Newspapers Turn Readers Into Content Contributors

By C.G. Lynch
Fri, April 06, 2007

CIO — Newspapers are starving. Layoffs and cost-cutting measures have left them scrambling to generate content to fill their websites. To handle their advertisers’ thirst for page views, and to pump new life into their publications, newspapers have begun exploring the world of user-generated content, encouraging readers to post comments to stories as well as uploading video and sharing pictures they’ve taken at events the paper has covered. The current term of art for this is citizen journalism.

The Gannett-owned Cincinnati Enquirer has launched roughly 200 community microsites catering to specific areas of the city and surrounding towns. On the microsites, readers can post their own stories, comments, photos and calendar items. In addition, the paper’s reporters are using a tagging system to assign specific metadata to their stories on the paper’s content management system. This allows articles written for the Enquirer to appear automatically both in the paper and on the microsites.

“We say ‘tag it or bag it,’” says Jennifer Carroll, Gannett’s VP of new media. “We want to make sure the story is being populated in the right places.

“We’re calling it pro-am,” she says. “We’re welcoming content from readers and being mindful that they like to create and share.”

Other industries have begun tapping into user-generated content for marketing purposes. In the heavily publicized Diet Coke and Mentos Experiment, two men filmed what happens when Mentos mints are dropped into in a bottle of Diet Coke, and they posted it on YouTube. According to a report by Forrester Research, sales shot up 14.5 percent in part because of the stunt.

JetBlue allows customers to share their travel stories and pictures with fellow customers. EBay has set up a customer service wiki so people can help the company formulate best practices for serving them. “Not too long ago, dismissing user-generated content as a fad was easy,” says the Forrester report’s author, analyst Brian Haven. “Clearly the momentum behind this behavior is building.” –C.L.

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