Seattle News Network Gets High Marks

April 6, 2011

Washington, D.C. - In a survey to gauge reader perception of The Seattle Times’ collaboration with local news websites, eight in 10 respondents said they valued both the network of partners and The Times itself for making it easier to connect with community news, J-Lab reported today.

Although the network has had little promotion, more than half (51%) of the 996 respondents said they knew about the partnership before taking the survey. Respondents who reached the survey via partner sites were more aware of the partnership (61%) than those from seattletimes.com. Another 77 percent said they would take advantage of the partnership in the future.

The online survey, conducted over two weeks in March, sought to determine whether online news consumers in the Seattle region were aware of the partnership, which has grown from five sites in August 2009 to 39 sites today, and whether it helped them meet their information needs. The Seattle journalism network is one of nine partnerships around the country supported by J-Lab with funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

“We worked with The Seattle Times to field this survey, not knowing what we’d learn. We’re extremely encouraged by the feedback from the community,” said J-Lab director Jan Schaffer.

The respondents comprised a voluntary sample, with roughly half accessing the survey from seattletimes.com’s home page and half accessing it via links on five of the participating sites.

For The Seattle Times, the partnership means presenting headlines from partner sites on seattletimes.com and incorporating links to the partner sites. More than half the respondents (54%) said they used links from the Times to go to partner sites. Others accessed the Times’ site from the individual community sites.

Although The Times is driving traffic to its partner sites, it also appeared to get the greatest benefit from the collaboration:

  • More than half the respondents (52%) said the partnership improved their opinion of seattletimes.com strongly or somewhat.
  • 84 percent 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.

A majority of the respondents (79%) said they would be willing to support the network as readers; some would donate, advertise or sponsor an activity.

Participating partners were the West Seattle Blog, Capitol Hill Seattle, My Edmonds News, My Ballard and Three Sheets Northwest.

Breaking news is the most commonly sought community news topic, followed by “go-do” types of information about local events and activities. Events and activities are more popular on the partner sites, however.

More than 324 of the 996 respondents gave their impressions of the partnership in free-form text boxes. Positive comments outweighed negatives by more than 10 to 1. The positives liked the cooperation among the sites and thought it benefited them as readers.  Negative remarks complained that the partner sites were giving up their independence to The Times or that The Times was giving credence to news not always produced by professional journalists.

The open-ended responses urged The Times to expand the network geographically, provide more partner headlines on its homepage and to make it very clear when a link takes them off seattletimes.com.

More than three-quarters (77%) of the respondents were comfortable clicking away from a site to a new page. Half, however, prefer to have the link open in a new tab.

 

About Knight Foundation

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation advances journalism in the digital age and invests in the vitality of communities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers. Since 1950, the foundation has granted more than $400 million to advance quality journalism and freedom of expression. Knight Foundation focuses on projects that promote informed and engaged communities and lead to transformational change. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.

About J-Lab

J-Lab helps news organizations and citizens use digital technologies to develop new ways for people to participate in public life. It also administers the Knight Citizen News Network (www.kcnn.org and www.J-Learning.org), the New Voices community media grant program (www.j-newvoices.org), the Knight-Batten Awards for Innovations in Journalism (www.j-lab.org), and the McCormick New Media Women Entrepreneurs initiative (www.newmediawomen.org).

Read Jan Schaffer’s take in her Blogically Thinking post.