Carnival of Journalism: Increasing the Number of News Sources

I lead product development for Macer Media LLC, whose primary property is the news site,The Sacramento Press. It is in this capacity that I will address the February Carnival of Journalism topic:

Considering your unique circumstances what steps can be taken to increase the number of news sources?

I design new tools and features for the custom Content Management System (CMS) that runs sacramentopress.com.

We operate in large part by getting the community to contribute news, information, comments, photographs, tags, ratings and moderation to our site. We have gained a lot of qualitative insight as to why they do it. Now I want to develop more quantitative and analytical methods to expand our knowledge about why people contribute. In furthering our knowledge of this crucial question I believe we will be able to develop new tools and features to get a vastly more and varied contribution.

We have done many things to attract more contribution, from the digital to the tangible. We host free workshops open to the community to teach them more about our site, journalism and many related topics. We started a badge system to recognize individuals in our community for their hard work. And most importantly we hired a community manager to continue to build and grow relationships with the community, and to add new voices into the mix.

Despite the aim of these actions being in whole or in part to increase the level of community contribution on our site, we have taken few steps to measure the results of our actions in depth.

On top of all that, we are in a unique position to really advance the whole industry’s knowledge in this space, because we are a relatively large, funded, for profit news site that has the tech resources to research and develop new tools. My background in particular (web developer/programmer) puts me in a position to dramatically experiment with how we modify our website to achieve the goal of getting more community voices on our site.

This next cycle of development will be spent adding tools to our CMS that give each department insight into what drives site contribution. Beyond that information I have also spent the last week examining the contribution habits of our users when it comes to writing articles.

In many circles the concept of the 1-9-90 rule for user contributed content is accepted as near gospel. The basic principle is that 1% of your overall site viewers heavily contribute content to the site, 9% are light contributors and remaining 90% are what are known as “lurkers” or those that simply consume the content without interacting with it.

In our case we don’t even have the tools to measure this rule in an easy fashion, nor have we even defined what constitutes contribution. By merely flagging something, have I as a reader contributed to the site? Is tagging a contribution?

If we simply look at the number of people who write articles on our site (excluding staff and interns) we see that those unique people make up a tiny fraction of the unique people that view our website. In January of this year 0.14% of visitors to the site wrote an article, significantly less than 1%. Since January of 2010 we have seen that number head in a downward trend as you can see on the graph below.

Percentage_writers

 

However during that time we have also seen site traffic increase substantially (see below graph), more than doubling during that period, yet the unique contribution rate did not halve.

Unique_visitors

Looking at these numbers is inspiring, but making something of them will require a lot more work. I aim to do that work and use what I have learned to build a system that attracts more new and unique users to our site. The more perspectives we have the better informed the community will be.

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