Turning a Newspaper into a “Community-Driven” Website

by Dan Blank on November 6, 2007

Mark Glaser looks at how the San Jose Mercury News is changing the meet the needs of its readers. His advice:

“Don’t just run focus groups or surveys; get passionate people in your community of readers on board from the start. And get their input at the start, in the middle, and all the way through the rethinking process and beyond.”

Here is a glimpse of how the paper views their changing role:

“In both print and online, we want to move away from broadcasting news to people and find better ways to inform them and make them participants so that the Mercury News becomes the meeting point of the larger conversation the community is having about itself,” wrote the Merc’s Matt Mansfield and Chris O’Brien (who also writes for MediaShift Idea Lab). “Think of it as Silicon Valley’s front porch. Providing information, facilitating this conversation, and being the hub of this community should be our goals, the things that guide both our journalism and our business.”

And some of the ideas they may put into action:

  • Create a team of staff community managers who are “specifically assigned to fostering conversation and identifying places where we can connect with people in ways that will be good for our journalism and our business,” as per the Rethinking blog.
  • Give long-time subscribers “community ownership” — not real ownership in the paper, but a reward of “shares” for helping give input, making online comments and getting involved in the paper’s reinvention.
  • Create a social networking platform that lets people share their personal tastes, local restaurant reviews, music they like, etc., modeled on Facebook but providing a longer-lasting record of their lives.
  • Have a town hall meeting with readers to get their input on the radical redesign.
  • Build community-driven niche sites on topics such as high school sports, startups and food that include a reporter and community manager who go out and find local bloggers or participants to help build out the sites. The best of that content could be published in a special print section in the paper.

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