Friday, September 02, 2005

Columbia Record reborn

The Columbia Record, a proud afternoon newspaper shut down in 1988 after Knight Ridder bought it and The (Columbia, S.C.) State, has been reborn as the State's community journalism Web site,
(See story from Editor and Publisher and a column from The State.)

I wish them the best. The site looks good, and any foray into this area is welcome. It's kind of interesting, actually, that "backward" South Carolina is (or soon to be) home to at least three of these ventures: The State's, and the site we are trying to get up in conjunction with the Hartsville Messenger.

Having said that, there are some decisions Columbia has made that I question, and we'll have to see how they play out.
  • The decision to put up a metro-wide site instead of sites focused on smaller communities within the area, such as the Denver Post's YourHub. Thecolumbiarecord does allow one to filter by community, but this is yet another click, and it must be done each time. And the community selections even give me pause. For instance, it has 11 choices. But except for some in-town ones (Forest Acres, West Columbia and Lexington), many are large swaths: Lake Murray, Lexington County, even Columbia, which has several distinct neighborhoods. Much as we might like to thnk we're all one community, in larger areas I think it's the granularity that promotes the use of these sites. Even in Hartsville, we are looking at ways of breaking it down, realizing that even in a town of 10,000 there are different communities. We'll see how this works out for The State.
  • No RSS feeds. I don't know how easy it is to do in the content management system The State has chosen (iUpload). Northwestvoice, the Bakersfield, Calif., initiative that uses the same software, doesn't have them either. Their use varies among other community news sites. But I think they're important for one as blog-centric as thecolumbiarecord. The site's initial core is blogs by 30 community leaders and experts. I'm betting that readers are more likely to attach themselves to only a few of those, so why have to wade to find them? Likewise, if I want my news by community (see above), a feed for each of those would seem to be a minimum. Yes, a lot of people don't use RSS yet. But more are as it becomes integrated into browsers. So why not be ahead of the curve?
  • Proprietary software. Nothing inherently wrong with this. iUpload, a Canadian outfit, seems to put out a good product. But with all the open source CMS out there, I still wonder about the advisability of this. The cost becomes more critical, obviously, for smaller communty newspapers, which is why we are trying to find appropriate open-source software for Hartsville. Blufftontoday, for instance, uses Drupal. We're looking at it, PostNuke and some others (one I just came across, ezPublish, which has a GPL version and got a good review in InfoWorld, looks interesting).
A headline on one of the State's articles, "Columbia Record reborn as blog," evidences a misunderstanding of the subtleties of the medium and the changes that citizen journalism, or whatever we want to call it, represent. Labeling the entire site a "blog" is a misnomer, probably not one of grand proportions to many people for whom "blog" is still a fringe term. But it does give the impression of this monolithic thing that I'll have to wade through. In reality, of course, it's 30 or more blogs, and a community calendar and photo galleries, etc., each a potential community of its own. The better term to my mind: An online gathering place or online community. But of course, that wouldn't fit in a tight hed. It's to be hoped those behind the project have a more nuanced idea of how this will play out.

All those, however, are minor quibbles. Here's wishing the best to the new venture.


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