2007 HowardOwens.com best newspaper web site awards

Just as last year, I’m making my own subjective picks for various categories of my own choosing for web site awards. This is just for newspaper-affiliated sites, of course. And as last year, Bakersfield.com and VenturaCountyStar.com (because of my previous management of those sites) are ineligible to win, as well as any GateHouse Media site. Also, admittedly, my awards are entirely US centric, since that’s what I know best.

Best News Site: Knoxnews.com. Just as in years past, Jack Lail and his team continue to do an amazing job. You want participation? They’ve got it. You want an aggressive, wide-ranging and creative video strategy? You’ll find it on knoxnews.com. There is lots of blogging and loads of extra content. Knoxnews.com continues to do what all sites need to do — move further and further away from being just a newspaper online. This site is also one of the best designed and conceived in the business. This year, btw, I gave demerits to WashingtonPost.com for its highly restrictive registration system.

Rookie of the Year: New this year, this award goes to a newspaper site that probably none of us ever paid much attention, but sometime within the past year got its act together. The first-ever winner of this award: VictoriaAdvocate.com. This small-paper’s site is one of the most active I’ve seen in the use of participation and blogs, to the point of loading up the home page with these web-centric features. Here is a small paper site that isn’t afraid to break away from being merely a newspaper.com.

Come Back of the Year: Another new category. This award goes to a site that should have been much better than it was in recent years (if not forever), but made great strides in the past 12 months. It was tempting to give the award to LATimes.com, but sister site ChicagoTribune.com takes the honors. ChiTri is doing a great job of integrating blogging and video. I love their video chats, such as this one.

Best Site Design: NaplesNews.com. I don’t think there is a site in the industry, from a purely design perspective, that has done more to completely bury the news-print connection. There is no attempt on NaplesNews.com to be the newspaper online. Even the main nav communicates — we’re a web news site, not a newspaper site. Plus, the site, right down the play button on the video player, is just gorgeous.

Best Entertainment Site: AmpifySD. Is there another newspaper site with both live-streaming programming and a local music wiki? This site is caulk full of useful information to San Diego’s nightlife mavens (I was once part of that crowd), and plenty of ways to interact and contribute. And it’s a great design.

Best Multimedia Story: Rocky Mountain News, The Crossing. This package is the most thorough, well-conceived and executed multimedia effort I’ve ever seen. I don’t think it has a flaw, from the quality of its journalism, to its video, to its subject matter to its design and Flash implementation. I found the subject matter absolutely engrossing and it is so full of real life, real people drama.

Best Participation: DenverPost.com’s Neighbors. I’ve never been entirely comfortable — but didn’t mind the experiment — with the citizen-journalism-as-content efforts of NorthWest Voice, Backfence.com or YourHub. The Post, right in YourHub’s back yard, has taken a different approach — to create a conversation site, a place where local residents can discuss local issues, without any pretension that it is news. To bad the recent deal Media News made with Topix is likely to kill this effort. That said, the next time your publisher suggests you start a Northwest Voice/YourHub type of site, point him to Neighbors (if it’s still around).

Best User-Generated Content Site: TBO.com’s local artist database. This is a great idea — take a subject that people can be absolutely passionate about, where subjects care deeply about what they do and are eager to express it, and the ability to use web technology to create a very interesting vertical, and you have a winner.

Best Newspaper Video Effort: NYTimes.com. The Times has the resources to both go after long-tail video content (a basic idea beyond my own video strategy) and use better equipment and take more time editing to do it. The times produces some truly interesting video and video blogs, but never tries to be like TV. Also, the video gallery page is well executed.

Best Revenue Effort: LJWorld.com’s Marketplace. You can just look at Marketplace and see that it is smartly conceived and executed, not to mention the fact that many, many local advertisers have obviously bought packages in Marketplace. The clincher for me though is my own personal experience: Several weeks ago, when I visited Lawrence and dropped in on a local furniture shop, I was impressed by the implied endorsement the shop owner gave me — he told me to visit his LJWorld.com page rather than his own web site.

