By and large newspapers' blog-related efforts have so far not been terribly successful. Now, according to a blurb in PaidContent.org, a Knight Ridder-owned newspaper in Columbia, S.C. has launched a separate "citizen journalism" site, TheColumbiaRecord.com. According to the site:
TheColumbiaRecord.com revives the name — and the spirit — of The Columbia Record, the intensely local afternoon newspaper for the Midlands of South Carolina from 1897 until it ceased publication on April 1, 1988. Like its predecessor, the focus of TheColumbiaRecord.com is the people who live in the Midlands. Its goal is to create an online gathering place for the people of our community, a place where they can define what constitutes "news" in their neighborhoods, their schools, their churches, their lives.
Unlike totally user-generated local sites like Backfence.com, The Columbia Record site is now being run by a staff of people recruited specifically to do so, with the hope of rich community participation.
The site is not entirely unlike the "MyTown" area of Boulder's DailyCamera.com. There are several other newspapers trying similar experiments, but The Columbia Record goes furthest in this direction (as far as I know).
It will be interesting to see if the site complements or competes with The State, its newspaper parent. If it succeeds it will represent a way to reach down to a true community level that is currently missing from most large metro dailies' coverage. It will also offer potentially more targeted distribution for newspaper advertisers.
The newspaper should be applauded for the experiment; most newspaper sites are of limited value to users beyond editorial. However, the paper needs to take pains to genuinely engage users and get them to actively participate.
Otherwise the new site simply becomes a mediocre or diluted version of the daily paper rather than a new type of site built by users themselves.