On the morning after California voters approved Proposition 64 last November, which legalized recreational marijuana in the state, Digital First Media had a surprise ready for its readers—The Cannifornian.
Built specifically as a resource to explain the health, economic, societal, political and cultural impacts of cannabis, the mobile-first website draws upon the seasoned reporting of journalists in 25 newsrooms across California that are part of Digital First Media. The newspaper groups involved in the project include the Bay Area News Group and Southern California News Group. Brooke Edwards Staggs, a veteran of the cannabis beat for The Orange County Register, directs the site and serves as its lead reporter. Other key contributors include Will Houston from the Eureka Times-Standard and Lisa M. Krieger of the Bay Area News Group.
“It’s something new for us, and we’re still finding our way with the best ways to market it and build the audience, but the results have been pretty positive so far,” said Bay Area News Group executive editor Neil Chase. “Every little corner of society is going to be affected by this in some way and that’s why we needed access to all the different newsrooms. In a sense, we’ve been planning for this ever since Colorado legalized marijuana three years ago.”
The Denver Post, another Digital First Media property, unveiled The Cannabist, a similar marijuana-focused website, in December 2013 shortly before the state was set to allow the legal purchase of recreational marijuana. The website has since developed a strong following and now averages nearly 2 million views monthly.
“They’ve produced some incredible work and really set the standard for how to do this,” Chase said.
Content posted on The Cannifornian ranges from standard news stories, photo galleries and videos, to lifestyle features and information on upcoming marijuana-related events. The site provides readers with four category tabs to choose from: news, culture, business and health. Though a standalone site, it’s also accessible through Digital First Media’s California news websites within navigation bars and Hot Topics sections.
One difficult question in the weeks leading up to election night was whether or not to still launch The Cannifornian if the proposition was rejected by voters.
“Since the medicinal market in California was already between a $3 to $4 billion market, we decided that we needed to do this no matter what happened on election day,” Chase said. “There’s a lot going on out there and we felt the need to provide the answers to all the questions people we’re going to have.”
According to Chase, the website also offers a significant market for advertisement. “One of the many reasons we did this was that there were a number of folks from our ad sales department telling us about the interest from potential advertisers. It’s a place where we feel we can build a very strong business moving forward.”