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Niche Online Journalism in Georgia, Nothing New

A couple of weeks ago at BlogNashville, G. Patton “Pat” Hughes, the publisher of Paulding.com, sat down next me at dinner. I live in Cobb County, Georgia, and Paulding County is right next door. It is a little more rural, but also caught in the metro Atlanta population explosion.

As it happens, unbeknownst to me, Hughes has been running this community based, hyperlocal, citizen participation site long before the rest of us were even thinking of the citizen generated media. He says in his FAQ:

“Paulding.com, as it is a hybrid community message board and with aspirations toward news covering a specific geographic area — I.e. Paulding County Georgia — represents a new kind of interactive media site.”

Content comes from a variety of sources. In some cases we use student interns (and pay them poorly) for stories, both text and video, on local sports activities. As we can’t afford to cover all activities in the community this way, we do this in specific instances to encourage others in the schools and community to also contribute. Typically, we also employ them to create extraordinary content, such as video, as it helps highlight the community resource that is Paulding.com.

He told me that although Paulding’s population is growing rapidly, there is no big commercial tax base, so it would not be much of a profit center for big media. Thus he is trying to build his own niche–and striving to make a living doing it.

One Response to “Niche Online Journalism in Georgia, Nothing New”

  1. G. Patton Hughes Says:

    Leonard:

    It was great meeting you at BlogNashville. As I mentioned to you at the dinner, you were one of the folks that inspired me make that trip. Thanks for the recognition for Paulding.com’s pioneering effort. While I attempted a citizen involvement effort waaay back – the first real effort was in 2000 — I have to be honest, things didn’t really begin to rock locally until 2003.

    That was because the growth pattern of the Internet dictated that, in a somewhat counter-intuitive way, local is the last frontier.

    Said a little differently, early on in the days when eBay was new (1995), only ten percent of the nation was connected to the Internet. In places like Paulding, the percentage reach into the community was even lower.

    Then, even that small percent reach into the population equated to 40 million US Citizens online in 1996. That gave startups like eBay a viable national audience from which to draw. And, as an early user of eBay, I remember counting the number of registered users they had (fewer than 14,000 members) for a zine on online auctions I was doing at the time.

    Now the Internet reaches close to 80 percent of the homes in most metro areas (across the board) and the figure is more like 90 percent in homes with school age children.

    Paulding County, because of its proximity to Cobb and Douglas Counties, never effectively developed into a commercial center like Cartersville, Douglasville or even Rockmart or Cedartown. Even today, 75 percent of its residents commute to Cobb, Fulton and other metro counties for employment.

    The community has traditionally been served by weekly and monthly shoppers (including the Paulding Neighbor) as well as the exceedingly traditional Dallas New Era, which still resists using color on its pages. It did have a radio station (once known as WKRP to gain pity buys) but that station, while still licensed to Paulding, is run from Douglasville and basically runs paid religious programming.

    Now Paulding is growing and has for the past 15 years ranked among the fastest growing counties in the nation. That growth is seen by comparing its 1980 population of right at 26,000 residents to its 2003 population estimate of over 108,000.

    The most obvious implication of this demographically, is that most of these new residents are young (Paulding has the youngest average age of any metro Atlanta county) and with children (Paulding has the lowest per-capita income while having the 11th highest HH income in the state.)

    This means that Paulding is a heck of testbed for a ‘daily’ new media effort as I was able to avoid most of the substantial up front capital costs of launching and delivering a daily newspaper. The commercial sector frankly is not strong enough to meet those costs in todays market and, given the trend toward declining readership in the more youthful demographic categories, the likelihood of a daily print challenge to this pure play Internet effort are nil.

    There is, however, more than enough of a commercial sector to support the more modest costs of a website and the only gamble is whether the business community is progressive enough to make this new venture profitable.

    Right now I am confident that it will happen. We’re already a ‘critical’ success in that we’ve gained over 4500 registered users of which over 2300 have contributed one or more posts or comments. Nearly 300 have contributed 100 or more comments to the discussion and 500 have contributed 47 or more posts. We easily add over 6,000 new posts a week.

    Our daily unique users average about 3,500 per day and our monthly page count for April was over 1,250,000 distinct pages. We figure total reach in the community at between 10,000-15,000 unique users weekly (depending on what is the news).

    I might also add that paulding.com does gain direct support from its members, 93 percent of whom state in our survey, live in Paulding. Our paid members have contributed over $4,000 for the support of the site.

    I mention all this because I know those on Pjnet.org are interested in this type of effort and may, at the least, find this effort inspiring.

    If you were to ask what was the most unique thing Paulding.com does that most other similar sites don’t, it would be simply this. We promote our recent topics as the main way to participate/read the site. There are links at the top and bottom of most every page to the listing of topics which have been started or have had comments added in the past 24 hours.

    This approach translates what is a rather cumbersome and broad range of forums and topics into the closest thing I’ve observed of an on-going community conversation.

    Ranging from three or four pages on weekends to as many as eight pages (of 40 topic listing per page) during the week, the reader will see what is being talked about. It maybe a wreck involving an injury from our scanner forum, someone’s yard sale, or a school vent or even a request for prayers for a family member in Iraq. The point is if, as suggested in the Cluetrain Manifesto, all markets are conversations, this conversation is this market.

    G Patton “Pat” Hughes
    publisher@paulding.com

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