than others (see previous posts on this blog here
). Two newspapers that appear to me to be living the "local" mantra to the fullest are The Corpus Christi (Texas) Caller-Times
and The Bakersfield Californian
Much has been written about Bakersfield's early, smart commitment to ensuring interactive online experiences. But they have one connectivity metric in particular that I love to track. I trouble my friend Logan Molen
, The Californian's vice president of interactive media, every few months to ask for an update on the number of community bloggers who make Bakersfield's websites their portal for posting thoughts on politics, movies, pets, matters of faith and more.
In a day when anyone can launch directly into cyberspace, why would hundreds of people choose to use a newspaper website as their diving board?
My thought is that it's because this paper lives up to its role as an essential connector and network builder. Some stats from Molen this week: 1,192 individual Bakersfield.com blogs launched since the newspaper's site began hosting weblogs two years ago this month; 314 updated within the last three months. Add in the newspaper company's nine other sites (including MasBakersfield
; and their newest, RaisingBakersfield.com
) and the number goes to 2,780 blogs launched, of which 655 have been updated in the last three months.
That community content represents about 18 percent of Bakersfield.com's traffic and 25 percent of total traffic throughout the local network of sites, Molen said. "It is easily the fastest growing source of traffic for us."
Another interesting metric is the number of people who have created public profiles in the company's online social network, and in doing so, essentially endorse its brands. For Bakersfield.com, the number is 16,792; across all 10, it's 31,868.
But it was a recent act of audience responsiveness in Corpus Christi that caught my attention and prompted me to revisit the topic of connections. To get a grasp of Corpus Christi's connectivity, one need only troll the news stories on its website (www.caller.com
) with an eye for comments.
One day earlier this month a Corpus businessman was shot while cycling before work. A check of the digital back fence showed 56 people had commented on the paper's coverage by noon. Acts of troubling random violence aside, a story on summer jobs had drawn 33 comments, and the newspaper's columnists each seemed to draw a healthy handful. In fact, of all the local stories on the website that day, more had comments than didn't.
The Caller-Times also recently began taking community photos. A gallery last week had photos of a wedding couple's kiss, kids playing in the surf and other things that make memories to Corpus Christi residents.
Caller-Times Editor Libby Averyt
said her newspaper joined other E.W. Scripps Company sites in moving to an online operating system last year that allowed for reader comments. When she took a look for me in late May, Averyt found the website was averaging about 560 comments a day, slightly more on weekdays and slightly fewer on Saturday and Sunday.
That number of comments would be enviable to many larger newspapers, and is especially telling for a newspaper with a paid print circulation of just below 54,000 daily and 73,750 Sunday.
Corpus Christi residents are politically active, especially around concerns such as area beach development. Stories on that hot-button issue are nearly certain to spark a digital dialogue on the newspaper's site.
A member of the staff for 22 years and editor for five, Averyt seems to have a comfortable personal rapport with the Corpus community across any host of platforms. As part of the Parity Project
with the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the newspaper has had a Community Advisory Board of Hispanic leaders and readers for more than three years. Averyt calls the feedback from their monthly meetings invaluable.
She also addresses readers regularly in a column. It was in one of those in early December that she announced the Caller-Times was trimming its daily stocks listing
and another in March where she announced she was giving them back
. Reader feedback mourning the dropping of a popular comic strip also prompted a reversal and complaints over the demise of the TV book were smoothed over with a compromise of a stand-alone section of trimmed-down listings.
An editor giving something back to readers strikes me as man-bites-dog news considering today's economic climate. That degree of responsiveness might also factor into the Caller-Times being able to cite year over year increases in paid print circulation (up 0.25 percent daily, 0.18 Sunday, as Averyt quotes from FAS-FACS).
As studies on newspaper website traffic such as this one by Scarborough
continue to show, newspaper websites are an increasingly valuable way to extend the community reach. But clearly as Corpus Christi and Bakersfield have found, optimizing the opportunity means finding the right spots to step in and facilitate a community dialogue.
By Vickey Williams (Vickey-Williams@Northwestern.edu
Vickey Williams is director of the Media Management Center's Digital Workforce Initiative.