The community newspaper is not dead. In fact it is experiencing a rebirth with a distinctly fresher face. It is the pathway to reaching the hearts and minds of distinct niche communities. Could a partnership between a community news outlet, local bloggers, and corporate sponsors be the future of both journalism and marketing?
Recently, our own Andrew Davis had a phone interview with Matt DeRienzo, publisher of the Register Citizen family of newspapers and site in Torrington, Connecticut.
A whole new look
The Register Citizen is doing a lot of innovative things to update their business model – using online tools to break down barriers. They have a cafe, blogger stations, and a classroom all within the same four walls as their newsroom. The even hired a community engagement editor and see the value and role of the trusted editor expanding in the coming years.
DeRienzo is riding the wave of change, “from a scarcity of information providers to a high supply and high demand of information providers.”
He is especially enthusiastic about bloggers, seeing their unique influence as essential to building a community brand:
“Community support is like a viral marketing campaign of the best kind … You don’t have to be on our web platform or play by our rules. We’ll help you, we’ll link to you, [in the near future] we’ll even sell advertising on your site – help you make money from this.”
Getting In Touch
He introduced us to one blogger in particular, Mike Valletta of In Touch … with the Litchfield Hills. According to his avatar mouse-over, Mike is a “small town kind of guy who is passionate about the hills he lives in.”
Valetta is a great and natural partner for the Register Citizen brand. But currently, the interactivity is at a bare minimum. Mike promotes the Register Citizen and the community activities, and they link out to him on their blog roll.
DeRienzo is hip to selling as space on the sites of partner bloggers and to promoting the creativity of the community; so what if he forged deeper partnership with Valetta and others. What would that brandscape look like?
Hyperlocal news goes better with some perspective and even attitude. Who doesn’t love reading a local Police Beat report with some sly delivery? So perhaps news outlets could actually feature stories from blogging partners.
For instance, a Register Citizen reporter writes a straightforward beat story about the Borders Books filing for bankruptcy while noting the local impact of stores closing. Mike Valetta loves going to the bookstore, and he writes a very heartfelt piece about what may have caused this and how to bring a bookstore back to town.
The spin makes it more interesting. So the Register Citizen could easily post it, or better yet, ask Mike to write a longer piece for their print edition that he can than publicize to his audience.
One step beyond
But there is one important missing piece in this potential brandscape – underwriters. For a corporate sponsor to even be interested in participating at the hyperlocal level, they’d need to be interested in either awareness or sales to that community.
In this case, I could totally see Mike’s employer, Walmart, stepping in to underwrite his content creation. It would be a perfect example of showing support for the community. Plus they would have a vested interest in his success. Of course, with underwriters and journalism, you need to preserve the journalistic integrity. But there are ways to handle that.
Walmart could sponsor Mike’s content in the Register Citizen and increase their ad presence in it and on the associated sites. They could also pay Mike to write his content and promote it to the community. They could also lend a new distribution or promotional channel for the paper, by tying the articles into their own on and offline promotional activities.
Mike becomes a branded journalist for the community newspaper, but also a branded ambassador for his employer. But this wouldn’t preclude Mike or other bloggers from getting underwitten by other sponsors, even the local Volvo dealer or vineyard. They would just need to tie the content format into the values of each.
How would you measure success?
Success in this type of brandscape would have to be measured by who well the partners grow towards their goals. The Register Citizen would see increased awareness and readership, helping drive more ad revenue and similar partnerships. Mike would also see increased readership and make more (and potentially serious) money doing what he loves. Walmart has better reach towards a higher quality audience that builds their brand in the community and drives sales.