Citizen Journalism Part 2, Localized News – Buffalo Rising and PerthNorg

In
our introductory post on Citizen Journalism
(CJ), we reviewed Newsvine – an
innovative and well-designed citizen journalism web site. In this post we’ll review two
examples of ‘localized’ CJ: Buffalo Rising (Buffalo, New York) and PerthNorg (Perth, West
Australia). A note for our Canadian readers: NowPublic is coming in a future post 🙂

Buffalo Rising is a colorful CJ site run
by a company called Hyperlocal Media. Their
motto is “Local matters”, which tells you a lot about their focus. Buffalo Rising is
described as using “hyperlocal content produced by a team of contributors to market the
city to itself–to remind people why they live there.” They cover Buffalo, the second
largest city in New York – which has a population of 250,000. Buffalo Rising has 7,000
registered users, they get a little over 24,000 visits every weekday and serve 250,000+
pages/weekday. Since their redesign in February, Buffalo Rising has had around 10% month
over month growth.

How to build a good local CJ site

I asked co-founder and CEO George Johnson what it takes to make a good localized CJ
site. He replied that engaging the audience is important. Buffalo Rising uses things like
conversational video, podcasts, local headlines aggregated from other placeblogs,
community functionality around comments, and event aggregation. “The trick,” said George,
“is doing it in such a way that’s sensitive to the fact that many local users aren’t as
savvy as 2.0 audiences, who’ve become accustomed to this type of functionality.”

Branding is also crucial and it is one area where incumbent, offline media may have a
great advantage. George said that “it takes time, a remarkable amount of dedication and
significant resources to become a part of a community’s everyday lives.” He said that the
technology is only a part of it – “the other half is finding dedicated local contributors
with domain expertise (cultural, civic, dining, etc.) in whose hands to put the
technology.” Buffalo Rising has done this via partnerships or reaching out to people
using other channels.

Community

I asked George how many comments/votes the site typically gets. He replied that for
posts dealing with civic matters, city news, and things “particularly prominent in the
city zeitgeist”, they average 20-30 comments – with particularly controversial posts
breaking 150+.

As for the community’s favorite topics, George said that “as a city on the comeback,
our audience loves hearing about and discussing development” – for example city
developments
and more controversial topics like the Waterfront
development
.

The Future

One thing that differentiates Buffalo Rising in the CJ space is their design and
development chops. The site is beautifully designed and it uses video and other
multimedia to great effect. Also Buffalo Rising has a print product coming soon – which
will help them monetize their efforts (e.g. local advertisers buy packages consisting of
print as well as online inventory). In summary, George said that they “are committed to
depth of audience engagement and not just number of visits”.

I’ve been following Buffalo Rising from a distance ever since I discovered it at the
beginning of 2006. Overall it is a colorful, engaging site and the community seems to
enjoy it. An excellent example of a local CJ site.

PerthNorg

PerthNorg is a CJ site based in Perth, Australia.
If you’re wondering, ‘Norg’ is short for news organization. The site is focused on
“conversational news and collaboration” and it emphasizes co-operation and local news.
PerthNorg has close to 1000 registered contributers and co-founder/CEO Bronwen Clune told me
that the past two months have seen a good boost in traffic – up 30 per cent in
June. She said PerthNorg signs on “about three new citizen journalists a day” and that
their readers “far outweigh our contributors.” The company has plans to roll out their CJ
platform into other Australian cities and other niche markets.

Bronwen says her aim for PerthNorg is “that the community feels it’s theirs.”
Her approach has been to steer the site gently, but “leave it up to the community to
decide what news they want to put on the site.” Ideally she would like to see more
original content there, but she thinks that will “evolve from participation.”

Bronwen said that CJ is still a new idea to the majority of the population. But their
number one priority is to remove the barriers that stop people from posting – such
as lack of time, fear of the ‘professional nature’ of the site (something that has been
mentioned in feedback). The biggest problem PerthNorg has faced, Bronwen said, has been
“getting the word out about our site.” She said that most other web 2.0 businesses have a
technical focus and so their users can be found online. But with a CJ site, the users may
not be online a lot. PerthNorg hopes to address this by getting “a good viral campaign
going soon.”

Community

Top stories on PerthNorg get around 10-17 votes. Topics are broad, and range from
football (I presume Aussie Rules, a strange form of rugby that Australians seem to love),
building developments around Perth, and “anti mainstream media stories”. The type of
person who contributes to the site is fairly broad as well, but Bronwen said they tend to
be under 40, interested in current affairs, fairly well educated and slightly cynical.
But she emphasized that “they are really a diverse crowd.”

PerthNorg doesn’t have the design resources or user base of Buffalo Rising. Perhaps
because of the latter, it also doesn’t have as much original content. It actually reminds
me of Digg, but focused on reporting and commenting of local news. One thing I
particularly like about PerthNorg is the ranking system behind “Cit Js”. It ranges from
being a cadet on the site through to the senior level of “Cit J 8”. Senior Cit Js get
more voting power. To progress, a user’s stories need to be voted on, they have to
contribute a certain amount and they also have to leave a certain amount of comments.
It’s kind of like digg’s user system, although more explicit. On a CJ site, this kind of
system encourages people to be more involved.

Conclusion

Both Buffalo Rising and PerthNorg are encouraging examples of CJ in action. What other
localized CJ sites do you know of? And are you a member of any? If so, we’d love to hear
your views in the comments below.

Top image: inju

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