Exclusive: Bangor daily paper preps its entry into citizen’s journalism landscape

Following several recent efforts to create a more interactive website, the Bangor Daily News is on the verge of launching a new user-generated content section, jasonclarke.org has learned.

“We are launching a brand new community publishing platform”, Online Services Manager Tim Archambault said in an email interview. He gives the timetable for the launch as “the next couple of days.”

The new community section will replace the News’ soon-to-be-former community.bangornews.com, a collection of staff-written blogs presented as a separate website and promoted sparingly on the bangordailynews.com homepage. Archambault describes traffic for the outgoing community site as “not overly strong.”

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Rock Blogster, one of the current Bangor Daily News blogs

Though he won’t disclose specific plans for the new section, Archambault says that it will “hopefully [include] any and all content the public deems important.” Given this description, the News’ new “community” platform is likely to expand upon the current crop of staff-written blogs to invite contributions of text, photos, and potentially video from people in the News service area, which stretches from north of Bangor to the coastal regions and into central Maine towns like Newport.

The revamped section will be the third incarnation of blogs in some format for the paper since September 2005, when it launched blogs on Hurricane Katrina and energy issues. In its most recent incarnation, the community.bangornews.com domain features corporate-produced blogs on Maine politics, personal advice, area music, and the Red Sox spring training season, “all of [which]” will be carried over into the new community website, according to Archambault.

“This platform is all about
community involvement.”

-Tim Archambault, Bangor Daily News

If it opts to expand its interactive components beyonds blogs to accept user-generated content, the News will follow a trend many national newspapers are pursuing in the wake of falling advertising revenues and subscription counts. But it faces stiff competition from two other Maine papers that already have a head-start publishing a variety of content submitted by readers. Both the coastal region Village Soup website and Blethen Maine Newspapers’ My.MaineToday.com feature a variety of user-generated content ranging from comments on articles to local events listings to photographs of local happenings. Up-ending the traditional “top-down” model, content in the My.MaineToday.com site, for example, is not written by reporters or newspaper staff but rather uploaded and managed by website visitors.

Inviting local citizens to help create the content of a local or regional news site is a bold strategic move for media outlets struggling to grow readership, but it can also be a risky proposition. One of the emerging “citizen’s journalism” movement’s early leaders, Backfence.com, opened to great fanfare in 2006 only to struggle mightily throughout its early existence. Earlier this year, the Washington Post reported that one of the company’s founders had left amid struggles with investors over how best to expand the organization, which had struggled to attract contributions from people even in heavily-populated suburban areas such as Reston, Virginia.

That said, the Bangor Daily News is not dealing with the exact same challenges as Backfence.com. While the News readership is comprised of less population than the suburban areas targeted by Backfence.com, it covers a wider geographic footprint and competes amidst a less-crowded media marketplace. However, the News still faces other challenges inherent in launching any user-generated news venture, such as “will people care?” and perhaps more importantly, “will they even visit?”

To meet these challenges, Archambault says the BDN will “absolutely” give the new community section more visibility on the bangordailynews.com website. He also hints the News will “hopefully” cross-promote the people’s contributions by re-purposing online content for the printed paper. If that’s the case, Maine could be the home to a third major community-driven news venture as early as this summer.