When we set out to feature 10 newspapers that "do it right," we didn't quite realize the magnitude of the project we were undertaking. That's not to say we thought that selecting 10 newspapers from a sea of thousands would be easy, we just underestimated the number of truly noteworthy ideas we would end up sorting through. Never mind the fact that we neglected to define what "it" was and what our criteria for doing it "right" would be.
We asked you for the best you've got - your brightest "a-ha!" moments and your most successful "we may as well try" endeavors - and you, dear readers, delivered the goods. We were amazed at the creativity and innovation demonstrated by newspapers small and large, daily and weekly, free and subscription-based. It quickly became apparent that we would be doing you a disservice if we only featured 10 newspapers, so we modified our strategy.
There were a handful of papers that stood out as obvious candidates: They had several areas of innovation that produced measurable results. Some of them were so excited to tell us about their projects that their submissions started to rival War and Peace (I'm looking at you, Times of Northwest Indiana). Other papers took a more focused route and stuck to one or two things they do expertly, such as hyperlocal content or coverage of high school sports. There was a lot of overlap among this second group - believe it or not, there's more than one newspaper that copied Groupon and launched a daily coupon program.
Because we were feeling altruistic, we decided to cover categories of "it" that are being done right by multiple papers, in addition to individual newspapers that "do it right." The result is that our "10 Newspapers That Do It Right" special includes more than 10 newspapers. We've spotlighted five newspapers that shine individually, and five categories in which newspapers across the country are realizing success. So if you've been thinking about launching your own daily deal or hyperlocal blog network, you'll get to see a few different models that worked for other papers to help you decide which might be best for you.
We hope you enjoy reading about the good work your colleagues in the industry are doing. If you want to share your own story with us, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Small daily finds success in multimedia
No one can call the Appeal-Democrat humdrum.
This small-town newspaper catapulted itself into the future by getting in the QR code game, generating live webcasts and blogs, and turning its advertisers and ham-it-up publisher into website video stars.
The Appeal-Democrat, based in an agri-business center 40 miles north of Sacramento, made a commitment to ramp up multimedia in 2010 to generate website growth and increase revenue. And think "fresh" and "outside the box," Publisher Dave Schmall said.
The paper teamed up with two chambers of commerce to produce nearly a dozen political forums during the primary and general elections last year. Employees, including the editor, lugged the necessary equipment to various locations so they could do live webcasts and live blogging. Total video views and visits to the Appeal-Democrat website exceeded 15,000 in a month.
In the summer, Schmall teamed up with Tom Lininger, owner of the Marysville Gold Sox, a community baseball team, to produce goofy videos promoting activities (and advertisers) at the ballpark each week. The two men dressed in bridal attire when there was a wedding in the stands and as members of the band KISS for a "Kiss the Season Goodbye" promotion. Sponsors, including Scion, kicked in $15,000 for the videos, which ran for 11 weeks and racked up 24,000 video views and visits to the newspaper's website.
Last September, the newspaper began using QR codes, two-dimensional bar-type codes that enable smartphone users to link content, enter online contests, and view photos. Readers scanned the QR codes in droves for fires and accidents, but also for unexpected events. A Sacramento Kings basketball game where a local man won a car got hundreds of scans. So did the newspaper's Christmas card, where the entire staff stood in the lobby and sang a carol. A Halloween-themed pumpkin carving class was also a smash.
"We've embraced multimedia as a means to achieve our goal of brand omnipresence in our market, or in other words: to have our brand touch every area resident, every day," Schmall said. "Every new platform we introduce into our market is another step toward that goal."
Digging deep into local content
The Press of Atlantic City
The Press of Atlantic City had a goal: Stop the bleeding. Stop it in circulation, both daily and Sunday. Do it by engaging the reader, both in person and in print. Do it by digging deep (publishing the day the city comes to rake up your leaves deep) into local issues and doing in-depths with local people. The result 18 months later was a 0.2 percent increase in Sunday circulation and a slight decline (0.6 percent) in daily circulation. The newspaper, which is New Jersey's fourth largest, finished first in percentage of circulation change among the largest newspapers in the state, according to ABC September 2010 FAS-FAX.
