The truth about online community building at newspapers

Let’s get something out of the way here.

From an idealistic, do-gooder, journalistic point-of-view, building a community around/at/affiliated with your newspaper’s Web site is all about giving people a place to talk to each other, find like-minded individuals, debate, discuss, share, and participate in local and far-flung news.

That’s great. In fact, it’s so great that I believe in it and talk about and think every newspaper should be doing what they can to create online communities where local readers can gather in a public forum.

But that’s not how you sell the idea in the conference room.

You sell it like this:

Community = page views.

Advertisers still love page views. Call them views, impressions, or measure them as visits instead, but newspapers sell advertising based on how many readers/users check out the site every day. That’s how our advertisers know how many eyeballs are on their ads. Yes, there’s been lots of back and forth about the Death of Page Views, and the unimportance of eyeballs, but in the news business, I’m pretty sure this is still the metric in question. Stop me if I’m wrong.

At the same time, a newspaper needs to develop more than just page views in order to keep readers coming back for more.

It needs to develop its brand.

If your readers/users/participators are going to plant their little blog/wiki/forum flags on your URL, you’re going to need a Brand they trust.

On the other side of the ink waterfall, developing a community online gives your former audience a stronger allegiance to your print edition.

There’s a lot more to this.

Ross Mayfield covers some of the bases, including the sort of off-the-newspaper-site branded functionality you can give your users to draw them in for more than just headlines.

Mindy McAdams wonders whether urban sprawl makes communities based on something other than geography a bit more viable.

How is your newspaper learning to offer more than just the news in order to draw the local community into your online community?