By: Miki Johnson
The buzz around the phrase “citizen journalism” is undeniable. By now most newspapers have at least considered incorporating reader-contributed content, but in an area that is still largely theoretical and undefined, many have trouble seeing it through to implementation.
But now that the Denver Newspaper Agency ? publisher of The Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News ? has begun syndicating its online platform YourHub.com, newspapers have the option to adopt a citizen-journalism format designed expressly for their needs. Large or small, with YourHub.com newspapers “can roll out a citizen-journalism platform in their market in 30 days,” says Tricia Eitienne, director of business for YourHub. com syndication.
YourHub, released last May by the Rocky Mountain News, is a series of expressly local Web sites accessible through a newspaper’s homepage that allow users to post stories and photos. The sites also provide readers news about their community from other sources. YourHub produces about $5 million in annual revenue, and has been receiving about 309,000 page views per month from 45,000 unique visitors.
Newspapers can syndicate YourHub for a one-time price ranging from $2,000 to $10,000 based on market size, along with an additional monthly fee. The papers receive software that allows them to create individual YourHub Web sites, and Denver’s YourHub headquarters provides hosting, technical training, and free upgrades. Currently, readers of 20 papers, including The Knoxville (Tenn.) News-Sentinel, the Los Angeles Newspaper Group, and the Scripps Treasure Coast Newspaper Group, are posting content.
“We made a commitment to be better than our local competition at providing hyper-local community news and to attract advertisers away from that competition as a result,” says Amy Brunjes, managing editor of Treasure Coast’s YourHub, which went live last December and now includes 20 sites. “The returns have exceeded our expectations at all levels.”
Papers that syndicate YourHub can also purchase reverse-publishing tools that output Web content ready for integration with the print edition. In Denver, postings from 42 individual community YourHub pages are used to print 15 “topper” sections for both the Rocky Mountain News and the Denver Post, ranging from 16 to 40 pages. Each syndicating paper can choose how it wants to transfer YourHub content to print, from incorporating it in community pages to printing a free weekly tab.
The Denver agency also is working on a third syndication option: a Web tool for classifieds that will allow users to upload advertisements the same way they post stories and photos on YourHub. This newest development is a direct attempt to challenge advertising-revenue depletion from the Googles and Craigslists of the world, which YourHub Managing Editor Travis Henry says was one of the platform’s most important initial goals.
When YourHub became syndicated last year, it also became an LLC, separate from the News but still owned by its parent company. Twenty-six newsroom staffers along with additional ad representatives were brought on for the site’s launch, a fact that Henry says scares some papers interested in syndication. But he stresses that YourHub can be implemented with a much smaller staff; only seven staffers, for example, run Treasure Coast’s 20 YourHub sites.
What is essential at any size paper that uses YourHub, however, is an outreach program to help the community get comfortable with the posting process.
“The biggest obstacle we had starting out YourHub was getting people to figure out what it really was,” says Henry. “They were just not used to it.” So YourHub staff went to local events, took pictures of people, and directed them to the site to view them. Henry and his staff have spoken to Kiwanis clubs and sports leagues, and have brought teachers into their newsroom to see how it all works.
“It’s sinking in and people are realizing how they can use it,” he says, pointing to a recent post from a local soldier serving in Iraq and pictures from county sheriffs who helped with the Katrina cleanup effort. Schools are also using the site to publicize students who have won awards. To Henry, it’s these little things that make YourHub so popular, adding that YourHub receives frequent requests for copies of its republished toppers “for someone’s grandma.”
Brunjes says the response at Treasure Coast has also been overwhelmingly positive: “We are inundated with e-mails and calls from people telling us what a great idea this is and how much they look forward to it each week.” The paper gets the added benefit of being able to track what kinds of stories appeal to their readers just by checking how many clicks a particular item received.
YourHub has proved profitable in Denver and other syndicated communities because it provides another venue for advertisers, as does the reverse publishing of Web content. What’s more, the highly localized format draws in small advertisers whose limited resources are better used to reach a tightly targeted area. Of the substantial advertising pulled in since YourHub launched, Eitienne reports about 50% of it came from businesses that had never previously advertised with the paper.