The San Luis Obispo Newspaper hasn’t quite mastered its branding strategy.
The new site — yes, it’s really called “San Luis Obispo Newspaper” — is an online-only, blog-style site that boasts its greenness and dedication to county news. The name they chose leaves much to be desired, but they are doing some things right.
I stumbled upon the site from a friend on Twitter, and we subsequently found a Twitter account for a contributor to the site who only has the name of “d b west.”
The site, which I can only assume is new based on the number of posts, is the newest addition to local newsgathering. To call itself a “newspaper,” though, is extremely deceitful. The site is more of an aggregator of local news, mixed with editorialized commentary. But that’s not to say what they provide for the community can’t be useful.
A public WhoIs search shows that someone named Sarena Valilis registered the domain name SanLuisNewspaper.com in May 2009. Her name is not listed in the Cal Poly directory, but the woman does have a Twitter account, see it here. Her personal Web site, which uses the same theme as SLnews, has no information about who she is or what she does.
Regardless of who is running the site and why, it’s definitely starting to get some buzz. The counter on top of the site shows more than a million visitors have viewed the site.
What they’re doing right:
- Open source software. The “newspaper” is run on WordPress using the WordPress Advanced Newspaper theme. For those of you who are not web developers, it may not mean a lot, but using open-source software means that the site is basically free and that the owners have full control over the design– something most corporate-owned newspapers don’t easily get the luxury of.
- Multimedia. The site is doing video interviews (and linking to other YouTube videos) and posting photo galleries of local events and Google map mashups. A good diversity of content (and in multiple forms) makes the site more valuable.
- Shareability. With the viral nature of Web 2.0, it’s vital that every news site has a way of sharing stories across social networks is a must.
This is where the site can improve:
- Quality. If it’s going to brand itself as a newspaper, the site needs to bump up the quality of writing. I don’t see any real reporting going on, but rather vague, write-ups of issues and events. If they really want to be a competitor to local media, stepping up the reporting efforts is a must. The site is full of gramatical and spelling errors too (example: this article spells starlights as “starlgithts.” It’s also probably the most pointless post I’ve ever seen in my life).
- Branding. The latter wouldn’t be a problem if they branded themselves as a blog instead of a newspaper. Although quatlity is still a key in retaining readers on a blog, shorter, less-thorough posts are better accepted in the blogosphere. Also, for search engine rankings and hits, they keywords “San Luis Obispo Newspaper” will likely result in traffic to the Tribune website, which has a long-standing brand as being SLO’s newspaper. Choosing something more original and more appropriate toward what they’re actually doing would have been better.
- Transparency. Who are these people? The posts are given author names of “The Editor.” If people are going to trust a site –especially a local site that will need a strong-seeded community to be successul — then they need to attach faces to the brand. Are these students? Are they lifetime locals? Did they see a need for better local coverage? Is it just a class project? These are the questions readers are going to ask and expect to be answered before handing over their full trust.
It’ll be interesting to watch how the project develops. What do you think?