Publishers from across the country and around the globe, at papers large and small, daily and weekly, and even online-only, sent in their stories about what’s working for them. What’s clear from reading these submissions is that the newspaper market is highly fractionalized — what works for one paper may not work for another. The publications that do claim success are the ones that are in-tune with what readers and advertisers in their community are looking for in a newspaper.
This feature is not a top-10 list of the “best” newspapers. Rather, it’s a showcase of 10 newspapers that demonstrate flexibility, creativity, sound judgment, and a commitment to high-quality journalism in some unique manner.
Thank you to everyone who submitted entries — it was worth having my email crash to be able to read all of your good work. If you’d like to share your story, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Altoona Mirror
Daily circulation: 32,217
Over the past five years, The Altoona Mirror has broadened its revenue base by developing an event marketing program. General manager Ray Eckenrode said that hosting events was a natural extension of the paper because the business model is remarkably similar to selling a print product: Provide content (sometimes free, sometimes requiring a fee to access) that attracts an audience, then sell access to that audience to advertisers.
“Event marketing offers the Mirror a unique way to bring our products to life and connect content contributors, advertisers, and readers in a personal way,” Eckenrode said.
The Mirror’s events have attracted some big names, including Ted Nugent at the Alleghenies Adventure Outdoor Show and chef Curtis Stone at the Taste of the Alleghenies cooking event. Eckenrode said that these events can fetch up to $125 for premium admission tickets, but the paper also hosts free events such as its Moms Expo, which also supports its Moms glossy magazine and website.
“Doing events right starts with a change in philosophy,” Eckenrode said. “These are not ‘trade shows,’ which traditionally are done with little profit motive; they are ‘events,’ which require big thinking, big attractions, and potentially big dollars. All Mirror events start with the idea ‘think big.’”
While revenue generated by the events can fluctuate from year to year, the marketing program generally brings in profit equal to one or two large preprint advertisers. In order for newspapers to remain successful in the future, Eckenrode said there needs to be “a collective awakening to the understanding that we’re not selling a product called ‘a newspaper’ but manufacturing a product called ‘audience.’”
Amador Ledger Dispatch
Amador County, Calif.
Weekly circulation: 6,000
While other publishers have been scrambling to spread their content across numerous social media sites and grow their numbers of likers, followers, and plus-oners, the Amador Ledger Dispatch decided to build its own social network to keep readers on its own site.
The site, MyACHome.com, is a community-based, interactive media platform that mixes traditional news stories with user-generated content, chat groups, blogs, photo galleries, events, webcams, daily deals, business listings, and a chat feature called the Buzz Board. The most popular items on the network are then integrated into the weekly edition printed every Friday.
“Think of it as taking Facebook, Twitter, Groupon, and eBay and going from online directly to print, instead of the other way around,” said publisher Jack Mitchell. “Instead of going from print to Web, we’ve altered the model to allow users to post news and items that are important to them online, and we utilize those posts to go to print.”
In the largely rural market of Amador and neighboring Calaveras counties, the network solves a basic problem of how users and advertisers can better find each other. The model is now being implemented at sister publications throughout California.
“We’re offering a way for both readers and business owners to actively participate and interact with each other and with the inner workings of a traditional newspaper,” Mitchell said. “By putting local merchants in touch with local customers, on multiple platforms, everybody wins, and local dollars stay local.”
The platform was developed in partnership with a Bay Area startup company called TotalPaas, which builds geo-social networking communities for local media companies. Mitchell said the TotalPaas partnership not only kept out-of-pocket expense low, but also brought in an additional $120,000 in revenue.
Daily circulation: 120,000
New locations can often breed new attitudes, and that’s exactly what happened at the Boston Herald. The paper recently moved from the headquarters it had occupied for half a century, to a modern newsroom in the Seaport district of Boston that fully integrates the print and Web teams.
The change of scenery includes several indicators of the paper’s future direction, including a video production studio for TV-quality video and livestreams for the website, as well as a universal copy desk and open newsroom to ease workflow and collaboration between departments. The prototype for Herald TV is currently in development, as is a “Herald Square” social network for readers.
“I don’t see myself as the editor of a newspaper. I see myself as the leader of a news organization that produces high-quality, original content for use across platforms — print, Web, or broadcast,” said editor- in-chief Joe Sciacca. “To be successful, we need to remember the core value of the talent in our newsroom and work to maximize the impact of the content they create.”
Sciacca stressed the importance of creating branded personalities around staff writers with which readers can identify. Staff videos created in the video production studio are currently appearing on Comcast On Demand. The Herald has made several other moves to position the paper as a leading news organization. Sciacca said they redesigned the business pages into a Web-savvy section called BizSmart, which is now attracting full-page ads from Google. The paper has also developed partnerships with three area colleges for internships, political polling, and hosting debates.
