As a kind of status update on community-focused news sites, Shawn Smith on New Media Bytes has a good overview of US sites and blogs that are, as he puts it, encouraging readers to join discussion rather than just consuming the results.
He looked at reader comments, community interaction, writing style and formats and distribution trends from independent blogs, among other things. Overall, the strongest picked out by Smith (and by members of the Online News Association) examples had medium length posts, covered a clear niche, invited reader comments by posting questions and discussion points and had strong headlines.
To pick a few examples of good practice:
• The Spokesman-Review's Ask the Editors blog is an efficient way of dealing with reader questions, by focusing those Q&As in one point on the site.
• A good traffic driver if the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Talk of the Town, which highlights topical talking points and draws more input form its reader comments.
• Tampabay.com's Stuck in the 80s blog covers a clear, identifiable niche and has great style Formatting, like bolded sub-headings, are also strong.
• Smith seems surprised that Chicago Tribune's The Watcher TV blog attracts so many reader comments for its coverage of plot twists and actor news - but he clearly hasn't seen how many Organ Grinder gets on those live TV blogs. Really quite normal for TV addicts...
Consumers won't pay for digital distribution
On a not-unrelated note, Scott Karp on Publishing 2.0 makes a characteristically succinct point about the evolution of news businesses: "The problem for people who sell printed content is that the value of the distribution and the value of the content itself was always deeply intertwined -- now it's separable."
While people are willing to pay for certain pieces of content, they aren't willing to pay for the distribution of that content, he says, because they know the publisher pays very little for that distribution. Perhaps that explains the near-resentment that some web users have towards traditional companies and their online payment models.
This follows this story on US newspaper companies readying themselves for 2008 in the hope that online will start to see increased revenues and offset more of the decline in print.
Making sites popular is about more than Twitter and Facebook. Burgess Powers makes social: personal