"We're holding our own," said Neill Borowski, executive editor and content director for the Press. "Time will tell if it's permanent and if the curve will start going up again."
To ensure that it does, the Press carefully plans each day to emphasize local and watchdog journalism. The Sunday front page is planned six weeks in advance, changing only for breaking news. Many days, there are five substantial local news and enterprise stories on A1. Readers asked for more, so the Press formed a community editorial board and eagerly listened to praise and brickbats.
Everything local became fair game. Newspaper executives accepted all invitations to speak with organizations. No gathering was too small. Borowski even munched lox and bagels with some 15 Jewish leaders in a living room on a Sunday morning.
The Press started two popular newspaper columns: "Everyone Has a Story," tells uplifting vignettes about local people, and "A Life Lived" expands an obit into a story. It dished out "Legacy Recipes," giving readers a chance to send in the recipe for Grandma's prized peach pie, and it hyperlocalized the business page. Mom-and-pops that never would have been covered on the traditional pages suddenly were the subject of write-ups. And the Press hired mom bloggers to cover locals and tourists who frequent the shore.
"It's not doing one huge thing and saying we did it; it's doing a million small things," Borowski said. "The key is to be passionate about it. Allow your passion to grow for the small stuff that is so meaningful to the audience."
Baseball, beer, and breaking news
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
In a town that worships its sports and its beer, it's only natural that the local newspaper would cater to those things in print and online. So last spring, when the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's advertisers wanted to try mobile, the newspaper dialed in. It created its own app for the city's beloved Cardinals baseball team, complete with breaking news and in-game analysis. On release, it was the second-ranked paid sports app on iTunes, ranking only behind MLB.com. Within six months, the $2.99 app gained more than 10,000 users. The Post-Dispatch had similar success with apps for its hockey (Blues) and football (Rams) teams.
Similarly, the local beer crowd got juiced about columnist Evan Benn's free beer app that launched in January. In less than two weeks, it had some 1,200 users run the app with more than 25,000 page views. Post-Dispatch Publisher Kevin Mowbray called the Hip Hops app "a great example of extending and integrating content" as well as promoting reader engagement by keeping both the newspaper and the columnist on people's minds as they search for breweries or beer style information.
"It's critical that we build on the success that we already have," Mowbray said. "The role of the publisher has to be to keep the pace, really keep moving the ball down the court on these things. Being first to market is critical."
In January, the Post-Dispatch launched a mobile news app in addition to the existing mobile website to serve a total of 2.9 million page views per month, with an average CPM (cost per thousand views) of $20. Its prep sports app is expected to be as successful as its high school sports website, which gets 2.5 million page views monthly, Mowbray said. And several more apps are in the works.
Trying new things comes natural to the Post-Dispatch. The paper, owned by Lee Enterprises, was the first of the company's 53 newspapers to offer Today's Deal, a hot online offer. And its magazine, Feast, with its high-end foodie content "flew off the shelves" when it started, Mowbray said. Could a Feast app be next?
Community feedback - and a venti latte to-go, please
The Register Citizen
While reporters and editors are busy working at this small northwest Connecticut newspaper, some local readers are just a few feet away, sipping coffee, lounging on comfy couches, and perusing that newspaper's website.
It's called the Newsroom Café, and it has literally torn down the walls between The Register Citizen's newsroom in Torrington and its public. Since it opened Dec. 13, the café not only promotes "immeasurable goodwill," the publisher said, but it has generated a slew of story ideas and has even convinced a stingy advertiser to buy digital space for the first time.
"It's like social media," said Citizen Publisher Matt DeRienzo. "It peels back the curtain like the Wizard (of Oz) ... the great and powerful newspaper how it used to be."
Besides coffee and pastries, readers have free access to Wi-Fi so they can read a reporter's story seconds after it goes online and comment on it.
