Dallas launches stealth community sites
You haven't heard about it in the journalism trade press. You didn't see images on the design blogs. They haven't debated it on the business 2.0 sites. Maybe it's because we didn't invest in whizbang technology, dismantle our newsroom or hire Rob Curley. But the Dallas Morning News has launched a serious effort to cover news in 15 neighborhoods and towns in our region, using seasoned reporters, community home pages, aggregation tools, staff blogs and citizen input.
We first rolled this out online, with an upgrade to our communities channels in January. We have a number of digital assets in several content management systems that don't talk to each other (neighborsgo, a user-generated site like Your Hub; HighSchoolGameTime.com, about high school sports; our blogs; GuideLive.com, our things-to-do listings; a business directory; classifieds; dallasnews.com, etc.) and no money to tie them together. So we used design to link articles, databases of information and user content the best way we could.
The business rationale here was to provide residents a one-stop portal to community news and information and give real estate advertisers a way to reach this tightly-targeted audience. The ad sales staff also has a way to sell a lead-generation tool for agents. So you'll see on some of our new communities pages, such as Frisco, there is a prominent way in which someone can ask for more information about the community, which connects them to an agent. (We make it clear that 'an agent will contact' anyone who asks a question with that device.)
Now we're in phase 2, where we're launching the on-the-ground journalism. Our newsroom has reassigned two dozen experienced reporters and editors to cover schools and/or towns in 15 of these communities. But they're doing so not just via the tried-and-true methods journalists have honed over decades. They're using beat blogging techniques first tested by our schools team on the Dallas Independent Schools District blog over the last year.
Here's our Plano blog, for instance. Obviously we're seeking to tap into the community in a deeper way. We're not only using our skills as reporters and editors who can filter what's news. We also want to engage citizens in conversation so they can contribute thoughts, tips, opinion, insight and at some point even blog for us. We know many have done this before, so we're trying to build on what's worked already. As I mentioned in a previous post, we think aggressive offline community outreach -- in cafes or town halls -- must accompany online community building to make this a success.
We're not just stopping with our metro staff. Our editorial page has a cadre of several hundred citizens who contribute commentary. Neighborsgo editors, who shape the citizen-generated content coming to that site for print publication, are contributing as well. Understand that we view what neighborsgo does as complementary to this effort. Neighborsgo allows users to upload whatever they want and organize it in any fashion they desire. Our communities pages incorporate some of what people contribute but overlay a filter of editorial insight and reporting expertise that adds relevance and value for our audience.
As part of that, we figured out how to intelligently and efficiently aggregate relevant news from our region for each community. The key here is we're not doing it like some of the robo-aggregators such as www.nbcdfw.com or Topix, which have junk or off-topic and out-of-neighborhood news links. We've got a combination of editor-picked selections and carefully chosen RSS feeds, plus our dallasnews.com stories which we marry into a single feed. And the entire solution is free. We're using Publish2 as a tool with which reporters and editors can click and link to headlines and Yahoo! Pipes to marry all the diverse feeds together.
So it's a work in progress, but we hope it will serve as a model for local coverage that efficiently delivers relevant news and expert information in print and online plus a sense of community and connection.