"Stockton, California – a vibrant music scene? If you doubt it, 209Vibe.com will make you a believer. And, as an outside-the-box innovation effort by a newspaper company, there’s a lot to like about this project," Newspaper Next 2.0, “Making the Leap Beyond ‘Newspaper Companies,” February, 2008.
Outside-the-box is a good way to describe the philosophy behind 209Vibe. It was designed to be unconventional even though was part of a mainstream newspaper group. The product was meant to rely heavily on user-generated content before many newspapers became familiar with the term. It reaches young people in a language and manner they understand. And it generates excitement in a demographic that the newspaper industry continues to find elusive.
209Vibe was first proposed as a local music and entertainment Web site in April 2006 by Ian Hill, then a columnist for The Record newspaper in Stockton, Calif. At the time Stockton’s entertainment scene was experiencing explosive growth, driven was in part driven by the city’s decision to spend more than $100 million constructing event facilities.
However, there was no publication or Web site covering Stockton-area music and entertainment. Meanwhile, the San Joaquin Media Group, which owned The Record, was looking to innovate and expand in order to secure its position in today’s media market.
Hill realized that by starting a music and entertainment Web site, the media group could establish an early foothold in the growing local entertainment industry. It also could attract attention from local entertainment consumers, who typically are young people that don’t necessarily read The Record.
The project was approved in early 2007 and Hill formed a development team that included representatives from every department at The Record. At 31, Hill was the oldest member of the team. The team’s first task was to hold a series of focus groups with members of Stockton’s music and entertainment community as well as government and business officials and fans. Focus group members said the site should have fresh, regularly-updated content as well as a detailed event calendar. The site also should have many interactive and multimedia features, including a music and video player, they said.
Overall, focus group members were excited about the project’s potential.
209Vibe development team members spent the summer of 2007 creating the Web site. Web developer Stefan Gomez designed 209Vibe.com, while Hill and Record online editor Brea Jones collected information from more than 100 local musicians to create online artist profiles. Then-Record Web designer Andrew Parrish created the 209Vibe logo and advertising representative Deanna Luna worked to establish rates and contact potential clients.
Launch and street team creation
209Vibe.com had a soft launch on Aug. 28, 2007, and with little promotion received more than 30,000 pageviews in its first month. It featured profiles submitted by local musicians, the area’s most comprehensive entertainment calendar and stories covering local music and entertainment. Nearly all content on the site was submitted by users.
The site’s early success was in part a result of the efforts of the 209Vibe street team, a group that was unique in the mainstream newspaper industry at the time. The team’s goal was to market the product by sponsoring, organizing and attending events while also creating content for the Web site.
In August 2007 Hill met with University of the Pacific officials who agreed to offer students class credit for their work on the street team. It was established in September 2007 with 18 students; over time it grew to include more than 30 students from local colleges and high schools.
Team members also became regular contributors to the 209Vibe print publication, which was first developed as a one-shot to offer online advertisers additional value. Community reaction to the publication was overwhelmingly positive when it was distributed Sept. 20, 2007. Several prospective advertisers called expressing interest in the newspaper soon after it hit the streets.
As a result, the 209Vibe print product became a alternative monthly newspaper in December of 2007.
Since its launch 209Vibe has continued to show growth and potential. It sponsored nearly 50 events in 2008, many of which drew sold-out crowds. It organized the area’s first online battle of the bands, which drew hundred of thousands of page views. It expanded its coverage into Modesto and formed partnerships with IFG-Stockton, which manages the Stockton Arena, and the Greater Stockton Chamber of Commerce. And the number of unique visitors to 209Vibe.com increased 200 percent between January and November 2008.
Today the site hosts more than 500 artist profiles and 700 user profiles, and it continues to show how unconventional thinking can help a newspaper generate excitement in its community.