Best Database Journalism: You could pick any number of Gannett sites since the birth of the Info Center and praise its database efforts — maybe the best thing Gannett has done with the Info Center — but IndyStar.com sure has a hell of a lot to offer. Database journalism ranks right with participation, web-first publishing and video for growing online audience. We could all lift a page or two from IndyStar on how this is done. Continue reading

Bakersfield media market heating up

Previously, I wrote about how Nick Belardes is pushing a very web-centric, network-aware distributed media effort in his new job at KERO in Bakersfield.

We all know about the efforts of the Bakersfield Californian (Bakersfield.com, Bakotopia, NorthwestVoice.com, etc.) to be entreprenurial online.

Now comes news that Fisher Communications is buying two TV stations in Bakersfield, including Californian content partner KBAK (I’m not sure if KBAK and TBC still have a relationship or not).

That wouldn’t be significant online news, except that Fisher recently acquired Pegasus News, which is run by Mike Orren, one of the smartest guys in the community UGC field. Pegasus is what Northwest Voice aspires to be.

The changing market in Bakersfield is going to put a couple of theories to the test: That being a first mover, as TBC has done, is a good defensive strategy against online competitors; and that a local media market can have only one clear winner (which I believe) in the online media realm.

The other aspect to this story: Bakersfield is becoming a test case for how newspapers survive in a turbulent media market (up until now, the San Francisco Chronicle has been the only canary in the coal mine).

As I’ve reported before, Craigslist seems to be pretty much a non-factor in Bakersfield, but in a fragmented market, as we see evolving in Bakersfield now, every competitor becomes a factor. They’re all part of the “thousand cuts that kill you.”

TBC is one of the most advanced newspaper companies in the nation at building online products designed to hold back current or future competitors, but the competition is coming anyway. This should be interesting to watch.

My advice: TBC, get more aggressive; KERO, get off that clunky IBS publishing system and build something very webby in Drupal and keep letting Nick be Nick; and, KGET, um, you better do something.

Disclosure: I think most readers know I was once ran Bakersfield.com, but just in case, there’s the mention again. Also, my current employer owns two newspapers in Kern County, though both outside the core Bakersfield market. They’re not part of this race right now. Continue reading

Hyperlocal citizen journalism sites not getting much traction

Tom Grubisich reviews the major hyperlocal citizen journalism efforts and finds them wanting. None of them seem to be doing a great job of generating interesting, useful content. Some are worse than others.

For my local friends and neighbors, here’s what Tom writes about the Northwest Voice, the hyperlocal site that started it all here in Bakersfield (disclosure for those who don’t know — I used to work for The Bakersfield Californian, but I was not involved with this product at all):

NorthwestVoice.com has been one of the mostly frequently, and favorably, cited examples of how grassroots journalism can transform the Web on the community level. But reality doesn’t match the PR. Most of NorthwestVoice’s hard news is written by paid reporters for the companion print product, while most of the soft stuff (some of it very soft) comes from volunteers.

Even after nearly two and a half years of operation, and a steady stream of positive media mentions, NorthwestVoice.com still struggles to attract traffic and generate productive conversations among users. It ranks 1,107,759 in reach on Alexa, which means it barely registers a traffic pulse. In one of the site’s featured “Discussions,” someone asked, on July 13: “Who’s responsible for providing public facilities, i.e. a post office, library, etc. for the Northwest?” Three months later, the question remains unanswered. Ten of the 17 discussion articles, dating back to November 2005, had no comments.

I’ve always been a little uneasy with these pure-play citizen journalism sites. I’ve wanted to see them work, and would have gladly given (and may still give) one of them a try, but as comments at the end of Tom’s article mention these sites fall easy prey to the 1-percent rule, which I’ve written about before. It is just going to be damn hard to generate enough local content, especially quality local content, from a small user base.

None of the newspaper-affiliated sites come off well in Tom’s report.

I do have to say, however, if you want an example of how to do citizen journalism right from a newspaper perspective, take a look at Bakersfield.com and the Your Words* section. And see also my previous post about Steve Swenson*. Integration, not segregation.

