Small Market, Big Storytelling: A Multimedia Opus for the Rest of Us

C-Ville Weekly is out to prove that even smaller-market publications without an in-house development team can produce digital journalism that is attractive, accessible, and affordable.

Yesterday the Charlottesville, Va.-based alt-weekly published “The Bypass,” a single-page multimedia feature about a controversial local road project. It’s reminiscent of the New York Times projects “Snow Fall” and “The Jockey,” highlighted with responsive-design photos, maps, videos and infographics which unspool as the reader scrolls through the story — all in a clean layout that never feels too busy.

This coming from a publication with a weekly print distribution of just over 22,000.

“I think this is a battle cry for telling stories in rich, dynamic ways online,” said publisher Frank Dubec, who is leaving the paper this week to launch a marketing firm.

Presentation and flow was especially important for a story with urban planners and county board supervisors as its main protagonists.

“We wanted to convey as much info as possible without losing people,” said editor Giles Morris. “It’s a topic that can get a little wonky, with a lot of political history involved. We tried to cover a huge amount of ground in a condensed experience.”

But in a far cry from the resource-intensive efforts of the New York Times — as in, having the resources to hire a public editor to ruminate on “Who Gets to ‘Snow-Fall’ or ‘Jockey’ at The Times, and Why?” — C-Ville Weekly pulled it off in a two-month period from incubation to completion and a $2,000 investment during that time for web development.

“It all starts with the redevelopment of our website a year ago, switching to WordPress with a flexible CMS,” Morris explained. With the help of a local tech company, Vibethink, the 24-year-old alt-weekly implemented a WordPress site customized for its typical volume of output and which also gave C-Ville staff more control to make changes to the site.

“It took us a year of using the web right to see what was possible,” said Morris.

The individual components were done in house while Vibethink put roughly 200 hours into the layout and web production. The final product, while obviously not something that can be replicated every week, tells an important local story in a way that both Dubec and Morris believe will have a lasting impact.

And its effect on other projects this summer? The paper just put out its “Best of Charlottesville” issue last week.

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