The occasional dance between stations and community bloggers has often been awkward. Stations looking for street cred can be wary of associating with a controversial viewpoint. Bloggers, while welcoming the exposure, often have disdain for mainstream media. But KING Seattle believes its has found the right rhythm by throwing its weight behind CitizenRain.com. The site aggregates blogs with a Seattle focus, and offers links to the latest, juiciest news items centered on the No. 14 DMA.
CitizenRain is the in-house project of Cory Bergman, KING's director of digital media. Bergman cites The Drudge Report and Huffington Post—sites featuring an ever-changing lineup of stories from an array of sources—as influences. “I thought, why not do that at a local level, and add blogs to the mix?” he says.
CitizenRain showcases the work of 240-plus Seattle bloggers. The site is divided into a dozen categories, and features a “cover story” and four news slots. Along with a few staffers, Bergman—who founded the new-media blog Lost Remote, which he runs with digital-news maven Steve Safran—scans Seattle's blogs, newspaper sites and other station sites to keep Rain fresh and flowing.
The plan is to reach out to people who might not visit a station Website, much less watch a TV newscast.
Bergman soft-launched Rain's blog component in May, then added the news aggregator a few weeks ago. KING, he says, will step up promotion for it, both on-air and at King5.com.
Rain's emergence comes as parent company Belo Corp. announced it was splitting in two, with newspapers in one group and its 20 TV stations in the other. This will give the stations the freedom to flourish without being hampered by an ailing newspaper segment. Belo Corp. Chairman/CEO Robert Decherd is bullish on TV's digital future. “We'll continue to develop products and seek out new advertisers,” he says.
Market leader KING is not the first station to tap bloggers for content (in fact, King5.com already features a number of blogs). Young Broadcasting's WKRN Nashville made waves when it launched blog aggregator Nashville Is Talking in 2005. Then-G.M. Mike Sechrist also hired Brittney Gilbert to become what was likely the lone fully professional TV station blogger in America. Sechrist left WKRN earlier this year, while Gilbert, citing hostile blog comments and a lack of management support, departed months later.
Elsewhere, Fox-owned WHBQ Memphis features the OnMemphis “virtual water cooler,” while several stations, such as WNBC New York and KTTV Los Angeles, offer links to community blogs.
Sechrist, now a station consultant, thinks the blog platforms are on to something. “A station's mission is to inform the community, and [reaching out to bloggers] is a step in that direction,” he says.
Some station-business insiders, however, express concerns with featuring outside blog content, and wonder about the logic of posting links to rival stations. One media veteran who declined to be named because of business interests in Seattle mentioned the possible credibility issues. “A dicey post could be trouble,” he says. “Not everything has to be safe and credible, but how do they police the content?”
While provocative material does end up on CitizenRain, Bergman cites its no porn/no racism policy. Also, the only KING reference is a tiny identifier on the bottom of the home page.
New-media-minded station executives believe such platforms successfully extend a station's reach. Bergman says KING has begun hyping CitizenRain, such as through a Blog of the Week feature in the 11 p.m. newscast. But, as happens in the blogosphere, he's happy to let it grow organically.
“Once we continue to grow traffic,” Bergman says, “revenue will follow.”
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