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Panpa Bulletin : November December 2006
30 | PANPA BULLETIN November--December 2006 Your website: we publish or you publish ? With the advent of blog sites, YouTube, MySpace et al, newspaper publishers have just begun to understand the true meaning and extent of interactivity, writes Peter Zollman. Look at the hot, well-known internet sites of the day. What do they have in common? With some notable exceptions -- Google and Yahoo (although a case could be made for them, too) -- most of the sites that are in the news these days are "you publish" websites. "You publish" means the site is a facilita- tor for content, rather than a publisher of its own content. MySpace? You publish. Facebook? You publish. YouTube? You publish. (And "you pub- lished" so much that Google bought the company for more than US$1.6 billion -- af- ter it was around for less than two years.) Craigslist? EBay? Bebo? You get the idea. Now, look at your newspaper's website. What percentage of the content is "you pub- lish" vs "we publish?" Only a handful of newspaper sites have truly mastered the art of "you publish". To be successful, a newspaper website should be a unique combination of "we publish," providing the useful and valuable information the newspaper has gathered from, for and about its community, and "you publish" -- providing a platform for readers and users to publish their own ads, their reaction to the news, their meaningful commentary, their community and family photos, their memories of loved ones who have passed on, and much more. A handful of newspapers do it well. BlufftonToday.com and the print edition Bluffton Today, the Morris Communications property in South Carolina, were launched with the premise that a well-designed website that encourages interaction will lead to a conversation with engaged, informed, interested readers who are truly interested in their community. Steve Yelvington of Morris, one of the smartest men in the newspaper business today, put it this way: "Inviting the community into the tent doesn't undermine your credibility. It enhances your credibility. It gives your professional journalists an opportunity to listen, to understand the points of view, the perceptions, the daily concerns of the people-formerly-known-as-the-audience. "It gives you an opportunity, if you take it, to make your journalism better, to make your newspaper better, to make what you do more connected with the community and more relevant to the community. It helps you avoid mistakes, especially mistakes of omission, and helps you discover and cor- rect your mistakes of commission. "You're not 'allowing' comment. Comment is going to happen no matter whether you participate or facilitate. When you don't, you open the door to competition that under- stands how to interact. The questions are: Will you benefit from that comment, or will you continue to drift away from your com- munity? Will you take an active role in mak- ing that community conversation better, or will you allow it to fester into negativity? Will you accept that kind of responsibility?" Interactivity is essential at large papers, too. The Washington Post is expert at hold- ing online conversations with its audience. It now encourages comment on every news story online. It offers frequent chats with us- ers, on topics ranging from travel to technol- ogy, politics to real estate. And it allows users to "Digg" an article, link to it in del.icio.us, or submit it to Reddit, among other sites. That's interactivity and viral marketing. If your site is a "we publish" site, perhaps the easiest place to start encouraging inter- action is to provide a "post your own photos" application. Sure, someone somewhere will post something unsavoury, but the vast ma- jority of pictures will be those you couldn't get to yourself. School photos, fire pictures, news events, sports-sports-sports, weather photos, and more. When a major news story breaks in your community, you'll be in a po- sition to capture the picture or video, rather than seeing it on another site and linking to it. (And when someone posts something naughty, you just take it down.) After pictures, create a place for users and readers to comment on articles. Develop some local blogs, by local residents and government officials as well as by staff mem- bers. Offer "memorial pages" and comment sections with obituaries. Let users create their own communities, whether they are geographic ("my neighbourhood") or inter- est-based (the local auto rally club or sewing circle). Provide a section where ministers can post their sermons, if they want. And when you've done all of those, find more ways to evolve from a "we publish" site into a "you publish -- and we do too" site. It'll make you better. Peter M. Zollman is founding principal of Classi ed Intelligence and the AIM Group, consulting groups that work with publishers print and online to develop pro table interactive media services. For more on their services, visit their websites, Classi edIntelligence.com and AIMGroup. com. Reach Zollman at pzollman@ classi edintelligence.com, (407) 788-2780. "Inviting the community into the tent doesn t undermine your credibility. It enhances your credibility. It gives your professional journalists an opportunity to listen, to understand the points of view, the perceptions, the daily concerns of the people- formerly-known-as-the- audience." "Will you bene t from community comment, or will you continue to drift away from your community?"