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June 2, 2010, 3:20 p.m.

WaPo rezones a neighborhood on its site, builds a new local point of entry

Following its recent launch of PostPolitics, The Washington Post today unveiled another stand-alone landing page at PostLocal.com. The page pulls together existing local content from its Metro section, plus houses new blogs and a few interactive features. The goal is to build an engaged local community around a site-within-a-site.

The timing of PostLocal coincides with a hiring frenzy at its new startup competitor in Washington, TBD. The local online-only news venture, owned by Politico parent Allbritton, plans to launch this summer.

Maria Cereghino, a spokeswoman for the Post, told me in an email that she “would not characterize” PostLocal as a response to TBD. Still, there are some prominent similarities between the sites. PostLocal hosts the Post’s new local blog network, which offers a platform to a selection of local bloggers. TBD is working on a similar model and is currently in the midst of solidifying relationships with its own set of local bloggers, Steve Buttry of TBD told me.

PostLocal is also home to interactive tools, like “The Daily Gripe,” powered by SeeClickFix. Locals can post a complaint about problems in their neighborhoods, like a broken street sign, or a large pothole. The tool automatically sends a notification of the problem to the proper authority. Users can vote on gripes they like (or, perhaps, dislike) most; one gripe per day gets a full report.

PostLocal and PostPolitics represent a shift in thinking about how newspaper readers arrive at the paper’s website. Aside from readers who arrive via search or inbound links, the homepage has always been the primary point of entry for regular visitors. But as major news organizations have expanded their content in myriad directions, Post content is competing with itself for reader attention and a showcase spot on the front page. The PostPolitics redesign sought to change that, creating a place for politics-obsessed readers to get just the content they want, something they’ve already been able to do at sites like niche sites like Politico. Now, readers looking for just local content can do the same; if the Post can convince some portion of its audience to use PostLocal as its front door, that could mean a wider array of stories getting attention.

And there’s a potentially lucrative reason to build an engaged local audience. One startup, for example, Main Street Connect, which hopes to get 3,000 franchise-style sites off the ground in the next few years, just attracted $3.97 million in first round financing. AOL thinks it can make money on its growing network of Patch sites. Yahoo is wading in as well. Local advertising remains a largely untapped resource online, and newspapers still have the largest set of relationships with local advertisers in most markets. So even if the Post isn’t seeing a threat, it must at least see some dollar signs.

POSTED     June 2, 2010, 3:20 p.m.
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