The Dallas Morning News has a great plan. See, there are these things called “blogs,” and the point is to get ordinary readers to write posts for the paper’s website, and…
Wait, hold on. Haven’t newspapers already tried to attract audiences this way, with mostly mixed if not downright dismal results?
“That’s an excellent question,” said Michael Landauer, the Morning News’ digital communities manager. “We’ve looked at a lot of models, and certainly there are some that work really well. With our approach, we believe there has to be a journalist at the controls, and a professional level of curation and coaching and gatekeeping. We have to build a relationship with each blogger.”
The paper already has successful long-running blogs devoted to topics like faith and health. Thanks to a $250,000 Knight Foundation grant, these new blogs, dubbed the Insider’s Network, can now be found at dallasnews.com/insiders. The network focuses on topics like special needs parenting, lesbian and gay issues, and beer (because it’s Texas). Two other blogs highlight the suburbs of Richardson and Frisco. Bloggers are hand-picked by the Morning News, increasing the odds of meaningful posts, unlike the free-for-all that many newspaper blogs devolved into 10 years ago.
“I’ve learned you can’t force community writers into professional journalism beats,” Landauer said. “Their passions and our coverage areas don’t often align neatly. Also, it’s better to find good writers and then train them on topic selection. We have to talk a lot about topic selection up front because it also sets clear expectations, then get everyone on the same page about what readers will want to hear from the Insiders. From there, we’re partners, not just editors who accept and reject someone’s work.”
But can these blogs be successful? Revenue-wise, Landauer said that ads will run where they make sense, particularly with the craft beer blog. The goal is to hit 48,000 unique views each month on all five, but he adds, “If we can give 10,000 special needs parents a place to talk with each other, there’s value in that alone.”
Landauer hopes to expand the Insider’s Network by as many as 45 blogs.
“We’re trying to pick passion areas where people are honored to be a voice in those communities,” he said. “The common thread among them is to give a voice to the voiceless. We’re opening up discussions that wouldn’t be happening if we didn’t create these forums.”