NEW YORK (Reuters) - Web news search site Topix, owned by three top U.S. newspaper publishers on Monday will begin recruiting users to report local news that traditional outlets do not sufficiently cover in a bid for more readers.
Registered readers will be able to submit news to the site from their computers and mobile phones. The service is the latest attempt to engage “citizen journalists” and expand on local news offered by city and small town newspapers.
The site was created by Gannett Co. Inc., McClatchy Co. and Tribune Co., which have invested $64 million to date. It aims to give Internet users a centralized place to find local stories and make money from advertisers keen on targeting specific markets.
The new service homes in on as many as 32,500 U.S. postal zones. The number of sustainable news forums would be smaller, but Topix should provide a valid testing ground for such ventures, industry analysts said.
“They’ve created a container, or culture, where it’s possible to really see if it will work,” said Sterling Market Intelligence analyst Greg Sterling.
Topix co-founder and Chief Executive Rich Skrenta said the idea stemmed from his wife’s attempts to build support for a mayoral candidate in their hometown of San Carlos, California.
He set up a blog for the candidate’s supporters, but they found it difficult to use and constantly update.
Topix’s local news forums will automatically update with news, but human editors can take over and introduce fresh material if the reader contributions slow down, he said.
Skrenta hopes that this will raise page views and the time that people spend on Topix. It gets about 1.25 million page views per day, but he aims to boost Topix’s page views to “a couple billion a month,” rates boasted by popular local sites such as classified advertising forum Craigslist.org.
To get there, Topix also is shedding the “.net” suffix in its Web address and will relaunch the site as a “.com.”
“Some people thought we were spammers. Some people thought it was cold and technical,” Skrenta said.
Many Web sites, including mainstream newspapers, television stations, one-person sites and blogs, tout “citizen journalists” as contributors.
One drawback to such sites is the need to monitor user comments, particularly against hateful language, said JupiterResearch analyst Barry Parr, who also runs a local news site from San Mateo County, California.
Leading papers including The Washington Post and Orange County Register have recently seen attempts to draw more user contributions backfire after people posted abusive comments.
Topix itself is not immune, as this recent, misspelled post shows: “I am doing a time study just to see how long it is before I get knocked off by the Topix Commies! They sure as hell won’t let a complainer stick around who is a critic to there hidden agenda and not a commrad!”
Topix lets users flag potentially offensive comments, as many sites do. But analyst Sterling said the benefit of an open forum still outweighs the risk of such comments.
“It just comes with the territory, and you just have to police it,” he said.
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