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Philly Locals Take On New Digital Challengers

Though traditional media sites rule the online roost in the city that was the cradle of democracy in this country, community-driven sites are proliferating, serving a market hungry for local news and sports. Philadelphia boasts some 260 blogs and hyperlocal news sites and possibly more on the way.
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With Philadelphia’s major dailies on their fourth owner in five years (not counting a stint under bankruptcy court control), and a publisher brought in from a mobile news start-up, it should come as no surprise that this town is reaching hard for digital answers.

Greg Osberg took over at The Philadelphia Inquirer and its sister, the Daily News tabloid, in October. He said he has “aggressive plans” to grow traffic on the papers’ Web site, Philly.com.

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One of his first acts as publisher after the Philadelphia Media Network purchased the papers was to replace the Inquirer’s editor, William K. Marimow, with one Osberg felt was more attuned to the Web site.

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Osberg has shifted staffers from print to the site, and moved the Web’s operations into Inquirer headquarters from its separate office in the business district.

He plans to launch the papers’ first iPad app in a couple weeks, one developed in-house and focusing on Phillies baseball.

Both papers rolled out subscription e-editions Feb. 1 -- and plan to add and charge for other “premium experiences,” Osberg said without elaborating.

Philly.com added 10 employees to ramp up its deal-of-the-day feature, Dealyo, Osberg said. The goal, he said, is for Dealyo to pump out 20% of the site’s total revenue by the end of this year. Dealyo is able to target deals to users in four different regional zones, he said.

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As for the Web site itself, Osberg said he plans to transform it into a showcase not just for news from the company’s two papers, but also for content from other local sites.

“The vision for Philly.com is that it will become the largest and most comprehensive portal site in the three-state region of Philadelphia -- eastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey and Delaware,” Osberg said.

Philly.com is already the most visited site in the Philadelphia market, according to The Media Audit, a firm that measures the percentage of adults clicking on various Web sites during a given month. The newspaper site attracted 28.5% of area adults during a month last summer, the Audit said.

The papers’ site gets about 7 million unique monthly visitors, with 70 million to 75 million page views, Osberg said. Those numbers are up 15% to 18% from a year ago, he said.

The site for the city’s dominant local television station, 6ABC.com, drew the second largest share of adults, with 27.2% visiting, according to The Media Audit.   

The Philadelphia market garnered $2.9 billion in local advertising in 2010, according to Borrell estimates. Almost $394 million of that total came in the form of online ads, Borrell said. Local online is expected to grow about 81%, to $712 million, by 2015, according to media research firm Borrell Associates Inc. Total local ad spending will then be almost $3.8 billion, Borrell said.

Dreams of a collaborative, community-forum style Web site are not unique to Osberg and the newspapers.

The Philadelphia media market, fifth largest in terms of local online ad spending according to Borrell, is a bubbling stew of community sites.

Much as in Boston, folks in this city’s blue collar neighborhoods follow local goings-on and their hometown sports teams with gusto, said Borrell’s CEO, Gordon Borrell -- and that creates a ready audience for hyperlocal news sites and blogs.

AOL’s hyperlocal Patch sites have entered this market. And the region is sprinkled with suburban dailies and weeklies.

In addition, journalists set free as the city’s newspapers spiraled into bankruptcy have founded independent Web sites, said Chris Satullo, executive director of news and civic dialogue at a site launched in November by WHYY, the local public radio and TV station. And journalism programs at Temple and LaSalle Universities turn out a steady stream of tech-savvy grads eager to add to the mix, he said, pointing to TechnicallyPhilly.com, a Web site founded by three recent Temple grads as an example.

A study released last spring by J-Lab, an institute at American University that conducts research and administers programs on digital media, found 260 blogs and hyperlocal or niche Web sites here.

J-Lab called for the creation of an independent site that could pull together some of the best reporting from these sites, then supplement it with original reporting on key subjects like city government, the local economy and politics. This, the institute’s executive director, Jan Schaffer, said, could help make up for cutbacks in local news coverage at Philadelphia’s papers and TV stations.

The William Penn Foundation has since awarded a $2.4 million grant to Temple University’s School of Communications and Theater to create a regional public interest journalism collaborative.

Whether the grant will result in the birth of yet another Philadelphia Web site is unclear. Satullo, for one, suggested using WHYY’s new non-profit site, NewsWorks.org, rather than creating a site from scratch. “My mission is to have NewsWorks be so good and so respected that they realize building another Web site would be superfluous.”

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Comments (2) -

Robert Harmon posted over 6 years ago
The Inquirer has great potential to be highly profitable and under its current owners and managers it always will have. The Inquirer is probably already there in terms of plummeting value since the bankruptcy. Usually fad-chasers go bankrupt or are seriously reorganized after their value plummets sufficiently.
PhillyPhlash Nickname posted over 6 years ago
The real action is on alternative news and information sites on the web, where journalists such as this former Philly newspaper and TV reporter report the stories that mainstream media cannot or will not report. Which stories? Click on over: http://NowPublic.com/scrivener

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