Newspaper community site philosophy

Steve Yelvington talks about Bluffton Today in an e-mail interview he’s posted, reminding me that there are reasons why community sites work and there are methods to manage and market them to the community:

“There’s a lot we can learn from Internet startups if we just recognize that geographic community is actually a special interest. A smart special-interest community-builder works to heighten participants’ sense of identity — of being part of something special. Traditional, local media can do that, too.”

That’s right. We’re talking about horizontal bonds here in a geographical sense. On the Web, no one knows if you’re in Portland, Oregon or Portland, Maine, but it doesn’t matter if people in both places really dig Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite.

So let’s take our neighborhoods and bring people together not based on a locator map that defines the boundaries, but based on the shortcuts and sunny side streets that only the locals know. There’s an obvious analogy there for the taking about talking to more regular folks and less official spokesmen. Steve puts it this way:

“We pick up some blogs and photos for the print product, but the real ‘secret sauce’ is that the community conversation helps the professional journalist connect with the real interests and passions of regular people, and not just the agendas of the institutions and newsmakers that pro journalists usually cover.”

Agenda vs. passion is the key contrast there. Ever notice that a story a reader called in to tip you off to gets more response (and page views) than a story that started with a press release from the mayor’s office?

Go read the whole thing. It’s a good place to start if you want to set goals for a community site with the community in mind, not just the numbers.