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September 14 2010

20:07

English-Language Content a Boon to SochiReporter in Russia

On Monday, September 27, SochiReporter will begin publishing in English.

From that point on, every Monday will see us publish new exclusive stories about ongoing preparations for the 2014 Winter Olympics, and about life in four of the Big Sochi main areas: Central Sochi, Adler, Khosta and Lazarevskoye. (We will be translating the Russian posts submitted by our citizen journalists.)

Vancouver Test Case

As I previously wrote on Idea Lab, we began testing an English version of SochiReporter during the Vancouver Olympics. We then hired Yuliya Talmazan, a Russian-speaker from Vancouver who worked as an editor at NowPublic, to cover the Olympics for us. We wanted to see what English content would do for our traffic. Simply put, it had a significant effect, driving our traffic up over 300 percent.

Yes, those weeks in February were a hot time for anything Olympics-related. Thousands of people were surfing the web looking for the information about the Games. Our headlines were crafted and customized according to SEO principles in order to attract that traffic and deliver news about what was going on in Vancouver with the Russian team.

We are currently in the process of translating content for our English version, as August and September saw the significant rise in the number of posts at SochiReporter. What makes me especially happy is that the journalistic quality of stories has improved -- that's partly why I made the decision to start translating into English. At first, we will translate about 60 to 70 percent of every post in order to convey the core idea of the story.

SochiReporter.Ru Posts

We're very happy with how the posts on our site are starting to evolve. To give just a few examples, we've received a story about the public hearings related to the reconstruction of the Sochi embankment; the transformation and rebuilding of one of the city's main hotels; the opening of a new center that will provide municipal services to the citizens of Sochi; the creation of an open-air fitness club; a mini-golf championship in Sochi; the arrival of new wolves at the nature reserve; and the start of an around-the-world voyage of a famous sailor and an honored citizen of Sochi and Newport, R.I., Victor Yazikov; and many, many more.

Another interesting story was about Sochi residents who were collecting the clothes and other donations for residents of central Russian towns who lost their houses in the fierce summer peat fires.

All of these stories inspired discussion at SochiReporter.Ru.

May 27 2010

17:15

SochiReporter Helps Transform Sochi in Preparation for Olympics

I recently spoke with a friend of mine here in Sochi, Russia. She is a specialist in modernizing the technological infrastructure of sanatoriums, which were the places where lucky Soviet working class heroes would be sent to rest and relax. (Think of them as health spas.)

It's a challenge to transform the Soviet-era sanatoriums. For example, her job entails computerizing the files and data and modernizing the registration of new clients. But she said it's exciting work. For her, the most enjoyable part of the job is organizing courses for the staff (doctors, waiters, janitors) who at first seem dazed and confused by the changes and new technology. Gradually, their puzzlement gives way to excitement. "How come we were doing this job manually for so many years?" they eventually ask.

I can definitely relate to her experience, as can many people who are trying to modernize different aspects of Sochi culture and society for the upcoming 2014 Winter Games. It's not just about the modernization of the sanatoriums; it's about every aspect of the locals' lifestyle and the character of the infrastructure. Of course, this is what makes this process of transformation so exciting.

Our project, SochiReporter, a hyper-local citizen news website, is working to create an archive of these changes -- an archive that is built by and for locals. It's never boring, but there is still much work and learning to be done.

Over the last several weeks we have been working at mastering our own technology. We added new features to the site, expanded the social networking component, added links to SochiReporter groups on other social networks, and will add more changes over the next two weeks. Also of note is that the website is loading much faster, partly because of some back-end work, and partly because the new 4G WiMax Internet service called Yota that was launched in Sochi at the end of March.

Becoming a Journalist-Entrepreneur

I have become part of the new breed of journalists-turned-entrepreneurs, and I'm finding a certain amount of pleasure in this lifestyle, crazy though it is.

First of all, I am living between two cities: Sochi and Moscow. Being in Sochi means working with contributors and the people who actually submit content to the website, and promoting the project at the local level. Moscow is a bigger source of financing, a business hub where I can meet with advertisers who might be interested in supporting SochiReporter.

