The Examiner.com is not what it appears to be. It is not the online outlet for the Examiner newspapers (the San Francisco Examiner,Baltimore Examiner, and Washington, D.C. Examiner) owned by billionaire Philip Anschutz. It is, however, owned by the same Anschutz-backed company that owns those newspapers, the Clarity Media Group in Denver. That’s how it got the URL.
But the Examiner.com has no use for professional journalists. It is instead an experiment in pure citizen journalism. Right now Examiner sites have officially launched in beta for five cities—San Francisco, Chicago, Baltimore, Denver, and Seattle. Although other cities like New York are coming along. The sites have been live for a couple months without any promotion, and collectively are already attracting 1.3 million visitors a month in the U.S., according to comScore (which is nearly double from July). CEO Michael Sherrod says the internal numbers show 3 million monthly uniques.
Each site offers up hyper-local news written by contributors called “examiners.” Sherrod, who used to run worldwide communities for AOL and was with Digital Cities in the mid-1990s, has already recruited 800 examiners and wants to get to 1,000 by the end of the year. These examiners might have their own blogs, but the Examiner offers them a bigger platform to get their voice heard. The point, though, is not to write about themselves, but rather about what is happening in their communities.
“We are not looking for people who are inwardly focused,” says Sherrod. Rather, he wants people who are experts in their field, whether that is real estate, restaurants, parenting, sports, technology, or business.
These writers are vetted and paid based on how many pageviews and advertising clicks their articles can produce. The pay is not a lot. It starts at a $2.50 for every thousand pageviews. The median amount each examiner s making right now is $25 a month, although Sherrod has written a check for as high as $1,700. Anschutz is bank-rolling the whole project. He is the only investor (the amount is not being disclosed).
The approach reminds me of what Helium is doing with general-reference topics, but focused on local news instead. In theory, it makes sense. Newspapers don’t have the staffs to cover local news as much as they used to, and arguably the people who care the most about what is happening in a given community are those who live there. So why not let them tell everyone else what is going on?
In practice, I can’t say any of the articles I’ve skimmed so far would make me come back for more. The writing isn’t horrible, but it is amateurish in a way that is not endearing. Maybe that is because the site is designed to look like an authoritative news site. And you end up reading an article that would never have been linked to if it were on a solitary blog. (I won’t pick on any of the writers with a link, but you can check out the site and judge for yourself). Maybe once it launches officially, it will attract a bigger audience and better examiners, and make a splash in local news.