*I’m not taking any sort of credit for Your Words or the great job Steve Swenson is doing.

P.S. Nick, I still say you should contribute local music scene articles to Your Words.

[tags]citizen journalism, hyperlocal, newspapers, bakersfield[/tags] Continue reading

Shake up at Backfence and what it means for hyperlocal citJ

One of the darlings of hyperlocal citizen journalism in 2005 was Backfence. Well, 2007 kicks off with news that there are huge fissures in the facade. The question is, does this bode ill for the content model, or is it just poor execution by Backfence?

Previously, we talked about the poor content performance of many of these citJ sites.

Frank Barnako writes:

The concept of local, local blogs is wonderful. But it has problems.

  • No news operation can rely on part time volunteer reporters.
  • Hyper local blogs have a long way to go to get the respect, authority, and credibility that existing media have, as flawed as the “placebloggers” may think MSM is.
  • Advertisers can’t be bothered wondering whether local blogger’s small audiences will make the registers ring. And they don’t trust bloggers, either.

Blogs that do work are driven by strong personalities, either as writers or publishers. Think Calacanis’ Weblogsinc or Denton’s Gawker group, Arianna’s Huffingtonpost.com (and soon more) or Scoble, Mark Cuban, Daily Koz, and so on. Backfence’s Potts could be one of them. He is a guy with lots of opinions. Too bad Backfence editorial content didn’t seem to have any.

The stories on Backfence sites are mostly objective, and certainly not provocative. They are almost “corporate.” No feathers ruffled by these postings. Yawn!

Meanwhile, in the comments of Peter Krasilovsky’s post (link above), David Chase shares:

We’re always appreciative of feedback if you want to check out the site at sunvalleyonline.com. The thing I’m proudest of is how we’ve ignited the community to contribute news, pictures, personal stories, classifieds, etc so 80-90% of our content is created by the community.

Chase admits the site isn’t a cash cow just yet, but participation must certainly proceed revenue, so maybe Chase has found the model.

UPDATE: More from Greg Sterling.

Local is really about getting good data (including from users) and getting to scale in a cost effective way, recognizing that building a successful brand in local and the usage and monetization that implies takes not only the right vision, but tremendous persistence and lots of patience.

Continue reading

Is there a place today for alternative media start ups in print?

A group of locals have gathered together to create a new alternative newspaper called Random Times. Good title, at least.

But is it necessary?

If your goal is to get published, or to publish view points you don’t see represented in the mainstream media, then the time and expense of a new print publication hardly seem worth it. Ironically, the local MSM, primarily via The Bakersfield Californian, offers numerous outlets for writers. Sure, none of these publishing vehicles pay, but some of them can lead to a byline in print and before a larger audience than a small, start-up tabloid is going to reach.

TBC offers Your Words on B.com, Bakotopia, the Voices and Mas. While I can’t officially speak to the editorial policies of these publications, or make any promises, I’m pretty damn confident that alternative view points, if well presented and aren’t profane, can find an airing in these outlets.

And if your goal is to present alternative view points, would you rather preach to the choir of coffee shop and indie record store patrons or reach a more mainstream audience where you might actually be ale to have some influence. Only MSM can give you reach into suburban households.

If your goal is to make money, forget it. The last people to get rich off alt-dead-tree publications were 1960s college kids. They’ve made their millions and retired. Print is dying. Online is where it’s at. In fact, if you want to hit the local MSM where it hurts, disrupt them online. Print means nothing.

I’m the last person in the world who wants to encourage further use of TBC products, but I’m just trying to apply some common sense here. I just don’t see the benefit of starting a new alternative print product. If I’m wrong, great for the guys doing it. I know it’s a lot of work to put out a newspaper, so while I disagree with the approach, I say good luck to the Random Times crew.

BTW: What I can see of it from Nick’s post (check the YouTube video at the bottom), it looks well done. I need to find me a copy. I am curious about it.

[dels]print, newspaper, alternative press, media[/dels] Continue reading