John Lonsdorf (left), Michael Shapiro, Debbie Galant, Warren Webster and Jerry DeMarco. Credits: Christy Kass
Michael Shapiro, Debbie Galant and Warren Webster Credits: Christy Kass
Debbie Galant Credits: Christy Kass
Warren Webster Credits: Christy Kass
John Lonsdorf and Michael Shapiro Credits: Christy Kass
The Alternative Press, AOL's Patch, Baristanet and Cliffview Pilot Discuss Online Journalism at NJ Ad Club Forum
Friday, March 30, 2012 • 11:02am
MORRISTOWN, NJ – A panel of online journalists faced questions from advertising and public relations executives Wednesday night at a New Jersey Advertising Club Smartalk presentation.
The panel included Michael Shapiro, CEO and publisher of TheAlternativePress.com; Debbie Galant of Baristanet; Warren Webster, president of Patch.com; and Jerry DeMarco of CliffViewPilot.com.
The session was moderated by John Lonsdorf, president of R&J Public Relations, who said the purpose of the panel is to “crack the code” on hyperlocal marketing.
Among the other topics of conversation during the meeting were the definition of “hyperlocal,” how the publications use “citizen journalism” and why some publications allow comments about news stories and others don’t.
While the panelists agreed that “hyperlocal” really just means a focus on local news, rather than state or national, Webster said he doesn’t like the word because it has become just another buzzword. Galant said she sees it as another term for what used to be called community journalism.
The topic of comments elicited various reactions from those on the panel. The Alternative Press is the only one of the publications that doesn’t allow readers to comment on stories, anonymously or otherwise.
Galant said Baristanet does take comments, and she considers it a “conversation” with the site’s readers. Webster and Galant both said sometimes news stories can result from readers’ comments.
DeMarco said he has a strict “play nice” rule – if comments get unruly, he takes them down and emails the poster to let them know the comment wasn’t acceptable.
Shapiro said in his opinion, eventually all newspapers will be in all-online and will be held to the same legal standards for their content as print newspapers. He added that comments on news stories often become nothing more than arguments between the commenters, which can cause divisiveness in the town.
The panelists also discussed and answered questions about clicks, impressions and the cost of online advertising.
One meeting attendee asked Shapiro and Webster what the difference is between The Alternative Press and Patch, adding that he is from Livingston, where both publications have a presence.
Shapiro said that at the end of the day, the two publications do essentially the same thing, but The Alternative Press is locally and independently owned. Webster added that because of its higher level of interaction with readers, “it’s the community using Patch collaboratively to get things done.” He added that in some senses, all the publications represented on the panel do the same thing, but approach it in slightly different ways.
Shapiro and Webster also talked about their publications’ advertising. Shapiro said The Alternative Press strongly supports local business. Webster said the Patch has national advertisers, but because Patch has a local focus, they also cater to small businesses. DeMarco said it seems the Patch tries to be all things to all people by claiming to be supportive of local businesses, yet having national advertisers.
Those on the panel also discussed the importance of content on their sites.
“Content is king,” Shapiro said, adding that his publication posts press releases, calendar listings, letters to the editor and guest columns. The others agreed. Galant said her philosophy on press releases is simple: if it interests her, it will be published. If it doesn’t, it won’t.
One hot topic raised was “pay to play,” or whether people have to buy ad space in order to get their press releases published. All the panelists said that is not the case and that press releases, calendar listings and other types of local postings are published free of charge.
There was also much discussion on “database journalism,” and how online publications reach their intended demographics.