Nieman Foundation at Harvard
The Worcester Sun wants to bootstrap paywalled hyperlocal digital into a Sunday print product
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
Oct. 24, 2011, 12:30 p.m.

Aggregation and tips from neighbors drive’s new community news site

The prospect of better reaching readers — and advertisers — in a community encourage the Philadelphia Media Network to experiment with curation and open story budgets.

On its face, Neighbors Main Line looks like a lot of hyperlocal sites. Produced by the Philadelphia Media Network — home to The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Philadelphia Daily News, and — it covers the Main Line, the well-off area west of town. It features stories from PMN properties (most from two part-time reporters) along with a mix of aggregated Main Line-related content from sites national and local. “It says, ‘I know I can get everything on and I don’t have to go to three different sites,'” said Daniel Victor, who oversaw development of the site.

But a strip at the top of Neighbors Main Line is another example of the push toward transparency — see The Guardian opening up its news budgets, or The Register Citizen Open Newsroom Project. The strip every day alerts readers to “What We’re Working On,” three brief descriptions of what the reporters are working along with contact information. Victor said it made sense as a practical way of fixing a common problem, the need for new sources and ineffective methods of letting readers contribute. “A problem we have in reporting is by the time readers realize they can contribute to a story it’s already too late to contribute,” he said.

Of course, newspapers have long asked for reader input before stories are published, even pre-web, but the Philly strip institutionalizes the request for reader knowledge. Asking readers to contribute to reporting also seems to be a kind of “two birds” proposition; by asking the audience to help on stories, reporters gain more sources and the readers get a sense of involvement in the paper. In that way the payoff for “What We’re Working On,” Victor says, comes from the tips as well as planting the idea of contributing in a reader’s head. (Victor recently announced he’s leaving Philly to become the new social media editor for ProPublica.)

Victor said a willingness to open your reporting to the public is only one part of the equation. The other is taking the right approach and crafting the right message to the audience. “I think the key is understanding the motivation with why they share information,” he said. “Very rarely it’s because they like the reporter.”

While there was some initial unease about the site’s approach to aggregation and openness, Victor said it fit in well with the Philadelphia Media Network’s efforts to reorient itself as digital company (a good example being its ambitious tablet plans). And it’s clear the structure of the Neighbors site offers a kind of efficiency — through aggregation and minimal staff — that is appealing to news managers. The Main Line site may be a bit of a test case for, Victor said. If the site can register a decent amount of engagement, page views and attract advertisers, it would make sense to duplicate it in other areas. Victor said this kind of model would make sense, not just because of the value to newsrooms, but also the information value to the audiences. “The big shift we have to make is instead of thinking of readers sharing information with us, it’s sharing information with each other,” Victor said.

POSTED     Oct. 24, 2011, 12:30 p.m.
Show comments  
Show tags
Join the 15,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
The Worcester Sun wants to bootstrap paywalled hyperlocal digital into a Sunday print product
“We could use Sunday print to boost us into the stratosphere, to get us into a stable orbit where we can launch other things.”
Slate is taking steps to reduce its page load time by 75 percent
Slate Group vice chairman Dan Check discusses how Slate plans to speed up its site, how it’s thinking about ad blockers, and why it’s participating in platforms like Apple News.
This portable FM transmitter brings information to people in crisis
“When there is no existing infrastructure that is stable for any kind of media, we thought, let’s come back to good old radio.”
What to read next
As giant platforms rise, local news is getting crushed
The quest for scale, driven by the distribution power of a few enormous technology platforms, is killing the business case for local news. Will anything take its place?
890What happened after 7 news sites got rid of reader comments
Recode, Reuters, Popular Science, The Week, Mic, The Verge, and USA Today’s FTW have all shut off reader comments in the past year. Here’s how they’re all using social media to encourage reader discussion.
699Facebook woos journalists with Signal, a dashboard to gather news across Facebook and Instagram
Signal helps journalists find, source, and embed content from Facebook and Instagram.
These stories are our most popular on Twitter over the past 30 days.
See all our most recent pieces ➚
Encyclo is our encyclopedia of the future of news, chronicling the key players in journalism’s evolution.
Here are a few of the entries you’ll find in Encyclo.   Get the full Encyclo ➚
Honolulu Civil Beat
Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Foreign Policy
National Review
La Nación
Investigative Reporting Workshop
The UpTake
The Orange County Register