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Los Angeles publisher bucks the trend and goes print

August 6: In July, the Monroe, Ga.-based Loganville Tribune opted to ditch its print edition and go online. This month, the Clinton News in Mississippi did the same. These days, a paper that goes from print to online isn’t out of the ordinary. It is, however, less common to see an online-only publication go the way of print, which is what a news and entertainment site in Los Angeles has done.

Blogdowntown.com has existed online since 2005, serving readers from downtown Los Angeles. Yesterday, founder and publisher Eric Richardson put Blogdowntown on paper when it launched a 25,000-circulation Thursday print edition. Richardson admits that it’s a risky endeavor given the state of the industry. “It adds an entirely new set of challenges to our week, and if we aren’t able to adequately staff up to meet the extra demands, there’s the risk that the effort to get print out there kills the essence of what we’ve spent so long building online,” he said in an e-mail interview.

Despite the chances associated with launching a print product, he believes that it can bring the publication brand awareness by putting it physically in front of people. “Print allows us to reach people who didn’t know that they’re looking for us. We want to catch their eyes as they’re grabbing their coffees and get them to flip through the paper as they drink it,” he said. Another perk of going print is that it still remains the place to drive advertising.

The publication, which focuses on news, events and destinations in downtown Los Angeles, will offer different content in each of its two forms. “You can’t just print out the blog and have it be successful. You need to really understand what people are more likely to respond to on each side,” he said. “For us, that means that Blogdowntown.com keeps more of a focus on news, which moves too fast for a print weekly, while Blogdowntown Weekly becomes more of a calendar and lifestyle coffee-read that we then hope will bring you back to the website for more.”

While the approach Richardson has taken may seem backwards in a media landscape that is turning increasingly digital, Barbara Iverson, online journalism professor from Columbia College Chicago and co-founder and publisher of ChicagoTalks.org, noted that this isn’t so if there’s a demand. “I think viewers/users want content digitally because they want it right away, 24/7,” she said in an e-mail interview. “But if there is something special, unusual, photogenic, and memorable – people like print.”

Indeed, other online sites have appeared in print as well, Iverson noted. Stories from MyMissourian.com, a citizen journalism site, started to appear in the daily Columbia Missourian’s shopper product in 2005, increasing the shopper’s popularity, she said. Meanwhile, a Knight News Challenge-funded project called Printcasting allows for news sites to create custom print versions of their publication for the occasion they want to turn their online product into a print product.

“It isn’t an either/or world. The barriers to entry in terms of cost and equipment are close to zero, so the benefits of going online are obvious,” said Iverson, noting that by publishing online, a publication can also establish a reputation.

Back at Blogdowntown, Richardson is hoping that the print product will help build the brand. They currently have a modest 25,000 monthly unique viewers, which he says may be small for a general audience, but it’s one he’s pretty happy with in regards to LA’s downtown market. But perhaps Blogdowntown’s greatest strength is flexibility. “We want to be wherever our readers are most interested in finding us,” he said. “Right now that is in print, but maybe in five years everyone will be carrying around iPads and that will be our main platform. If that’s the case, we’re going to be able to be there thanks to the brand and infrastructure growth that print can create for us right now.”

— Katrina M. Mendolera

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