Our team has recently been working on developing a sustainable business model, as the Knight Foundation grant money that enabled us to launch the project and start the experiment will soon run out.

Being an entrepreneur means being simultaneously responsive to two mobile phones, an iPad, a laptop and even a fax machine. It also means being very open to new collaborations and projects. You need to be open to taking risks, and adept at using the knowledge you acquired in traditional media reporting and applying it to new media.

Giving Newspapers a Chance

We recently decided to start giving the local Sochi papers, which don't have an online presence, an opportunity to place their content on our site. This section is called News and it's where we mostly have content from RSS feeds. It's separate from the Reports section, which is filled with reports from citizens and includes original content.

The editor of the first Sochi paper to go on our site is extremely happy about the arrangement. He had been seeking a presence on the web. For our part, we'll see how things go and will probably partner with additional local media. However, our main goal is to provide our content to local media. We hope to expand those possibilities by enabling people to submit reports and photos via mobile phone. Right now, people aren't able to upload content using their phone, though they can read the site.

Marketing

Just a final word about marketing, as it is now one of our primary goals. With the site now built and working, we are focused on telling people about it and getting them to use it. One way of doing that is by being part of big events in the area. We were recently chosen as a media sponsor for one of the biggest annual movie festivals in Russia, Kinotavr. It will take place in Sochi from June 6 to 13.

We are the only Sochi-based media outlet to be among the sponsors. The rest are Moscow-based media outlets. We will receive some very cool promotion during the event and the SochiReporter logo will be present in the Kinotavr daily newsletter, its brochures and on its website.

November 20 2009

18:20

SochiReporter Launches with Time Machine, Wiki Guidebook

I'm proud to say that SochiReporter, my Knight-funded project, launched on October 27. This was a very important day for me, and for our team.

In the days before the launch, I didn't sleep a wink. But this is natural. The less you sleep, the less you want. I was very excited about the launch, and did my best to convey how cool and innovative SochiReporter is to the journalists and students that gathered on launch day in the hall of one of the best schools in Sochi.

Generating Content

We have been working on this project for a long time, but we started generating content a few months back. At the end of July, we organized a seminar about the web and new media for students in Sochi. We also announced a contest that would give prizes for the best photos, text and video. So between August and October, students were generating content for the site. We provided the students with some nice gadgets to help with their reporting, as well as some basic knowledge about blogging and other skills. This meant we were able to launch with lots of original content.

Site Design and Structure

sochi1.jpg

For me, design is really important. As my designer friend who works for a lifestyle magazine told me, "folks are subconsciously attracted by good design." We had a great time working with four designers from Cetis, which is one of the leading design studios in Russia. I call our design "adrenaline." It's really colorful and bright, and each section has a personal touch. Please take a look and let us know what you think.

In terms of the structure of the site, I think we were innovators. As I understand it, innovation is a process that aims to combine existing tools to create a new product.

We created a section on the site called Time Machine. It enables a user to go back in time to any day (starting from October 2009) and see which material was uploaded. This is basically a way of archiving and storing information, and it's very useful when it comes to sites like ours.

Other innovative sections include the Guidebook, which is a wiki-based virtual guidebook of Sochi. (I wrote the first Russian guidebook of Norway when I was 21, so this section is important to me.). In order to create the Guidebook, I made agreements with the publisher of the best travel guidebook for Sochi to provide us with basic travel information. So we're start with information provided by professional travel writers. Then, as the city changes, users will be able to edit and add to the Guidebook. We already have some local students writing about Sochi's museums.

Marketing

We launched with a major presentation of SochiReporter at the 2009 Russian Internet Week. This is a big web industry exhibition organized in a huge venue in Moscow. It was great to be a part of this expo, and many people were interested in our project. We had a small but comfy stand with walls that were covered with samples from the site.

In Sochi, all of the local television channels covered the launch, as did the online media and some of the local papers. I realized how much the publicity helps when, days after the launch, I was recognized by a waiter in a café. He had seen me on television.

Thanks to our seminars back in July, most of the local journalists had already heard about SochiReporter. This helped create a sense of anticipation for our launch -- and helped make it a success so far.

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