“We take a forward-looking approach to stories to start the conversation each day and keep the print product relevant,” Sciacca said.
The Daily Herald
Daily circulation: 100,000
In the suburbs of Chicago, The Daily Herald is tackling a problem that affects most modern newsrooms in one form or another: efficiency.
“A year ago, the Daily Herald had a Web team that was separate from the newsroom. Its members worked on a different floor. People in the newsroom ‘sent’ stories to online and had little or no input on play,” said editor and senior vice president John Lampinen. “Divided teams function like divided teams, and that created more than occasional conflicts. And opportunities for product, readership, and revenues weren’t maximized as a result.”
The Herald addressed this problem by merging the content and production teams for online and print into one unified force. Employees still specialize in some areas, but everyone in the newsroom has adopted a Web-first mentality.
Lampinen said the results far exceeded expectations. “Our content is better, reader complaints are down, our digital-content initiative has been a success, and we are posting more stories overall and more during peak traffic times,” he said.
Lampinen said the paper has tripled its multimedia assets and benefited from a brand that better serves its readers and has increased search engine referrals to the site. The cycle time of posting a story online is down from 12 minutes to less than 10 seconds. But the most positive change isn’t one that is measurable in clicks or dollars.
“The morale of the newsroom and Web teams also went way up. They are engaged and excited. They don’t just reach for the low-hanging fruit. They push for true excellence on all platforms,” Lampinen said. “Everyone is doing a lot more work at a much higher quality — and everyone is excited about it.”
Daily circulation: 71,988
Listening to readers and delivering what they ask for is an age-old recipe for success. With a strong local music scene, the lakeside community of Erie, Pa., wanted to see the paper support local artists and provide a venue for their talents.
The Erie Times-News came up with an annual Grammy-style music awards show that honors musicians and an online community RockErie.com, that supports the music scene year-round. Now in its sixth year, the RockErie Music Awards features live performances, appearances by local celebrities, and awards presented in 19 categories.
“The newspaper has a long history of supporting the music scene through news coverage, calendars, and reviews,” said marketing manager Lisa Shade. “The RockErie Music Awards allowed us to showcase our entertainment coverage, create loyalty among musicians and fans, and generate revenue around an audience as unique as the local music scene.”
The awards show generates revenue from both sponsorship opportunities and ticket sales. More than 1,400 music lovers attended the event in 2011.
“Understanding your market is the key to any good newspaper, and we stopped, listened, and reacted to readers who asked for more on the vibrant music scene in our region,” said executive editor Rick Sayers. The entrants in each category are submitted to an online vote, with the top three finalists going on to a panel of judges who determine the winner, so there’s a high level of community involvement throughout the process leading up to the night of the awards show.
“I believe it’s important that we’re fearless and enthusiastic in this changing environment, that we keep looking for new solutions and ways to improve our products and delivery channels to meet readers’ needs,” said president and publisher Rosanne Cheeseman.
Great Falls Tribune
Great Falls, Mont.
Daily circulation: 26,581
In Cascade County, Mont., the Great Falls Tribune has had measurable success targeting women readers and delivering that audience to advertisers.
Editor and publisher Jim Strauss said there are more than 58,000 women in the greater Great Falls area served by the Tribune. Since market research shows that women control 85 percent of every dollar spent in the U.S., Strauss and his staff set out to target this billion-dollar resource. The result was a glossy magazine and expo dedicated to serving women in the area, called What Women Want.
What Women Want — the Magazine has a targeted distribution that focuses on women by age, ZIP code, home value, and household income. “The publication has a strong local flavor with prominent use of local products, personality profiles, and photographs of local women,” Strauss said. The magazine is also distributed to advertiser businesses and specialty shops that cater to the same targeted female audience.
This local flavor is published every other month and has been consistently popular with advertisers. “The 40-page magazine stands out with its glossy cover and strong photography,” Strauss said, providing “an excellent vehicle for advertisers targeting this demographic.”
The annual What Women Want Expo features more than 200 vendors, a fun run, and comedy night, and was attended by more than 8,000 women in 2011. Strauss said the expo brought in $158,000 in revenue for 2011, up $23,000 from 2010.
“The annual What Women Want Expo and six-times-per-year glossy magazine allow us to better serve our women readers and further strengthen the Great Falls Tribune brand with this key audience,” Strauss said. “The successful duo also generates strong revenue and profits, which has been especially beneficial during this sluggish economic stretch.”
Daily circulation: 58,000
Dec. 7, 2011 marked the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, and The Register-Guard marked the occasion with a uniquely touching and lasting tribute.
