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Old Media Companies

The stakes hardly need to be stated for old media companies that have launched citizen ventures as facets of their online and print or broadcast ventures. Old media companies have their own definitions of success. Some are looking to citizen contributions to offset losses in editorial staff; others are trying to build community as a way of keeping interest alive in local coverage; others are primarily concerned about preserving or expanding market share among both consumers and advertisers. All are trying to establish interactive relationships with the people once referred to as readers or audiences, and to find formulas for online advertising profitability.

“Success for us was replacing a product that was losing money and had no value to our readers or advertisers (a weekly, total-market driveway-drop) with something that had value and was going to make a profit (a weekly with content drawn from the paper’s citizen site),” said Don Alexander, general manager, The Daily Times of Maryville, Tennessee, which publishes Blount County Voice.

“There’s a skepticism in the business community - that you really can submit your press release and we’re not going to make you buy an ad,” acknowledged Laura Sellers, online director, East Oregonian Publishing Co., which owns The Daily Astorian‘s

Northwest Voice‘s Mary Lou Fulton says citizens, too, are skeptical when the local newspaper approaches them and now wants the anniversary announcements and the block parties and other items that have long been rejected as not newsworthy. “Our policy is to say ‘yes’ to everything provided that it’s local and relevant to the community. You have to do that for a while before people believe you,” she said.

“Everyone in the world of journalism, we’re just starting to learn what [citizen media] is ... But the public - they don’t care. They’re not debating this, they’re not thinking about this. If you don’t tell them about it they’ll never know about it unless you hit them over the head,” said Your Hub editor Travis Henry.

Bluffton Today architect Steve Yelvington, however, cautions old media companies not to enter the citizen journalism arena just for business reasons. “The most important thing is to keep your eye on the ball - the community process and building a strong community. If you do this for the wrong reasons (to build site traffic or raise circulation), you’ll have the wrong impact ... If [people] spend all their time watching TV, if they don’t talk to their neighbors, if they don’t really live there, they don’t care about the things that are likely to be in the newspaper, and they’re never going to read it.

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