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119 chapter six How to Build Vibrant Community on Many Platforms What do readers of community newspapers want? They say they want “local news.” But what exactly does that mean in a digital era? Is “local” a geographic definition? Or does it refer to a set of “special interests and affiliations ” residents of a community share with each other? And how should newspapers respond? Should they go “hyperlocal” and provide information that readers can access on a microscopic level, such as a city block? Provide context and analysis to breaking news or policy issues that affect a region? Or focus on covering the special interests and passions of people in the community, such as high school sports or religion or family values? The journalistic decisions about how to build and nurture community that newspaper editors and publishers face are not without precedent. In responsetotheintroductionoftelevision ,themostsuccessfulmagazinesinthe latter half of the twentieth century turned away from a strategy of providing “general interest” news and information and instead pursued a “niche” strategy , focusing on serving “communities” with specialized interests—sports, entertainment, family, religion, or business, for example. But most community newspapers cannot simply mimic the magazine strategy and “go niche” without abandoning their historic mission of helping people in geographic proximity to one another understand how their actions affect others and how they can band together to influence public policy and improve the quality of life for all residents in the area. Therefore , in the thirteen years that he has been publisher of the Fayetteville Observer, Charles Broadwell says he has come to view “community as a three-layer cake.” First, “there’s the city of Fayetteville and the longtime residents who care about everything and everybody local. Next, there’s the [ten-county] Cape Fear region, which is tied to Fayetteville as an economic implementing a new strategy 120 hub—so we try to provide coverage of regional issues and trends. And then there is Fort Bragg. We try to create a sense of ‘home’ for the 50,000 soldiers and their families, and help them connect with the community, to each other, and to their mission.” The 200-year-old Observer—an early Web pioneer, establishing fayobserver .com in 1995—was also one of the first newspapers to establish a vibrant online community of readers built around a special interest and shared affiliation: Fort Bragg. From the early 2000s through 2009, this “community page”—called “Military Life” and aimed at the “military moms” left behind when their spouses were deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan—often attracted as many unique daily visitors as the home page. As the two wars have drawn down and “Facebook has come on big,” the Observer has “pulled back somewhat” on military moms and is now focused on creating a community experience—with a magazine and a website—for officers and their families, many of whom have transferred into the area since 2011 as two large commands previously based in Georgia have been consolidated at Fort Bragg. In creating communities, either those built around geography or special affinities and affiliations, “you have to go where you can add value,” says Broadwell, balancing the community’s “needs” with the limited resources many newsrooms face. Across the continent, in California’s wine country, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat has also taken a multilayered view of community. In the mid1990s , Bruce Kyse, who was then the executive editor of the Press Democrat, oversaw the rollout of the first newspaper website for wine consumers, WineToday .com. Since he became publisher of the Press Democrat in 2006 after a stint in “corporate” with the newspaper’s owners, the New York Times Company, Kyse has dealt with “business falling off the cliff” and juggled transitions among three different owners. (The New York Times Company sold the Press Democrat to the Halifax group in early 2012, which, in turn, sold it to a group of local investors less than a year later.) But even as he has cut staffing levels almost in half, Kyse has funneled limited newsroom resources toward creating a number of digital communities focused on readers’ special interests and passions. The paper has established eleven separate sites—in addition to—for readers who might have a special interest in areas such as business, entertainment , prep sports, professional football, parenting, very local neighborhood news, or civic affairs. Most of the sites can be accessed directly or off the home page of Content on sites such as...


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