Let your youngest journalists do stories about what interests them

I’ve never been comfortable with the idea of newspapers creating “teen” sections or youth-oriented publications and web sites.

I say, if you want to reach a younger audience, make the things that interest them part of your daily routine.

Larry Atkins says we need to include their voices. (via Ypulse)

For a long time, newspaper editors comforted themselves with the false notion that “when they grow up,” they’ll become readers. Of course, that has turned out to be untrue. The untruth, however, led editors down the path of thinking they could keep on doing what they were doing, and everything would turn out fine. And what they were doing was concentrating on “serious journalism.”

Lots of newspapers, especially small newspapers, hire lots of young writers, kids out of college just starting out. I say it’s time that we turn them loose and let them write stories they find relevant to their lives, not just what is on their beats. In fact, maybe nobody under 25 should have a beat. They should all be GA and told, think about what you and your friends talk about and turn those topics into local stories.

This piece on a real-life Simpsons family comes to mind.

This isn’t something you do on a part-time, catch-as-catch-can basis, though. To attract young readers, we need to put forth the concerted effort to include their voices, their perspectives and their interests.

The problem isn’t that young people are uninterested in the world around them; They just are not necessarily interested in what mature journalists call news. Not yet at least, and maybe never (not in the way, say, the depression generation was).

We may never turn today’s teens and young adults into newsPAPER readers, but if we want to have a future as local media organizations, we need to find a way to get today’s younger audiences clued into our information products.

It isn’t about launching the right web site with hip graphics, a little social networking and a tolerance for racy language. Those tactics have their place, but content is still king.

Ryan Sholin recently posted similar thoughts: Find yourself a nice comfortable niche and sell it like blueberry pancakes.

Topix is not necessarily your friend

It’s all fine and good if you’re a newspaper and you’re putting your news on a web site. Almost all newspapers do it now.

But if you want to build an online news business, there are a few extra things you must do.

One of them is to create a place where people in your community can communicate — comment, participate, suggest stories and submit stories.

That’s something a lot of larger newspapers are doing now, but many small papers have neglected.

Into that void has stepped Topix.

As Mark Glasser highlights, the long-struggling Topix is finding its audience in rural areas where online forums are few and local newspapers have neglected to create a platform for participation.

How did you get so many rural people involved with your site? Many of these areas are not as connected to the Net.

Skrenta: It’s been a big surprise for us. We’ve looked at it, and one factor is that in major markets there are a lot of places for you to communicate. If you’re in San Francisco, you’re pretty wired, you can go to Craigslist and you have a hundred places to go online and communicate. There are 1,500 newspapers but we identified 35,000 places in the country where people actually live. Already most places don’t even have a newspaper, and if you get out of the top 100 newspapers, most of them don’t have a very sophisticated online presence at all. They don’t have sophisticated forums.

We found that in most places in this country, we are the only high-end news site. What happens is this odd pattern where a news event happens, and they find our site online and they like it and stick. One of the more dramatic cases was when two tornadoes struck Caruthersville, Mo. Up to that point, we had a little activity there but it was pretty low. That day we had 600 posts about the tornadoes , and it was astonishing, there were first-hand accounts and people were asking if so-and-so was OK. People in the town were responding and saying, ‘yes, they’re OK.’ A few months later, a lot of the people had stayed in the forums.

You can see the same explosion of participation in Greensburg, KS, where GHS owns a newspaper, and where we made a special effort to update the web site after a tornado destroyed that town, but we still didn’t have available all of the participation tools we would like.

Publishers get quite worked up about Google and Yahoo “stealing” their news, but for the most part, and especially in the case of Google, those sites are just redirecting traffic to publishers’ sites. In the case of Topix, Topix is taking publishers headlines and photos and giving very little in return (check your referrer logs). Topix is truly building a business on the back of newspaper publishers, and the site is owned by a trio of newspaper companies.

