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Newspaper site tries social networking

Marketplace Staff Apr 7, 2008


Renita Jablonski: Imagine this: Read a story on the Website of your local paper.
Post a comment, browse photos of strangers who share your opinion, check out their friends and perhaps meet up for a beer or some coffee. Come on, that future is here. Lenora Chu reports.

Lenora Chu: Before the Internet brought news to your computer screen, people got it other ways — reading the paper at breakfast; talking it over with colleagues; watching TV in the evening with family. USA Today executive editor Kinsey Wilson:

Kinsey Wilson: News at some level has always been kind of a social activity.

So, USAToday.com invited visitors to create a personal profile, upload a photo and post comments to any story they wished. Those who wanted could even write a blog.

Wilson: The gratifying thing to us was that we, from day one, immediately saw a level of engagement that we frankly didn’t know whether it would exist or not when we launched this.

Site visitors have posted more than two million comments on the story pages since the paper made that option available nine months ago. In the process, little communities have flourished. Wilson says in one Midwestern town, site visitors helped a woman recover a lost stash of cash via a blog.

Wilson: They were familiar enough to each other from their day-to-day interactions.

USA Today has also assigned a staffer to comb through user comments for story ideas. But only 10 percent of the roughly two million daily visitors are active on the site. The paper’s challenge is making sure that what they call “passive readers” keep coming back. It’s all part of the struggle to stay relevant in the congested media world.

Wilson: It becomes harder and harder for a site like ours or The New York Times or the BBC or any others to create a pure destination that people will go to with regularity.

Newspapers from coast-to-coast are following suit. They all want to create the Yelp.com for the literary set, says Jupiter Research analyst Barry Parr. And, of course, attract readers, web clicks and more ad revenue.

Barry Parr: The handwriting is on the wall. That software’s available, everybody’s excited about it and you’re going to see them introduce it.

But with Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and countless other networking sites…

Parr: That raises an interesting question. How many social networks do you want to be a member of and to what degree do you want to participate?

At a time when Facebook is encountering user fatigue, we’ll see.

In Los Angeles, I’m Lenora Chu, for Marketplace.

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