Before Bluffton Today started in April 2005, Morris Communications owned a paper that covered all of this shaded area. It was called the Carolina Morning News, which was a wrapper for the SMN. Dramatic growth in Bluffton (second fastest growing town in the state). There are strong competitors in Beaufort and HHI, but no one really owned this blooming market. Demographics and media-use surveys of residents revealed good newspaper environment – highly educated populace, strong newspaper habits.
The struggling CMN wrapper was killed and replaced with free-standing BT Studies showed we had some very strong competition with the other papers in the market. They did a great job covering the news in a traditonial way. So we knew we’d have to do something different. According to our research, people are most interested with the small scale: personal, then social, then local, then global --- themselves, then their families, their communities (such as church, school and neighborhood). People are slightly less interested in their town, and the interest continues to drop as you move out to regional news and state news. They can get this, as well as national and international, from other sources like Internet and TV. There are an awful lot of out-of-towners with no local ties. They need to sink roots, make connections. Locals need to connect with the noobs to try to preserve some of the old culture and flavor of the town. By focusing on the small circle of the individual, family, neighborhood and town, we don’t have any competitors. We’re the only one bringing the people of Bluffton that type of news. From day one, we wanted to be highly interactive; we wanted to push readers to that tipping point where they took an action because of us, and weren’t merely passive. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the people who were inventing Bluffton Today, software gurus at the home office in Augusta, Ga., were tinkering with an experimental blogcentric Web concept. Jim Currow, Morris’ executive vice president for newspapers, decided to put 2 and 2 together.
Bluffton Today is an experiment. We make a tabloid-size newspaper that’s delivered free daily to everyone in the area who’ll have us. Blufftontoday.com offers anyone who wants one their own personal soapbox. So far, so good. Our readership numbers are off the charts, or so they tell me. Anecdotally, I can tell you I’ve had lots of people tell me they love our paper once they find out who I work for. That hardly ever happened at any of the other papers I’ve worked for since 1990. We think the mix of community blogging and ‘hyperlocal’ newspapering – that ‘community in conversation with itself” -- is part of the reason for our success.
The CAC verification survey asks about regular or occasional readership for the respondent or some member of their household. Results appear strong: 60% regular household readership and 92% total household readership.
This is clearly not the place to go to read the paper. This is about other content: blogs, photos and how to meet your neighbors.
8000 people have registered voluntarily for the website, which doesn&apos;t require registration to read content of any type posting more than 13400 weblog items. Reach greater than large metros like Jacksonville.com, Amarillo.com and SavannahNow.com Time spent per site nearly double most newspaper sites This level of participation didn&apos;t come from technology. It happened because of execution and follow through in the Bluffton market by Bluffton Today staff members, and because of a serious commitment to marketing the newspaper and the Web site. This includes extensive public presentations and public interaction.
Reach is significant because it shows adoption rate similar to print product - embraced by community, just as important to community as print product
Page views reached 780,000 in August 2006
People make BlufftonToday.com part of their daily routine, and they tend to visit regularly throughout the day.
Posted just after announcement
Every once in awhile, someone will post ‘actual news’ in a blog before anyone in the newsroom heard about it. That’s pretty rare.
Reporters and editors started using their blogs to post questions to the public. At times, this alone has generated entire stories. Other times, it unearths good sources. Sometimes it’s mix and match.
We’ve built up a critical mass of people posting blogs. Now we’re more circumspect about what we harvest and where we put it. For instance, if we’re doing a story about traffic jams, we may drop in blog commentary about highway construction as a sidebar.
We think some corporate folks thought bloggers would eventually replace reporters. We don’t think so. Much of their stuff is speculation. At the local level, bloggers are not a challenge to journalists’ livelihood; few people have the grit to bulldog stories day and night. Especially with no hope of pay. Instead, bloggers are sources to be tapped.
Here’s an example of their lack of attention to details.
One of the purposes the wire copy serves is to fill newshole that your reporters and photographers can’t. If you’re all local all the time, like we are, you can’t just mark several pages for wire copy. We don’t have a true state, nation or world section. We dedicate one national and one international tab-size page (usually with ads), and one regional page which can have state news. And that’s it. So if reporters are sick, on vacation
Heavy reproduction of blogs in print shows readers we respect them and put them on a par with ourselves. Putting their words in print lends credence to them, so we have to be reasonably careful with what we pick and how we edit it. Much of the reason for our success has been our diligent effort to interact with our readers, on all levels and in all media. Reverse publishing is but one piece of that strategy. Write something interesting online and we’re liable to put you in the paper -- that’s pretty darned interactive. Hey, readers love briefs, and most blog posts are to the point. If not, they can be edited down without facing a professional writer’s wrath in the morning.
Nearly 4000 attended paper-sponsored fundraiser for no-kill shelter raising $20,000 Every media outlet in our part of the world particiapated in a traffic survey: 80% of responses came through Bluffton Today Voter registration campaigns hugely successful, about 3,000 people
Bluffton & Low Country focus, important local topics
Hugely popular - participation every day
In print and on web site
We get 15 to 20 Vox calls every day. And we try to run them all.
Editorial staff will spend time on user contributed material - a LOT of time Blog Wrangler must have administrative powers, but not set policy Problems such as porn or abuse never materialized, things we thought would work didn’t (exercise passions) Bloggers reflect the tone of the paper and the blogs - smackdowns are rarely needed Pet pieces can coexist with hard news
“Community in conversation”
Short, pithy, fun – like a
Introduce people to each
other and to the things
that make Bluffton
Not like the competition
Everyone gets a free paper (17,500; 98.9
percent of households “regularly receive”
Everyone gets a free blog
Use the paper to drive people to the Web
site; use the Web site to drive content in
Do you or some member of your household
read any portion of Bluffton Today?
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