I've written before about my hope that newspapers will make more effort to build communities on their websites.
In a nutshell, I think local and regional papers should introduce an element of social networking on their websites, to complement (not replace) existing social networks that people may be part of. In other words, the local newspaper should the community website for Birmingham, Liverpool, Newcastle and so on.
Northcliffe are now doing pretty much what I suggested (I'm not claiming they got the idea from me).
I think their "Local People" sites are worth a look. They key point is that they allow readers to create an identity which goes beyond just having their name next to a comment. This is crucial - if you give people tools to express themselves, present a face to the world and connect with others, that's half the battle. It almost doesn't matter what those tools are.
The Local People sites allow people to create a profile and connect with others. They can start a group (eg to promote their local Sunday league team, or a charity) and invite others to join.
They can take part in discussions, or begin new ones. They can advertise their business for free (and then get a better advert if they pay)
And as well as commenting on stories, they can write their own.
The big difference with what I suggested is that instead of using these ideas to improve existing news websites (such as Northcliffe's Express & Echo), the business has created an entirely new and separate chain of sites - without the involvement of journalists.
News is entirely generated by readers. The four stories on the front page of the Nailsea Local People site, as I write this, are: "I've got a load of rubbish and dog mess not far from my house"; a short history of Nailsea; a school has beaten the British record for the biggest three-legged race, and an advert to take part in the same record-breaking attempt.
As you'd expect, I believe there is a place for professional-style journalism in the world, and this can benefit from being part of a community-driven website.
I say professional-style because I suspect the holy grail for media companies will be to find people willing to do what I and my colleagues currently do for a salary, without asking to be paid.
Whether that will ever happen, I don't know. After all, it's reasonably easy to create your own site, so why work for free to benefit a business you have no connection to?
Incidentally, each Local People site has a "manager" - and Northcliffe are looking for more.
They want people who have "the right writing and networking skills and local contacts".
Northcliffe say: "If you're passionate about your local community, think you can write about your town and are excited by the thought of helping to run a website for and about your area then we'd love to hear from you."
What they don't say is whether their managers are paid. My guess is they are either not paid, or promised a modest share of whatever profits emerge from the sites. I have sent Northcliffe's PR people an e-mail asking for details (NB so I can print the answer here, not to apply for a job!)
Edit on July 17: I am told "Northcliffe does not wish to comment on this topic."