A Bright Idea for the Las Vegas Sun

sun_mastheadThe Las Vegas Sun has perhaps the most innovative newspaper website in the country.

Historically, the Sun has been the much smaller competitor to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, but as newspapers move online, the Sun is threatening to surpass its larger rival (for a history of newspapers in Las Vegas, see “A Century of Journalism“). Over the last twelve months, lasvegassun.com has grown 112% while lvrj.com has grown only 20%. And in January, lasvegassun.com almost passed lvrj.com for most unique visitors.

Brian Greenspun went out a couple years ago and hired a team of leading innovators in online journalism. Dave Toplikar relaunched the Sun’s website on January 10, 2008 with a number of unique features, and Rob Curley joined as President and Executive Editor of Greenspun Interactive last summer. They built an allstar staff of online journalism’s chief innovators. Month-by-month, the site has integrated content from Greenspun Media’s weekly and monthly publications, and the Interactive team has added photography, blogs, video, and other content unique to the website.

The whiz kids at Greenspun Interactive probably already know what they want to do next, but here is one idea from a fan and reader to improve the reader experience and generate revenue.

Target to My Neighborhood

The local newspaper is one of the best ways residents can connect to their neighborhoods and the larger community. And the Internet allows people to connect to their neighborhoods in ways they never could with a print newspaper.

LasVegasSun.com is starting to pull together the right editorial components. They already have some local content on their site for different parts of town, including articles from the Home News, an Event Calendar, and a Crime Map (if anyone from Greenspun Interactive is reading, the RSS feed for Summerlin is listed incorrectly and the auto-discover RSS feed on the Summerlin section is the main news feed, not the one for Summerlin). They’ve started building a restaurant listings database (please simplify the ratings to be as simple as Yelp). And I can see photos and videos from both journalists and readers from my part of town. But I have to go find all this content.

To make it all easier to find, I would like to tell LasVegasSun.com which part of town I live in, so they can tell me about what is going on in my neighborhood. ZIP code is too broad (at least in Las Vegas) and giving them my address seems creepy…sub-ZIP seems perfect. But I don’t know my sub-zip, so show me a map of Las Vegas with hotspots for each sub-ZIP.

Then, give me news and events for my neighborhood, restaurant and business ratings in my area. If I tell you which neighborhood I live in, you can provide the relevant local news, coupons, and ads I want while simultaneously giving advertisers the local targeting they desire. 

If you want, you can take it even further, and let me tell you even more about myself in exchange for more personalized information. If I have kids, let me tell you which school they go to or which sports leagues they play in to get me news, schedules, scores, and announcements. Let me tell you my housing development in exchange for news from my HOA. By providing news and information targeted toward me, you get permission to show me ads targeted to me.

Readers Want Local Advertising…If It’s Done Right

Most of the Sun’s innovations have been on the editorial side, but I would like to see them also innovate on the advertising side. Some people think advertising is just a nuisance that pays the bills and distracts from the editorial content, but advertising can be valuable when it’s anticipated, personal, and relevant (See Seth Godin’s talk on permission marketing). My wife loves to look at the Sunday paper just for the insert ads of her favorite stores. I love getting a coupon to try the new restaurant down the street. We use chose our dry cleaners because they were close and they sent us some coupons. In fact, we bought an Entertainment book because it’s full of Regal movie coupons, and we find a few coupons for restaurants we already love or want to try.

So offer a coupon directory in exchange for my sub-ZIP.  I want two-for-ones and 10% off coupons from businesses nearby: Fabulous Freddy’s, Fazio Cleaners, Papa John’s, Regal Cinemas, Original Pancake House, etc. Plus, now that you know my sub-ZIP, advertisers can target their banner ads on the site just like they target direct mail. Instead of showing a general ad from Station Casinos that I don’t care about, you can show a specific ad for the bowling alley that just opened or the upcoming concert at the Station near me.

Of course, this idea might work for other newspapers as well. Readers get ads they want to see along with the editorial they want just by giving the local newspaper a little information about which neighborhood they live in. And advertisers can target based on that information to give the newspaper the revenue it needs to keep doing journalism.

Bonus Marketing Idea: When I move to Las Vegas, send me a Neighborhood Guide packet (you could even put an illustration of the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign on the envelope. Include some printed information on my neighborhood and a couple printed coupons with a “Get Your Neighborhood News and More Discounts at LasVegasSun.com”).

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