At GateHouse Media, for a few years now, we have been pushing the importance of reader engagement.
At a very basic level, that means asking readers to send you content through targeted callouts, like submission requests for back-to-school photos. It's goes deeper than just photos though, as our programs have included recommendations around social media interaction and building print and online destinations for this content.
We have gotten a fair amount of ink in the industry around our efforts, including being asked last year to run a webinar for more than 100 journalists on our user-generated content platform for the Local Media Association. After that webinar, I was personally contacted by more than a half dozen metro-to-mid sized papers, seeking direction on how they could move forward with something similar. I don't bring that up to brag, but to show that folks in our industry are really starting to get that this is important.
Last week, I was visiting our newsroom in Canton, Ohio, and got to see what they have been doing on this front. From a corporate perspective, your hopes and dreams are that newspapers understand and effectively implement the basics of your organization's strategies. But what you really hope for is for folks to take the base of what you're attempting to drive and make it their own and really take it to the next level.
That's exactly what's happened in Canton. Melissa Griffy Seeton (email@example.com) was named the paper's Community Interaction Editor a year or so ago and just did a fantastic job making the paper's Your Life section about so much more than just a few reader photos. The section, under her guidance, really turned into something that readers would head to, in an effort to see if their neighbors, friends and colleagues, made the paper. The Your Life section really has become a space for sharing comments, photos and commentary on important life moments.
Melissa has effectively integrated repurposing of social media content onto the pages of this section, including this great example of what folks at the hashtag #HOF said during the Hall of Fame inductions this year.
In full transparency, Melissa is now serving as the interim editor in New Philadelphia, Ohio, a sister newspaper of Canton. So she isn't running the section any longer, but the paper is evaluating how to carry out the mission of the section and the great foundation that Melissa created.
I think it's really important to point out that user-generated content, is so much more than check-passing photos and a nice photo gallery online. The content should and clearly can have a major place in the pages of our newspapers. Canton is one of the largest newspapers in the GateHouse chain and it's so great to see such space dedicated to this kind of content. Melissa told me when we visited last week that it took her time to build up the submissions of content for the page but now that it's developed, an active audience is connected to the page.
Reader content is crucial to our future. The number of voices and faces that would not appear in our newspapers and websites without this outreach is stunning. It's worth the time and investment to make it work. It's not fluff content. It matters to readers today and opens up so many possibilities in terms of new voices and streams of content that we never considered before. It's real content and deserves the space and treatment as such.
David Arkin is Vice President of Content & Audience for GateHouse Media. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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