Local or Loco? But Goodbye, AP

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By: Miki Johnson

When The Bakersfield Californian unveiled the redesign of its Bakersfield.com site on March 1, one of the many things missing from its newly streamlined, less cluttered main page was a section referring to national news.

Looking at page view stats, Howard Owens, the newspaper’s vice president of interactive media, had witnessed spikes for big local stories while national news breaks flatlined. So he had joined in the paper’s decision to stress local coverage on the redesigned Web site ? and even went so far as to drop its Associated Press subscription for online content. The Californian stopped running AP stories online in November, and after receiving only one complaint, dropped the subscription altogether.

“I wanted to strengthen our local brand as the local news source, and one way to do that is by subtracting national,” Owens explains. Users “have seen the national headlines before they ever hit our site ? and with AP, it’s really just generic content.”

Far from ignoring national stories, Bakersfield.com has moved them to the realm of its now-burgeoning blogosphere. In addition to the site’s 14 other blogs and forums, users now also have the “Current Affairs” blog, which points them to unusual or insightful coverage of a national issue (from The New York Times to the Taipei Times), with slightly opinionated, strong-voiced commentary from staffer and local blog-ebrity Steve Swenson.

Although Owens refers to it as “very much in beta” with few posts since it was opened Feb. 9, the Current Affairs blog marks a way of looking at newspaper Web sites as distinct entities with decidedly different rules from the print edition.

“You have to understand, the Web site doesn’t work the way a newspaper does,” says Rob Curley, new media director of Naplesnews.com in Florida. Most people only subscribe to one print newspaper, so that paper has a responsibility to “tell readers what’s going on everywhere.

“But no one says, ‘I only visit one news Web site,'” he adds.

While Curley was director of new media/convergence at the Lawrence (Kan.) Journal-World’s LJWorld.com, it was one of the first newspaper Web sites to seriously emphasize local news over national. The paper dropped its online AP subscription immediately after he arrived in August 2002, and was so adamant about its local-only focus that the first mention made on LJWorld.com of military action in Iraq was when the newsroom learned soldiers from Kansas were involved.

Curley states repeatedly and vehemently, “Local is how you win.”

At the Naples Daily News since August, Curley has continued his crusade for local online coverage, which he says the paper embraced from day one: “I got there and the next day the national news was gone.” He has pushed his philosophy for more than a decade, and figures the paper wouldn’t have hired him if it didn’t believe in his hard-core emphasis on local content.

Now, although he still hasn’t dropped its AP subscription, “NaplesNews.com is always a local story, the Naples Daily News still leads with national,” Curley explains. Now that more papers are embracing this all-local, all-the-time, concept the next step: boosting advertisers who buy the same idea.

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