"It used to be that you worked on a story behind closed doors ... and days later you might get a letter to the editor," DeRienzo said. "Now it's a 24-hour news cycle, and readers react immediately. We're engaging with them."
The public is even invited to daily story meetings, which are streamed over the Internet with live chat.
"That has really improved our coverage," DeRienzo said. "People say, ‘Why aren't you writing about how this 50 inches of snow is going to melt soon, and we're going to have flooding?'"
The café came about after the Citizen shut down its pressroom and needed a new space for its 45 employees. With the paper's owner, the Journal Register Co., emphasizing "digital first," DeRienzo figured the open newsroom was "a great opportunity to have a physical space that reflects our company philosophy" and give citizen journalists a sounding board.
"We can't possibly cover all that there is to be told," DeRienzo said. "It works with the blogger who is obsessed about girls' ice hockey. We don't need to own that content."
The café also has a library and a new microfilm machine so readers can research 134 years of newspaper archives from the Citizen or its predecessors, Torrington Register and Winsted Evening Citizen. A full-time community engagement editor was hired to help researchers and teach classes such as the "Art of Storytelling" or "Blogging 101."
Can't we all just get along?
The Times of Northwest Indiana
When Bill Masterson became publisher of The Times of Northwest Indiana four years ago, he noticed that the region's movers and shakers didn't like one another very much. Leaders within the area, which contains dozens of cities and towns, but no big city anchor, were fiercely competitive and clamoring for attention. So he invited the whole "dysfunctional" lot of them to lunch. And sat them in assigned seats. He put mayors with mayors, hospital administrators with hospital administrators, and law enforcement with law enforcement. He paid. Then he challenged all 175 of them to get along.
"Quite honestly, we had a ‘Come to Jesus Meeting,'" Masterson said. "I told them ‘Everyone says they want to work for the region and they always blame it on the other guy. Well, the other guy is sitting right next to you.' There was an uncomfortable laugh."
From that meeting, One Region One Vision was born, an effort led by the Times to encourage leaders to share resources and information and, well, get along. Leaders from Indiana's blue collar North Lake County and those from the upscale suburban South Lake realized they had common problems and goals despite their stark differences. Masterson coined a word for it: coopetition.
"It's been quite an amazing movement," Masterson said. "We're recognized as the force that has brought this together. They associate the Times as an important part of the livelihood of Northwest Indiana. We're not just a company that reports on the news; we're involved in helping (foster) a healthy environment in this region."
Together the group made many positive changes. It started a mayor's roundtable to bring longtime adversaries together to vent and forged a coalition to revitalize Gary, a depressed, crime-ridden city with unused assets such as a lakefront and a regional airport.
Within its own walls, the Times began studying the problems newspapers face when outsourcing call centers overseas. It found that frustration with language issues and overall customer dissatisfaction hurt the customer base. It developed its own in-house call center, which has become so successful that 11 additional newspapers within its publishing company, Lee Enterprises, use it.
Move over, Groupon
The Daily Herald
Now that we can officially call this era the worst recession since the Great Depression, it makes sense that Groupon is preparing for a $15 billion IPO. People are obsessed with finding easy ways to save money, not only on the groceries they buy every day, but on experiences they probably wouldn't be able to afford without a coupon. No one knows a local community better than a local newspaper (sorry Groupon, not everyone needs Lasik), which makes the daily deal coupon model a smart move. If Groupon is already available in your area, you'll need to one-up the Internet behemoth to permanently reclaim that coupon revenue; that's what these papers have done.
The Bulletin of Bend, Ore. has kept its version of the Groupon experience in print, breaking away from the pack in this respect. Its "double deal of the day" runs Mondays, with teaser ads running in the Sunday edition. Since the program launched, the Bulletin has seen single copy sales of the Monday issue grow 10 percent. The "double deal" offers a way for consumers to save twice: The coupon is for a discounted or free item from the participating merchant and is also an entry into a drawing for a more expensive item. The coupon is so popular with local merchants that there's a waiting list to participate.