In a November story published on the city/region page, the paper invited World War II veterans to come to the newspaper office to be photographed. Vets were encouraged to wear their uniforms (if they still fit, of course) and bring any memorabilia or other meaningful artifacts from the war. The paper boldly promised to run all of the photos, not just online but in print.
The response from the local community was overwhelming. Over several days, the paper photographed and interviewed 130 veterans. Managing editor Dave Baker credits his staff for what he describes as “a piece of journalism that won’t soon be forgotten by those who participated, both inside and outside the newsroom.” Rob Romig, director of graphics, came up with the idea and handled the logistics of the project; Paul Carter, assistant director of graphics, took all the photos; and columnist Bob Welch wrote all the stories.
“The response from readers was unlike anything I’ve seen in my 32 years in journalism,” Baker said. “Over several weeks we received emails, letters to the editor, phone calls, and comments praising the series. The portraits and stories are powerful, poignant tributes to these local heroes, and they resonated with our most loyal readers.”
Baker said the project was a simple concept with powerful results, and that newspapers must continue to strive for exceptional journalism.
"This series on veterans should remind journalists that we’re storytellers at heart. That’s what we do. We can’t forget that regardless of the medium — print, online, or phone app — we have to commit to doing quality work that our readers can’t get anywhere else.”
The stories, photos, and video are archived at registerguard.com/veterans.
Daily circulation: 124,000
The devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan in March 2011 had a profound impact on communities around the globe, but the people of Hawaii in particular felt overwhelming compassion for their Pacific neighbors.
Honolulu Star-Advertiser publisher Dennis Francis came up with an idea that not only helped benefit Red Cross relief efforts, but also encouraged a growth in subscription sales. From April to June 2011, when subscribers went on vacation and requested a hold on delivery, the Star-Advertiser presented them with the option to donate the value of their subscription to the Red Cross Japan Disaster Relief fund. Additionally, the Star-Advertiser contributed $10 to the fund for each new subscriber who signed up to receive the paper during the same period.
In total, more than 10,000 subscribers participated and raised more than $75,000 to aid the people of Japan. The effort was so successful that the Star-Advertiser decided to continue the charity work and raise money throughout the year for different programs in the Hawaiian community.
From July through November 2011, the paper partnered with Adult Friends for Youth, a local nonprofit that offers guidance and counseling to youth gang members. The Subscriber Charity Donation Program raised more than $30,000 for AFY.
For 2012, the Star-Advertiser partnered with the Kapiolani Health Foundation, a nonprofit, full-service children’s and high-risk maternity hospital. The paper has pledged a goal of $100,000.
Daily circulation: 8,500
When the Times-Georgian conducted research among its smaller advertisers and got feedback saying the paper was “hard to work with,” publisher Leonard Woolsey knew it was time for a change.
The TG has since scrapped the per-column-inch model of advertising rates and developed a new system based on modular package sales. Each package is created with a popular price point in mind ($500, $750, $1,000, etc.) that provides advertisers with a four-week program that includes large “impact” sizes (quarter, half, and full page), along with smaller branding elements that are generally two columns wide by 3 inches deep and run every day.
“By creating programs that provide advertisers with affordable, effective, and flexible programs, we decided to rebuild our business model from the bottom up, starting by targeting small, locally based advertisers,” Woolsey said. “What it does is allow our local sales representatives to have genuine business discussions with their local clients on what they wish to achieve and how to build a campaign.”
The best part? It’s working. Woolsey said the TG’s revenue in 2011 was up 16 percent over 2010, and the program has been adopted across all of parent company Paxton Media Group’s titles in the U.S. The program has also been recognized by the Newspaper Association of America and the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association.
“This program was designed to begin moving newspapers from being overly dependent on national revenues and return us to those who brought us to the dance,” Woolsey said. “The TG has since posted very strong local advertising gains year over year since moving to the program. And it all started by simply listening to our customers.”
Winnipeg Free Press
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
Daily circulation: 120,000
Among a host of new strategies introduced at the Winnipeg Free Press in 2011, the paper’s coverage of the Canadian federal election in May was a shining example of what newspapers can achieve by embracing digital media.
On the night of the election, the Free Press hosted a live broadcast in front of an audience at its News Café, a coffee house and community gathering spot the paper opened in March in Winnipeg’s exchange district. The broadcast was coupled with dynamic, real-time reporting on the paper’s Vote Canada landing page.
Free Press Web reporter Tania Kohut hosted the broadcast, which featured appearances from staff reporters covering the election, municipal experts, and local political pundits. Deputy editor Julie Carl said that other media outlets in the area had recently scaled back on election coverage, so the Free Press capitalized on the opportunity to fill that void.
“TV stations have cut back on their coverage for the last few elections — they didn’t broadcast the recent municipal election live at all — so all eyes in Winnipeg have been on us for thorough coverage,” Carl said.
