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May 17, 2010, 10 a.m.

WaPo wades into HuffPo’s unpaid content model

A top news and politics site is packaging content written by unpaid bloggers, hoping to engage its audience, give writers a platform, and make some money selling ads. No, I’m not talking about The Huffington Post. In recent weeks, The Washington Post has launched two new projects following a model closer to HuffPo — where a small number of professionals are paid to curate the work of many more unpaid writers — than its traditional print roots. In the competitive world of Washington news, it’s another example of the Post trying something new to compete with the startups that, not so long ago, weren’t viewed as much of a direct threat.

Thursday, Post Politics launched its political blog network, an offshoot of Chris Cillizza’s politics blog, The Fix. The site posts full items from state-based political blogs that were nominated by readers and approved by Cillizza. State blog authors tag only the content they think would be of interest to Post readers, so the Post’s Movable Type tool only pulls in relevant content, making the network site more focused, plus giving potential readers a reason to check out the state blog. Writers for The Fix will cull through the posts to find the most interesting, and feature them daily in the main well.

I spoke with the Post’s national innovations editor, Paul Volpe, about the new project. He described it in ways that have become common for the content-for-exposure model: It’s a mutually beneficial project, though no cash is exchanged; the content is already out there; readers want to see it, and the Post can bridge the audience gap in a way a local blog can’t.

“Chris Cillizza has an established brand and people come to him because they think he has the best political content,” Volpe explained. “We’re providing a service to our users and giving a platform to these blogs.”

By asking readers for nominations, Cillizza sees the new site as a way to bolster ties with his audience. (The site grew out of a contest Cillizza ran last year.) Plus he’s feeding political obsessives’ appetite for news with posts they wouldn’t find on their own. “This gives people exposure to blogs they might not see otherwise, content they might miss,” Cillizza told me over IM. “It’s expanding the user’s experience.” I asked if the site is meant to live on past the fall midterm elections. “Absolutely! Politics never stops.”

Meanwhile, the Post’s Opinion section is wading into the world of repurposing content as well. In April, the section launched “All Opinions Are Local,” a forum for local bloggers and readers to discuss topics of interest to metro D.C. residents. The site pulls content from a select group of local bloggers, who can also contribute original content. The section is also looking for reader submissions. Contributors are not paid for their work.

The model appears to be preemptively taking on the new local site set to be launched sometime in the next few months, TBD, which is owned by Politico parent Albritton Communications. TBD plans to leverage its community of readers in the creation of content too; Volpe is leaving the Post for TBD.

POSTED     May 17, 2010, 10 a.m.
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