In Provo, Utah, The Daily Herald provides its readers with a comprehensive coupon program called Savvy Shopper that even consists of coupon classes for residents and grocery store cashiers. The program's website features more coupon training, forums and blogs for shoppers to share tips on sales and saving money, and a "shopping wizard" featuring all the items in the Sunday circulars. The website is supplemented by twice-weekly e-mail blasts and a Sunday spadea that offers even more coupons along with local content on saving money, organizing tips, and family activities. The Herald also launched a mobile site that lets smartphone users skip the clipping and printing by showing the merchant the deal right on their phones.
Down to business
Detroit Free Press and
The Detroit News
420,465 Daily; 536,041
The Sacramento Bee
Journalistic ideals aside, newspapers are businesses - businesses that are struggling in this age of instant information and global recession. While many papers have focused on improving content or being competitive online, others fine-tuned their business plans - improving efficiencies in existing operations and developing strategies for generating new revenue streams.
Lancaster Newspapers, Inc. is the publisher of the Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era, a hybrid paper that carries the names of both newspapers, which merged in June 2009. The company is branching out beyond the realm of newspapers by producing a Baby & Toddler Expo and Taste of Home Cooking School. In order to boost circulation, the marketing department developed a program called "telephone order nights." Letters were mailed to a preselected group with a specially priced subscription offer if they called on a certain night at a designated time. The company described the first attempt at the program as "an unqualified success."
In Pittsburgh, the Post-Gazette has focused its efforts on innovative products and projects to produce revenue. The paper has moved its technology base to cloud computing and partnered with other companies in the e-business arena to monetize Web traffic. When advertisers shifted their budgets to promotional dollars, the Post-Gazette followed by producing custom programs for those clients. The paper is working with Ikea, Citizens Bank, and others on targeted events for young, technology-savvy audiences using social media and mobile campaigns. It even launched a text-message marketing campaign.
Detroit Media Partnership (DMP), publisher of the Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News, turned a lot of heads when it cut home delivery of its two dailies to three days a week, supplemented by e-editions. It then launched a premium delivery service so readers who still wanted seven-day delivery service could choose to pay a higher rate. This produced a major improvement in the company's bottom line and maintained its ability to reach 50 percent of the adults in its market. Meanwhile, DMP reinvented the way it sells advertising and hosted a massive training effort to ensure that every sales rep is an expert in multimedia sales.
The Sacramento Bee comes in as the wild card for this feature, because it nominated its packaging center. Parent company McClatchy began benchmarking its newspapers in every category, which was the catalyst for the Bee's Packaging Center Performance Program. The machine operators set a goal to improve the packaging room averages by 1,000 copies per hour and worked with the marketing department to stay on target, develop incentives, and launch alert advertising of poor-performing inserts. In just three months, the center's overall average has improved by 1,200 copies per hour; annual projected savings is approximately $150,000.
Putting the "i" in "team"
Across the country, one thing communities large and small have in common is high school sports, and newspapers in the know are capitalizing on this potentially massive audience. By creating a vibrant, online community, these papers are expanding their audiences and providing advertisers with eyeballs they wouldn't be getting otherwise.
At the Star Tribune in Minneapolis, partnering with another media company has allowed the paper to maximize delivery of the content that schools, students, parents, and boosters are looking for. In November 2010, the paper launched what it calls "hub" sites for four different sports (boys' hockey, girls' hockey, boys' basketball, and girls' basketball). The hub sites deliver live scoring, stats, and standings for all schools in the state of Minnesota, as well as features, player profiles, game stories, complete rosters and schedules. Because the hubs are hosted away from the paper's main page, they have an identity all their own, with slick graphics and smooth layouts that rival professional sports websites. Back on StarTribune.com, the prep sports page aggregates all the stories from the hub sites, so the content has two opportunities to make its way to readers. In 2011, the Star Tribune plans to create hub sites for more than 20 other sports.
