EUGENE, OREGON — Consider MyEugene your full-service hyperlocal news site in the second largest city in Oregon. If you’re new to town and want to know where to buy dog food or recycle Styrofoam, just ask Jaculynn Peterson, MyEugene’s founder and editor.
Like many of MyEugene’s readers, Peterson is not native to Eugene or the West Coast. But when she moved there in 2007, looking for something new to do after a career in corporate communications, she found the potential of digital journalism and social media intriguing.
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Peterson says she noticed stories going unreported by mainstream media–like the story of a down-on-his-luck boy whose mentor helped him turn his gift for videogame design into a food-themed arcade game, winning him free waffles for life from a local restaurant. These types of local-color stories would find a home on her new site.
With the help of Twitter and Facebook, Peterson set to work, and launched MyEugene in 2009. “The whole thing grew through word of mouth the first year,” says Peterson. She had a hands-on approach to attracting readers to her site–she went to community events to get the word out about MyEugene, and held contests like the “What is News” photo contest. In the contest, readers took photographs of whatever they considered to be newsworthy and voted on the entries. “Then we were able to just glean from that experience what news meant to everybody,” explains Peterson.
Using the feedback she got from her readers, Peterson developed a site that focuses heavily on local arts festivals, construction updates, and information about family-friendly activities like petting zoos. Student photographers from nearby University of Oregon help to add color to the homepage. Unique features like “Poem of the Month”, which showcases a poem about Eugene in text and audio formats, make the site a destination for more than just breaking local news. An eclectic city like Eugene, known for, among other things, University of Oregon football and anarchic sympathies, seems like a fitting location for a site with a broad definition of news. In the site’s coverage of crime and community activities, the inverted pyramid still dominates the articles, but the writing style is informal and familiar.
MyEugene covers a wide range of topics, but, luckily, Peterson has help. Her husband helps manage the site, and they have twenty-one regular guest contributors. She also has a growing number of less frequent volunteer contributors, all of whom help generate new stories daily. Because the site dedicates itself to covering the stories not seen anywhere else, Peterson views citizen journalism as a way to keep an edge. “I actually love working with the volunteers,” says Peterson, adding that she gets more insight into what goes on in the community than she would without their help.
Her current goal is to make the site self-sufficient. She first included ads on the site last fall, and expects to be self-sustaining in another year. Peterson is pleased to say that advertisers have approached her, rather than the other way around, and that she hopes to be able to hire someone soon to help her with the sales and marketing sides of the business.
One of the most beneficial partnerships MyEugene has formed has been with the Oregonian News Network, a year-long pilot program funded by the Knight Foundation to help The Oregonian pair up with local news websites across the site. Excerpts from MyEugene appear on a regular part of The Oregonian‘s site, and when an article interests the whole state, it can even make the home page; as did a piece about recycling fluorescent light bulbs.
While the Oregonian News Network is a purely content-sharing arrangement, with no money changing hands, it has driven much more traffic to MyEugene than it would have attracted on its own. There are other benefits, as well–participating in the network gives Peterson access to the newspaper’s photo archive and a researcher, for instance. She also says she enjoys meeting with other news editors in the network, who represent niche sites like BikePortland, NorthCoastOregon, and ClarkCountyBlog. [UPDATE: Clark County Blog is no longer part of the ONN.] Peterson says being able to talk with other digital editors has been one of the most valuable components of the partnership.
The biggest challenge for the future of MyEugene is clear: Peterson knows she has to make her own site self-sustaining, regardless of how much traffic she can attract. She hopes that her new GoLocal directory, which will soon index and advertise local businesses, will help bring in money from participating stores.
From a recent audience survey, Peterson knows that 75 percent of her readers are forty-four or younger, and 73 percent are professionals. Since she has received so many inquiries from people new to the city, she anticipates that the directory will help attract the newcomer traffic as well as the young professionals crowd.
In January 2009, MyEugene’s first month of operation, the site received 180 hits. That number has steadily grown, reaching a peak of 44,000 hits in April 2011 when The Oregonian partnership was announced, according to Peterson’s metrics.
Without the presence of national hyperlocal network Patch, which has yet to enter Oregon, MyEugene is in a less competitive landscape than many hyperlocals throughout the country. And with business savvy and help from the Oregonian News Network, the self-labeled “Great City for the Arts and Outdoors” is not a bad place to be.