Today begins journey through a topic of interest for me I think will prove extremely valuable to you as well. In September, I will lead a session at Blog World & New Media Expo on the topic of traditional media and how they can use social media to combat disappearing audiences, staff cutbacks and plummeting profits. My friends at the Social Media Club Louisville August gathering will get a sneak peek at the presentation one week from today as well.

[flickr style="float: left"]photo:81680010[/flickr]As I prepare, however, I will be documenting case studies, interviewing media members and conducting research that we should all find valuable. This series, “The Media & Social Media,” will not only illustrate how traditional media outlets are using social media strategies and tools to maintain relevance in the marketplace, but also provide you the opportunity to see strategies and tools in action that may have some relevance to your organizations or clients.

And what kind of social media blogger would I be without some crowdsourcing? If you know of other examples, case studies or have suggestions for the series, please jump in the comments and let me know.

The Cincinnati Enquirer

I’ve blogged before about the Gannett organization’s company-wide website overhauls, but did so by pointing out flaws in the strategy and execution of adding social media tools to the Louisville Courier-Journal’s new site. Many may think since the Cincinnati Enquirer is also a Gannett property their execution would be similar. However, much of the inspiration for Gannett’s switch to community tool provision stems from the innovative approach undertaken over the last several years by the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Since as early as 2006, visitors to Enquirer.com could utilize the paper’s “Get Published” tool which allowed readers to upload their own stories, photos and more and choose which community pages the content belonged on. According to staff member Mandy Jenkins, who I met a few months ago at Social Media Breakfast Cincinnati, the tool became the Enquirer’s, “engine for super-local content. It allowed us to push information from press releases and similar sources much faster.”

In the beginning, what the newsroom saw from it’s citizen journalists was opinion-based, column-type material. But with strategic planning and intentional outreach to the community, the Enquirer began to see a groundswell. The newspaper sent a reporter to talk with community councils, special interest groups, schools, churches and more. The purpose was to teach members of the community how and – more importantly – what they could submit as content to Enquirer.com.

From storm photos to community event reports, the content slowly started to build. Nothing goes live on the site without appropriate newsroom review and anything submitted is accompanied by the byline, “User Submitted,” but take a quick browse of some community pages there and you’ll see story after story after story from Cincinnati’s citizen journalists. Sometimes, the content is strong enough to be elevated to the site’s general news pages.

The best content even gets printed in the Your Hometown Enquirer community and neighborhood insert sections that go out each week.

“The people just love it,” Jenkins said. “They can put pictures of their kid’s youth sports events. A lot of it really does get printed. The people in the community have been doing it a while and have gotten good at it.”

Jenkins credited Enquirer V.P. James Jackson with leading the innovation there. That innovation has evolved to a point where the main paper, the outlying community non-daily papers the company owns and the user-generated content is all brought together in one, seamless community news and event resource.

“It gets a lot more stories out there than we would ever be able to do on our own,” Jenkins said. “It’s very local, community-level stuff we would probably not know about otherwise.”

The community approach has helped the Enquirer not only strengthen and grow its connection with the community, but the effort ladders up to its overall mission to cover news and events in the Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky area. By utilizing self-publishing tools and asking and empowering its readers to contribute to the news gathering process, the publication is bucking the trend of downward spiral.

According to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, for the six months ending March 31, 2008, the Enquirer’s weekday circulation is up 2.9 percent. The national average for the same time period was a 3.6 percent decline.

Jenkins says the outlet is in the planning stages of a new outreach effort to bring more people into the fold of using the tools. Adding sharing elements and educating the users on social networking and bookmarking elements are in the offing, as are group tools that will allow users to connect with one another more readily.

And get this – reporters and editors at the paper are part of the activation plan to grow the community efforts. Part of their charge will be spearheading community and staff collaborative blogs on particular topics. A beta test centered around transportation is already underway and the users are providing as much, if not more, content than the paid staff.

The paper recently launched a collaborative blog chronicling the Summer Olympics. Reporters Dustin Dow and Jeff Swinger provide updates, but the Enquirer also found Peter Wade, a Cincinnati-area man attending the games as a fan, who blogs from that perspective as well. The blog provides perhaps the first 360-degree view of the Olympic experience, all from one source.

As you can tell, it’s easy to get excited about what the Enquirer is doing. They aren’t just churning out social media tools and claiming to be on the cutting edge. They’re engaging and empowering their readers, embracing citizen journalism and, as a result, they are accomplishing something most traditional media outlets are losing: Relevance with their audience.

For more, explore the Enquirer at Cincinnati.com.

IMAGE:Newspaper and tea” by Matt Callow on Flickr.

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is the founder and chief instigator for Social Media Explorer's blog and signature Explore events. He is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for CafePress, one of the world's largest online retailers. His opinions are his, not necessarily theirs. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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