The election night report was supplemented with a Cover-It-Live con-sole on the election coverage landing page that displayed tweets from reporters sharing results and also functioned as a chat room where readers could react to and debate the importance of the election outcome. Reporters in the field also used Skype to transmit video reports to the site.
“At most campaign headquarters, the giant video screen sported our election landing page, rather than the traditional TV broadcast,” Carl said. “We livestreamed from 8:30 p.m. until the final staffers left the ballrooms.”
The election landing page was programmed to update all statistics in real time so that readers wouldn’t have to continually hit the refresh button on their browser to see the latest news.
“Our immediacy was so extensive that other media gathered around our computers to watch results,” Carl said.
We received hundreds of ideas and submissions for this year’s “10 Newspapers That Do It Right,” and narrowing the field to just 10 winners was challenging. Here are some papers that didn’t quite make the cut this time but deserve recognition for their achievements just the same.
Little Rock, Ark.
This weekly may be light on staff, but it’s heavy on trenchant reporting. The Times’ comprehensive coverage of the West Memphis Three trial began with skeptical reporting of the original hearings in 1994 and culminated with breaking news that the trio was freed in August 2011. Contributing editor Mara Leveritt wrote the definitive book on the case and was featured on CBS’ “The Early Show” discussing the case.
Recognizing that the success of its newspaper business is directly related to the success of its advertisers, parent company Capital Newspapers has taken a proactive role in the Madison community by hosting seminars and other instructional sessions for local businesses on topics ranging from social media to marketing.
Chattanooga Times Free Press
In an innovative content partnership, the Times Free Press teamed up with local health care center Memorial Hospital to livestream an open heart surgery on TimesFreePress.com. The streamed event, titled “Life in the OR: Restoring Marjorie’s Heart,” showed the incredible process from start to finish and resulted in a big boost in page views for the paper’s site.
When Alaska Newspapers, Inc. announced in August 2011 that it would shutter six of its regional papers, including the Cordova Times, several former employees banded together to purchase and relaunch the Times with a bold new design and full color. In order to secure the new business, the Times asked advertisers to become partners in the relaunch by committing to a full year of advertising.
The Daily Republic has taken a very literal interpretation of the industry catchphrase du jour, “digital first.” The Republic staff actually writes stories online first, using free open-source software WordPress and EditFlow. Within the software, stories can be “tagged” to appear in the next day’s print edition. By eliminating the front-edit editorial software, the paper has gained speed and flexibility of story production while simultaneously eliminating a large cost from the budget.
In a small town such as Elsberry, high school sports are the main attraction. The Elsberry Democrat satisfied the community’s demand for top-notch coverage by launching the Indian Sports Network — named for the local school’s mascot. Publisher Mike Short personally calls the basketball games, and the audio is streamed online and archived so anyone can listen to the game free of charge. The program has already drawn enough sponsorships from local advertisers to cover the associated costs, and the Democrat has plans to expand coverage to softball, baseball, and football during their respective seasons.
The Inlander is another weekly that has capitalized on quality content and doubled down on print distribution in a time when competitors are cutting back. The free paper is printed in full color with a lively mix of news and arts. Publisher Ted McGregor said his success has come from giving the readers what they want: “More local stories told with more depth, perspective, and soul.”
Investor’s Business Daily
How can a national publication effectively serve a niche audience? Just ask Investor’s Business Daily, which delivers analyst-level financial research to individual investors. IBD has grown its subscriber base into a true community by leveraging its website, digital edition, premium products, meetups, workshops, video, home education kits, and more. This intimate and lasting relationship with readers has bolstered growth in both circulation and revenue.
Long known as the “traveler’s newspaper,” USA TODAY leverages its strong reputation to serve the cruising niche with its dedicated review site, VacationCruisesInfo.com. The site features anonymous reviews of cruises funded by the site, not the cruise lines. By writing and traveling anonymously, reviewers are able to offer completely unbiased opinions of the cruise — a rarity among today’s top travel sites.
The Red & Black
University of Georgia, Athens
The independent student newspaper of UGA may well be the first student publication to adopt a digital first strategy. The print product was scaled back to a weekly model, giving the student journalists more resources to focus on the successful digital component, RedAndBlack.com. The paper also launched Ampersand, a monthly magazine that covers arts, entertainment, fashion, and food.
Pacific Coast Business Times
Santa Barbara, Calif.
This business weekly serving the central coast of California found that small changes can make a big difference. The paper managed to increase efficiency, cut costs, and increase circulation just by upgrading to an integrated circulation database and changing the billing procedure. By taking advantage of new technologies available, the paper cut $15,000 from its circulation costs and applied that money instead to Web upgrades that were needed to implement a paywall.