Morris Publishing launched Bluffton Today as both a home-delivered free daily newspaper in the fast-growing golf community of Bluffton, South Carolina, and as a companion citizen journalism site. The print edition now has regular readership levels higher than 60 percent in the affluent coast town, where half the population is new in the last few years, and penetration is as high as 90 percent when occasional readers are measured.
Within this community of 16,000 households, the web site has steadily increased the number of registered users, counting 7,300 as of January 2007. There is a professional editorial staff of 18 but this site defies a lot of citizen-journalism math, which holds that a few devoted posters trigger many casual contributors. More than 20% of its users have posted something to the site.
All income is derived from ads, including sponsorship, tower and banner ads, and business ads with “presumptive upsell,” Yelvington said. “Making income on the web site is not as important as the overall health of the enterprise. Papers have set up web sites almost in competition with the papers, so they want them to pay their own way.
“The relationship between this site and the newspaper is the opposite. The web site delivers tremendous benefits back to the paper and doesn’t rely on print reporting. If it never made a profit it would be fine. Our real goal is to do well in the market as a business unit.”
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