‘Austin American-Statesman’ Launches Community Blogs

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By: Jay DeFoore

The Austin American-Statesman became the latest newspaper to embrace citizen journalism this week with the launch of StatesmanBlogs.com and Austin360Blogs.com.

The citizen-blog sites act as companions to the news-centric Statesman.com and entertainment-focused Austin360.com. Both use software developed by Austin-based Pluck.

“The mutual launch is to build audience, create loyalty, and make us the information authority people turn to in the market,” says Jim Debth, Internet General Manager for the American-Statesman, which is owned by Cox Newspapers. “Since the beginning of time newspapers have been community resources, and this helps us keep our community connection and grow our audience participation.”

The Statesman has launched the blogs using existing resources, and currently has no plans to increase staff to manage the new sites. “Since this is a new venture for us, we’re helping to seed the initial blogging” with “friends of friends,” Debth says, before adding that the eventual plan is for users to contribute 100% of the content.

Pluck, a software start-up launched by CEO Dave Panos a year and a half ago, only recently began offering content management solutions to publishers. The Statesman is the first major publisher to license Pluck’s InSite Solutions software, but Panos says he is currently working on other launches.

The Statesman has not devised an aggressive marketing push or advertising campaign to announce the blogs, and Depth insists that things will be reevaluated after the “soft launch” phase. But if its bitter rivalry with the Austin Chronicle is any indication, the Statesman can expect plenty of free ink in the city’s alt-weekly.

Yet Austin may be better suited for citizen journalism than many cities of its size. In the University of Texas, the city has one of the largest public universities in the U.S., not to mention several smaller colleges with plenty of journalism students.

The city’s robust music community bills itself as the “Live Music Capital of the World,” so the idea of bands using the blogs as promotional vehicles is not altogether far-fetched.

Texas is also football country, and Debth says the plan is to launch 75 high school pages complete with stats, stories, and especially photos, which he expects to be a major outlet for citizen contributions.

“We don’t have enough photographers to cover the 30 to 50 games going on in the area on any given Thursday or Friday night, but we think we can get photos from the general public that would be of great value to the community,” Debth says.

Noting once again that the Statesman is just now at “soft launch” phase with the citizen blogs, Debth says, “This is one of those projects that will get better as it gets bigger.”

Full disclosure: The reporter interned in the Statesman’s features department in 1999.

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