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Readers go wild to vote bloggers off "the island".

Want to attract readers? Why not mimic the successful formula of Reality TV?

Inspired by Internet guru Rob Curley's "Survivor: Topeka City Council," which asked Web users to "vote off" their least favorite council members, I figured readers could select Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers' first citizen opinion blogger.

The result--eleven weeks of the exciting "Treasure Coast Blogfest"--was so staggering we're going to do it again and again. After all, how frequently do you find entertaining writing from a paralyzed graphic artist claiming to blog in the buff?

The game: Via a column and house ads, we solicited sample blogs from readers who agreed to write several times a week, face weekly online votes by readers, with the last one left getting a laptop. We modeled it like American Idol, where each week people vote as many times as they want for their favorite candidate. In this case, the blogger with the least votes no longer could blog--although his old blog would remain on the website.

We selected ten finalists, got their mugs and bios, and gave them access to blog on our website (blogfest.tcpalm.com). On a Sunday, we ran an op-ed package announcing the contestants and the contest and print readers (and bloggers' families and friends from all over the world) started hitting the website.

Deadline for the weekly voting was 11:59 p.m. each Wednesday, so on that day's op-ed page we briefly recapped the week's blogging and, with bloggers' mugs, ran their quote of the week or the date they were voted off. Voting results were announced in the paper on Fridays, along with the Blog of the Week, complete with readers' comments posted online. We also ran a parting comment from the blogger voted out.

While we asked bloggers to write on the local issue of their choice, several of them selected national issues, which turned out okay. We got blogs on everything from same-sex marriage and an encounter with Margaret Hamilton to dirty beaches and clean politicians.

And while many of the blogs were written well (others were not), the interaction between readers who posted comments (we let them do this anonymously) were priceless. More than 2,300 comments were posted in response to the 173 blogs entries; none had to be pulled by our Web folks; and interest in the contest got so high that one of the posters started his own website to handicap contestants and otherwise report on Treasure Coast Blogfest.

During the first ten days of voting, 16,895 ballots were cast. The number increased to almost three million in the final week. In the last two weeks, winner Joel Molinari said, he used a homemade drill-like device to press keyboard buttons to vote.

Page views continued to increase throughout the contest. On several Tuesdays and Wednesdays, Blogfest pages accounted for about fifty percent of our total Web traffic.

Did Blogfest content change much in our community? No, except for helping to clean up one of our beaches. But it did show how newspapers can get people to your website for a great conversation and some interesting content, then come back to the paper for a better-edited version of what they found online.

People say newspapers are dying. Well, use the newspaper to consistently tease to interesting content online and you'll get just the opposite impression. Even bloggers voted off early became celebrities.

There are all sorts of potential twists on how Blogfest can be played. Keeping watching tcpalm.com for the latest.

Tips for setting up your own contest

* Select a diverse group of interesting people to blog.

* Journalism or blogging experience NOT required

* Monitor the site regularly.

* Consistently promote the content in the paper to drive readers to the Web.

* Give readers leeway to post online responses to the blogs.

* Work with your marketing department to get prizes, promotional help and a post-contest winner announcement/victory celebration.

Larry Reismart is editorial page editor of Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers in Vero Beach, Stuart, Fort Pierce, and Port St Lucie, Florida. E-mail laurence.reisman@ scripps.com.
By the numbers ...

How Larry's most popular
blogger contest went down

4,899,973 votes cast
179 blogs written
2,302 reader comments posted online
1 nude blogger
24 million votes cast in American Idol finale
 with Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken
78 Comments posted to Victoria Swanson's
 blog supporting retailers' use of "holidays"
 instead of "Christmas"
COPYRIGHT 2006 National Conference of Editorial Writers
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2006, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:SHOP TALK: Innovations
Author:Reisman, Larry
Publication:The Masthead
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2006
Words:735
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