By: Jay DeFoore
The State in Columbia, S.C. is joining the citizen journalism revolution on Thursday with the launch of TheColumbiaRecord.com, a stand-alone Web site the paper hopes will help it connect with local users and offer advertisers new and innovative ways to reach those users.
The paper has recruited 25 local “experts” to blog on a variety of topics ranging from astronomy to classical arts to forestry. Users who register at the site will be able to post items, upload photos, and submit events for inclusion in the community calendar.
TheColumbiaRecord.com takes its name from the now-defunct afternoon newspaper that The State’s parent company, Knight Ridder, bought and then closed in the late ’80s. Dave Roberts, The State’s Online Editor, explains that the Record had a storied history as a vehicle for community news, and the hope is that the new Web site can revive that tradition.
“We think that by leveraging the newspaper’s ability to reach 100,000 people every day, we’ll really be able to direct a large portion of our main news site to this community site, thereby increasing [reader] participation,” Roberts said.
The State purchased its content management system, blog platform, and calendar system from iUpload, an Ontario-based company that also provides the back end for NorthwestVoice.com, the community newspaper and Web site from The Bakersfield Californian.
Roberts and his team have spent the last six weeks building and then putting the finishing touches on the site, which is scheduled to go live Sept. 1.
Roberts says he hopes the Web site can serve to inject new ideas into the newsroom by generating leads and story ideas. He also expects the public to take advantage of the self-service calendar function, which he hopes will save the newsroom valuable data-entry manpower.
The paper plans to eventually hire a community editor to manage the site, but not all of the content going up will be edited. Roberts says designated bloggers will be given a “trusted” status, which means items they post will appear on the Web site immediately, thereby alleviating the community editor’s workload.
Roberts is optimistic about the revenue possibilities the community blog could generate. So far, the Columbia Visitor’s Bureau has bought sponsorship rights to the calendar system, meaning the bureau’s logo will appear on each entry. And a local home and garden decorating store has purchased a micro-site, which will allow it to blog on decorating tips or sales or whatever it deems relevant.
One example he gave of a business that could do well with the sponsored micro-site model is a bicycle shop that could blog about a sale on bike helmets one day, and when the inventory ran out, blog about bicycle locks the next.
“We’re really allowing [advertisers] to target their message specifically to people who are interested in that topic,” Roberts said. Another advantage to advertisers maintaining their own blog, he said, is the ability to change out their ad as often as they like.
“It’s a great way for local business owners to interact with customers on a very personal level,” Roberts added.
Sales of traditional banner advertising and sponsorship of the micro-sites will fund the project. Roberts said the initial sponsorships have already covered the paper’s start-up costs, but more selling will be needed to cover iUpload’s monthly service fees and the salary of the community editor.
Although Roberts admitted that most of the bigger advertisers that have heard The State’s sales pitch are taking a wait-and-see approach, he’s confident the community aspect of the site will take root.
“Blogging’s cool,” he said. “I like it.”