In Riverside, Calif., The Press-Enterprise also has a separate website that hosts all of its high school sports content, but they took it one step further with a live Web show that streams on the newspaper's website every Friday from 9 p.m. to midnight. The show is hosted by two staffers from the interactive content department and features Skype interviews with coaches, calls from fans, video highlights, scores, rankings, and photos. The Press-Enterprise also has expanded its print coverage with user-submitted photos and student contributors who write about their schools' athletic events, cheerleading squads, and marching bands. Called HSGameTime, the high school sports page has gained a brand presence all its own, and the site boasted 3 million page views during the 2010 football season.
The Oakland Press
Few other media companies have set out to tackle digital initiatives the way the Journal Register Co. has, so it's no surprise that this category features two Journal Register titles.
In the suburbs of Philly, The Mercury in Pottstown, Pa. knows that small papers must provide value to both readers and advertisers in order to survive in the online marketplace. The Mercury has developed a number of online initiatives that reflect this goal, such as a Fall Dining Guide, Bartender of the Year contest, and interactive Happy Holiday map that links to videos promoting local businesses. These online sections leverage the paper's legacy as a local authority and trusted news source, delivering Pottstown residents the content they're looking for and turning browsers into buyers for advertisers.
Also heeding the call of Journal Register Co. CEO John Paton's "digital first" initiative is The Oakland Press, which used election night 2010 as a springboard to launch into the realm of streaming video. The Press invited key political leaders into the newsroom to be part of a live Web program that began as soon as the polls closed. The panel included state representatives, county commissioners, county Republican and Democratic leaders, and even the editor of another newspaper. Meanwhile, reporters went into the field armed with cameras and computers to provide breaking election news, often before the broadcast TV reporters. The effort surpassed expectations and generated a buzz in the community surrounding the Press, which this year will be training its entire reporting staff in videography so they can livestream even more events.
Content is king
The Seattle Times
The Daily Progress
Here's a cutting edge idea: Survey your readers to find out exactly what they want, then give them what they ask for. That's how the Omaha World-Herald decided to create a new website dedicated entirely to health news, information, and interactive tools such as a symptom checker, daily diet and fitness trackers, blogs, and forums. The health site is supplemented by a monthly magazine, and is sponsored by BlueCross and BlueShield of Nebraska.
Newspapers typically have had success with special guides: real estate, travel, weddings, you name it. But one weekly in the Pacific Northwest has spun the guide into something unique. Rather than encouraging consumers to buy items they may not be able to afford, the Give!Guide from the Willamette Week encourages residents to give back to local nonprofits. In the seven years the Week has been running the Give!Guide, annual donations have risen from $22,000 in year one to more than $1 million in 2010 - a pretty amazing feat for a small, alternative weekly. The Week cites donor incentives and a great website as its keys to success. The annual guide cements the weekly as a contributing member of the local community, fostering goodwill, readership, and website hits.
To beef up its coverage of local news, The Daily Progress in Charlottesville, Va. partnered with a nonprofit, nonpartisan reporting organization to combat the effects of dwindling resources and increased competition. The organization's reporting on public affairs appears in the paper's print and online editions. The paper benefits from the added content, while the organization benefits from the increased exposure. The strong relationship forged between the two entities allows them both to grow their audiences while maintaining their quality coverage of other areas.
Hyperlocal was a hot buzzword in 2010, and it's not going away anytime soon. The Seattle Times responded to this demand (and the competition created when Patch came to town) by partnering with bloggers who already were established in the Seattle area. The Times hand-picked which blogs would be invited to participate in the project based on the blogger's journalistic standards. The Times links to the blog sites, rather than pulling content onto its homepage, so that traffic is shared across both sites. When appropriate, the paper and the blog sites swap photos and video of breaking news. The journalism conversation is elevated when the discussion on a particularly compelling story starts on the Times site and continues on a hyperlocal level on each of the blog sites. The paper has benefited from an increase in web traffic as well as community relevance, and supports the effort with an ad network shared with the bloggers.