TownNews.com lets clients network with readers via ThePort

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Townnews.comáhas partnered with ThePort Network to provide networking and content-generating capabilities to its customers.

A host site for more than 1,500 newspapers around the country, TownNews.com allows its customer publications to place their content, including editorial, classifieds and ads, online. TownNews.com also provides national advertising services to its clients. However, the company had been lacking in interactive offers.

"We looked at social networking, and that was one of the key elements we were missing," Greg Booras, VP of sales for TownNews.com said. "We looked at ThePort and realized they already had the tools and the vision for the social networking component. Partnering with them allowed us to provide this to our customers in a timely manner."

Clients of TownNews.com were able to use ThePort's services as of August 14. New services provided by ThePort on TownNews.com include article-level commenting, profile creation, photo sharing, blogging, tagging and community forums for each paper.

Publications using both the TownNews.com and ThePort services are able to set up community networking sites. Some clients have opted to extend parts of their networks to sister publications and neighboring communities, creating a community Web for videos, pictures and commentary on local events.

"The ability of users to generate content and profiles helps smaller newspapers generate content, so their site looks fresh all the time," explained Booras. "This will help drive traffic to the newspapers' Web sites, and give folks a reason to come back to that site more than once a day."

Greater Web traffic has good implications for ad sales online. Booras also points out that constantly updated online content gives newspapers the opportunity to reverse-publish, enhancing their print product.

TownNews.com, based in Moline, IL, is majority-owned by Lee Enterprises, a publisher of daily, weekly, online and specialty publications. Circulation for TownNews.com clients runs the gamut from 900 weekly to 300,000 daily.

A recent study from the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government reveals that local newspapers are slipping against Internet giants like Google and NYTimes.com. Even on their Web sites, many community papers have experienced falling readership. TownNews.com's clients hope that adding features from ThePort will lure old and new readers to the sites.

"Like all newspapers since the beginning of time, we're always in the business of attracting new readership," said Angelo Lewis, Corp. Convergence Editor for TownNews.com client Caulkins Media.

"In the old days, we would go after a niche geographic realm, and that's kind of what we're doing with TownNews and ThePort," he continued. "We have some local areas that would like to get upgraded readership, and there's a trend on the Web that supports social media, citizen media and social networking. We want to offer that to readers."
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