When Gannett shut down the printing press at the Tucson Citizen newspaper last March, it left a web-only news site with few resources.
Then, last summer TucsonCitizen.com editor Mark Evans agreed to participate in J-Lab’s Networked Journalism project to test how old, traditional media could collaborate with new media in their communities.
His partners of choice? Five local sports bloggers. Now, almost a year later, the TC Sports Network has grown to nine members and Evans credits it with driving “more than 30 percent of our site traffic from October to April.”
“Our website didn’t really start growing until we created the sports network through our J-Lab grant,” he reported. In addition, the network has beaten the local newspaper on stories, his site’s Google page ranking has jumped and each of the network partners has seen traffic increases. Now, they are talking with Phoenix partners about exchanging sports content.
“I believe this could be central to a statewide network of sports blogs,” Evans said.
When J-Lab asked five legacy news organizations to try a one-year pilot Networked Journalism project to explore how they might collaborate with five of their local websites, little did we expect it would turn out to be such a win-win for everyone.
All the networks have added new local partners, shared content and worked out official partnership agreements and codes of conduct. Recently, all five have signed on for another year. They want to see if they can further develop revenue-sharing and content-sharing models.
Participants will be talking about their initiatives at three forthcoming conferences:
- At J-Lab’s AEJMC luncheon in Denver, Aug. 6.
- At the SPJ convention in Las Vegas, Oct. 5.
- And at J-Lab’s ONA pre-convention workshop in D.C., Oct. 28.
Snaring partners was easier in some communities than others.
The Seattle Times quickly locked in its first five partners and has since grown its network to 30. It faced the most competition in wooing local media makers because another local site and a television station were also signing on partners.
The network has worked on a synchronized story about graffiti, posts news feeds on a portal page, and the Times invited some of its partners to question mayoral candidates. The Seattle Times showcased its partnership in this video for the 2010 American Society of News Editors convention.
The Miami Herald was the only traditional news organization to require partners to use individual “channels” on its content management system and to set ad rates. Among its guidelines: It’s okay to link to the content of others, but not to lift it.
Among Miami’s Community News Network were two weekly newspaper chains. Two more partners have been added and more are planned to cover the city’s Orthodox Jewish, Haitian and Brazilian communities.
The Ashville Citizen-Times calls its network WNC Linc for Western North Carolina Local Information Cooperative and has created a nifty widget with partner feeds that bloggers and other publishers can easily add to their sites. It has added three college newspapers to its original network and done significant advertising and social media training.
The Charlotte News Network has also conducted ad sales, marketing and social-networking workshops and conferences. Going forward, it is planning sessions to teach people how to start community websites. “Unlike our previous models,” said The Charlotte Observer’s project leader Steve Gunn, “we are anticipating structuring the geographic locations of the sites in advance and then finding citizen partners.”
“We have found that content generation – and content sharing – is easy. Each week about a dozen stories trade hands between partners,” Gunn reported. “The biggest barrier to success and sustainability is establishing a revenue stream and we believe we now see a way to make this work.”
As the projects continue to evolve, track their progress on J-Lab’s website.