Skrenta: Prior to the forum launch, the major problem with the site was we weren’t getting user involvement. We had a decent number of unique users, but a very low number of page views per visit, and they wouldn’t visit very often. They would visit a couple times a month and didn’t get passionately involved in our site or our brand. When we launched the forums, that immediately took off in a pretty substantial way. When we got people to get off of just consuming our old read-only site to posting in a forum or reading a forum, they were much more involved. The page views went up 10 times, from two page views a visit to 20 page views on average. And you know why: It sucks you in a lot more.

Topix didn’t just stumble into this model. It’s well thought out. The company is engaging volunteer editors (about 1,000 so far) and employing some well thought out software to help moderate the forums.

Skrenta: Well, 95% of our moderation is done by software. There’s a lot of tricks in it. For instance, if you are banned from the forums, you can actually still post, and see your own posts, but other people don’t see them. That’s a neat social trick, because if you know you’ve been banned, most people will work around that. They’ll clear their cookies and work to figure out how to get around the block; but if they don’t know they’ve been banned, and they seem to be able to post, it won’t do any harm to the environment. We can do 95% of the moderation through software, but we also have three full-time staff to do moderation as community editors that respond to user-generated flags.

If you’re a newspaper publisher who isn’t part of Gannett, McClathcy or Tribune, you should be concerned about Topix.

The good news is, Topix proves that if you build the platform, you can transform your web sites into community participation hubs.

Chain with 14 AZ newspapers closing five of them

Here’s a news tidbit that hasn’t gotten much attention: Independent Newspapers, a group of 30 or so papers in Arizona, Delaware and Florida is closing five of it’s Arizona editions.

McKeand cited a combination of factors for the decision: residential sprawl, competition and shifting advertising trends.

“It was becoming more and more difficult to define ‘community’ in these markets,” McKeand said.

“We’re better off just taking these resources and really putting them toward the nine products we think are strong.”

No employee will be laid off but will be transferred to other newspapers.

I think there’s more to the story. For one thing, what the hell does “more difficult to define ‘community’ in these markets” mean? That sounds like utter non-sense to me. I done a lot of community journalism and lived in a lot of communities. The statement makes no sense. It sounds like somebody wasn’t trying very hard.

You get more nonsense from a story published by one of the closing papers:

The growth that has changed the Valley over the last 10 years has an unintended victim: the Chandler Independent.

Most newspaper companies would KILL to be in growth markets.

Newspaper employees who have fretted over the possibility that publishers would eliminate jobs and turn to “citizen journalists” instead, won’t find any comfort here:

Instead, Independent is encouraging residents to continue to use the community website at http://www.newszap.com/ to disseminate news for their neighborhoods, including school briefs, sports items, and community group announcements.

INI has an unusual business model. Company directors aren’t allowed to personally benefit from their directorships. The company claims to reinvest its profits in its products, judging from its web sites, there’s no evidence of aggressively pursuing profits in order to improve the business. They just haven’t put many resources into the web, from what I can see.

I’m also skeptical of the no “lay offs” remark.

Like I said, I think there’s more to the story.

Media bloggers must-reads

Not too long ago, Shane Richmond did a post asking media bloggers to call out their favorite media-related articles and blog posts.

I’m quite proud that Shane included one of my posts in his list.

Several other people have responded to the request and I’m going to throw my links into the stew myself.

I’m trying to avoid including links I’ve seen show up elsewhere, so if your favorite post isn’t here, maybe that’s why. Or I just forgot. Feel free to add your favorite links in comments either here or on Shane’s blog.

Outing’s post above deserves an extra hat tip. It inspired this post, which has been the basis of my primary content strategy ever since.

Good idea from Shane. I hope he compiles the results.

Shane didn’t ask for this, but there have been some good old fashioned dead-tree books that are ongoing mental references for me:

  • The Search, by John Battelle
  • We the Media, by Dan Gillmor
  • Don’t Make Me Think, by Steve Krug
  • Net Gain, by John Hagel
  • The Long Tail, by Chris Anderson
  • First, Break All the Rules, by Marcus Buckingham
  • The Vanishing Newspaper, by Philip Meyer
  • Innovator’s Solution, by Clayton Christensen
  • Competitive Advantage, by Michael E. Porter