Friday, July 16, 2004

Bakersfield Gets It

Pay attention to The Northwest Voice, an experiment in hyperlocal journalism by the Bakersfield Californian. (Thanks to Steve Outing on Poynter's E-media Tidbits for the pointer to Jonathan Dube's article on it.)

The Northwest Voice is a Web site and a biweekly print edition with 90 percent of the content coming from community members for free. Dube reports that more than 200 people have contributed.

Mary Lou Fulton, publisher of The Northwest Voice and new product development manager for the Californian, tells Dube,
"In a world in which a growing number of readers are becoming publishers, we ignore this trend at our own peril."

It is a slick-looking site and publication, with 28,000 dead-tree editions distributed free to homes and in racks.

But what I especially love is the youth sports section, with pictures (that you can click on to enlarge) and short stories. This is what I talked about here several weeks ago that Lawrence, Kan., also has started doing, though in the World's case, with paid interns. It can work for most papers and I guarantee it will generate traffic.

Fulton says more than half the advertisers are new to the company and more than three-quarters are buying smaller ads. In other words, hyperlocal news also brings hyperlocal ad dollars. Fulton and the Californian explain the philosophy behind this venture at Open Source Journalism. Publishers -- and editors -- would do well to read it.

The one thing that does bug me a bit is the paper's disclaimer:
The opinions and accuracy of information in this article are the responsibility of the contributor. It even was at the bottom of an article written by the editor. Seems a bit snarky to me.

"We included that disclaimer to establish accountability between the contributor and the reader," Fulton told Dube. I don't totally buy it. It's the paper sidestepping any accountability as much as it is establishing accountability between the contributor and reader.

Nevertheless, it's an experiment worth watching.


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