The Chamberlain/Oacoma Sun shows us that moving online may be less about putting the same content into electronic form and more about creating a new kind of content and conversation. The Sun has its standard online version. However, as rural community booster Mike Knutson approvingly notes, the small-town paper has also established a presence on Facebook. Knutson points out a number of cool things the Sun does with Facebook that add value beyond just copying what the dead-tree edition does:
They highlight community events on their wall: Stuff like, “Parents night for Boy’s BB is tonight” and “the wrestler send-off for the state tournament is going to start at….” That’s important because some of these events may not get as much notice in print materials because they are somewhat spontaneous. [This is also a channel for breaking news that even a daily print edition can't keep up with.] They use the notes feature to highlight some of the stories they are working on for the paper: Actually, I haven’t read the paper version of the Chamberlain Sun, so I’m assuming that stories like “Gymnasts take 6th at State” also make the print edition. I think that’s a good bet, especially since the story also appears on the newspaper’s website.... They recognize local stories that appear in other online sites: One example here is that they linked to my post about the Original Kimball Popcorn Ball. This is easy to do, and I think it has a huge upside. After all, I’d be much more likely to buy an advertisement if the newspaper promoted my business when there was nothing in it for them. Nice. [And online links drive more traffic more quickly than can a print mention.] They become fans of local businesses: By becoming fans of other local businesses I can see who’s all on Facebook. This might be very valuable for tourists who are travelling to and through the region [Mike Knutson, "Chamberlain Sun's Figured out Facebook," Reimagine Rural, 2010.02.27].
The Sun appears to be learning that the Web isn't just a place to do the same old journalism with electrons instead of ink. The same old journalism—news stories, editorials, local ads—is valuable, but the Web allows us to do more. Hyperlinks build synergy with other media outlets and businesses. If the Madison Daily Leader linked to stories on KJAM and the Madville Times as eagerly as I link to them, we'd provide even better, broader multivocal information and civic conversation and boost each other's readership even more. Providing online services like forums and breaking news would deliver value to readers who will never pick up a print copy but who will return to that juiced-up website regularly for updates on their hometown. Those new readers will also become participants, adding comments that become vital and appealing content to draw more readers.
And all those new readers who never touch paper become a new market for ambitious advertisers and community developers who want to tap those dollars and ideas to boost Madison's economy.
An active and open Web presence where the audience can participate is vital for the modern media. It's not free—you still have to pay your people to push the buttons and generate content. But it's easy, and it's important. KJAM has figured that out—check out their marketing and community-building activities on Facebook. Madison Daily Leader, when will you really discover the Web?