With nine Networked Journalism projects started around the county, we wondered if anyone in those communities had even noticed that independent news websites were partnering with a mainstream media organization in town.
So 18 months into this experiment, we enlisted The Seattle Times to conduct an online survey to gauge the perceptions of its readers. Since August 2009, The Times has grown its network from its initial five partners to 39.
In short: Readers have noticed. They like it. They want more. And they like The Seattle Times for spearheading the collaboration.
Roughly half of the respondents came to the survey through a link on seattletimes.com; half through a link on the partner sites. See the results of the 966 surveys here.
Seattletimes.com is spending a lot of effort to drive more traffic to the smaller local sites in its community than it is getting in return. So what’s the value?
By a considerable measure, The Times seems to be getting a significant brand lift by collaborating with local news startups and other news creators.
- 84 percent of the respondents said they valued the partnership for supporting improvements in community journalism.
- 78 percent said they valued The Seattle Times for making it easier to connect with community news sites.
“It bolsters our brand, even if we are not seeing a direct traffic gain,” said The Times’ Deputy Managing Editor, Heidi de Laubenfels.
Some of the most interesting feedback came in the 324 open-ended comments the respondents offered. They fared 10-to-1 positive vs. negative in favor of the network efforts. Many were protective of their community news sites.
To be sure, many appreciated being able to see partner headlines on the homepage of seattletimes.com and link directly to stories they would not get in The Times itself.
“The links on The Seattle Times for the community news partners are the main way I access these sites… I love how easy it is to see the headlines from these community sites at seattletimes.com,” said one.
As interesting were how many respondents followed links to The Times from the partner sites. “I’m not a Seattle area resident, so I wasn’t a Seattle Times reader at all until I started reading Three Sheets Northwest,” said another.
The collaboration even seemed to dampen some lingering bad feelings towards the Times: “The West Seattle Blog is my source for what’s happening in West Seattle… I am one of those people who cancelled her subscription [to the Times] in 2001, after the strike. While I am not planning on re-subscribing, I must say that this partnership has lessened my animosity towards the Times,” another weighed in.
“There is simply no way you could provide this level of neighborhood detail using your own resources, so it is a smart use of reliable, existing media – benefits you, the other sites & the readers – a win for everyone!” read another of the positive comments. Negative comments reflected concern over whether links to sites with content not produced by professional journalists “devalued the credibility of any real news outlet that wants to consider themselves a serious news source. And, it just seems lazy as well,” said one objector.
And then there was: “Keep your corporate conservative bias and your dirty fingers out of our neighborhood blogs!”
It was clear that committed readers of the hyperlocal news sites valued them and wanted to see them stick around. Maybe an element of protective collaboration is just what the emerging news ecosystem needs these days.