This year’s list of 10 Newspapers That Do It Right once again recognizes some of the biggest and brightest ideas taking place in our industry right now. These ideas range from successful digital innovations, strategies that helped cut costs, and revenue ideas that increased the bottom line.
Despite any setbacks and challenges that come at them, these 10 newspapers and the ones listed in our honorable mentions are hopeful for a brighter and stronger future. We hope these ideas will also push your newsroom to growth and prosperity.
Alexander City Outlook
Alexander City, Ala.
Circulation: 3,000 daily (Tuesday-Saturday)
Like the majority of small newspapers around the country, the Alexander City Outlook has struggled with digital, but the paper recently decided to move away from the “sky is falling” mentality and fully embrace the mission to become a total media company.
Editor Mitch Sneed said although they were already experimenting with video and social media, it wasn’t until publisher Steve Baker joined in 2016 that their approach became more aggressive. Pages were added to the paper to utilize photos and visual content, and the five-person editorial team now produces about 12 stories per week. Digitally, live video on the paper’s website and social media pages brought breaking news to users immediately. City council meetings, parades and post-game interviews are broadcast live. Sponsors are secured for many of the paper’s regular video features like the sports talk show “Inside the Lines” and newsmaker interview piece “TPI Talk.” Live weather reports and interviews from news feature stories are also captured in both video and still images. The videos often draw tens of thousands of viewers and serve as teasers to the next print publication, according to Sneed.
A digital sales specialist was also hired. Web ads, commercials and sponsored content resulted in a jump in digital ad revenue. In the final six months of 2017, the Outlook went from taking in no money on video advertising to averaging nearly $3,000 per month. Overall, digital advertising revenue climbed from $56,000 to $104,000—an 83.9 percent increase from 2016 to 2017.
On the paper’s website, the total number of sessions jumped to 2.3 million an increase of 10.71 percent over the previous year. First-time visits jumped 14.95 percent. Facebook follows jumped by almost 5,000 in a year, with more than 16,000 page likes. Average weekly reach in 2017 was 67,676.
“In a town of a little more than 14,000 residents, that’s not too bad,” said Sneed.
Instead of getting stuck in the cycle of doing the same thing over and over, the Outlook now abides by a “let’s try it” mantra. By allowing staff to think in different and creative ways, Sneed said it’s improved the newsroom culture and filled the building with excitement.
“It always amazes me to see what a small staff can do with the right folks in place,” Baker said. “Our staff has reached well above the expected norm for a small daily newspaper. By embracing the new technology and the total media company concept, they use all the tools at their disposal to connect with our community and beyond.”
Arizona Daily Star
Circulation: 59,343 daily; 82,978 Sunday
The Arizona Daily Star’s Innovation Lab is where “computer nerds and word nerds” come together to merge the principles of human-centered design with technology to create products and solutions that address customer needs.
It all started with a digital vertical called #ThisIsTucson (tucson.com/thisistucson) designed to reach millennial mothers between the ages of 18-35.
“#ThisIsTucson is off-platform in that the website is not our main focus,” said editor Jill Jorden Spitz. “We know millennials bump into news on social platforms, smartphone apps and email—for example, they see something interesting on Facebook and click on it, or a breaking news alert pops up on the home screen of their mobile phone and they swipe to read it.”
Jorden Spitz said the product was an immediate success. The Facebook page had 4,000 likes before it launched in September 2016. Today, it has more than 29,000 followers.
“In our first year, we reached 45 percent of the millennial women in the metro Tucson area, averaging 42,778 users a month,” Jorden Spitz said.
It was the creation of #ThisIsTucson that sparked the idea of an Innovation Lab. Although it was Jorden Spitz who introduced the concept of design thinking to the newsroom, it was reporter Becky Pallack and social media editor Irene McKission who designed #ThisIsTucson. Both of them are now part of the Innovation Lab team.
Launched in March 2017, the Lab brought together members of the news, production and advertising staffs to create a variety of innovative concepts. They include Ofertas, a chatbot created for the busy Mexican Christmas shopping season to reach consumers from the northern Mexican state of Sonora; two more bots tailored to parents looking to find the right school for their child and another to help them find the right summer camps; and The Wildcaster, a sports app customized for University of Arizona Wildcats superfans and featuring a podcast and an interactive scoreboard.
The Lab is also exploring ways that virtual assistant Alexa might help subscribers with customer service tasks or offer them interactive news and sports quizzes. They are experimenting with cell-phone cameras and 360-degree cameras as storytelling tools, and they are testing Bluetooth low-energy beacons as avenues to connecting readers with geo-specific news or advertising content.
When asked how other newsrooms can implement an Innovation Lab, Jorden Spitz said, “Find people in the newsroom with an affinity for this kind of stuff and carve out a space for them to think differently.”
And know your audience, she added. “Start with them, then create the product. Build everything for your audience. Know all the platforms they use and know how they use those platforms are different.”
Fort Collins, Colo.
Circulation: 11,156 daily; 15,348 Sunday
In 2017, the Coloradoan continued to go all-in on an effort to help lead the local news industry’s digital transformation. As a result, the company has seen tremendous results in various places: year-over-year paid subscription growth (online and print) of 994 subscribers in early December 2017; continued year-over-year growth in page views, unique users, video views and various other online metrics; and increased social media followers across Facebook, Twitter Instagram and Snapchat from 97,727 in January 2017 to 115,845 in November 2017—an 18.5 percent increase.
News director Eric Larsen credited his team for being unafraid to step up to the challenge. One of them was reporter Erin Udell who created a monthly podcast called “The Way It Is,” focused on the local history of Fort Collins.
“Praise for the podcast has been positive, with both loyal Coloradoan listeners and people new to our brand,” Larsen said. “Listeners have tuned in to these stories more than 13,000 times. It’s clearly a creative storytelling format that people in our community crave.”
This new digital mindset allowed the staff flexibility to build on ideas. For example, a rebranded weekly newsletter was launched, resulting in a 27 percent spike in new subscribers and a 4 percent growth in open and click rate. The paper is also experimenting with a new bot that interacts with people through Facebook Messenger, sending alerts and updates on news and entertainment. There are currently about 500 subscribers, according to Larsen.
The paper also spent 2017 using a home-grown metrics tool to examine and eliminate low-performing stories.
“By reducing our reliance on low-impact commodity journalism to ‘fill the paper’ we’ve been able to free up reporters to pursue improved character-driven narratives, investigations and timely talkers that drive readership.” Larsen said.
Hosting events—such as The Storytellers Project, Secret Suppers, Pop-Up Pairings and Brews & News—also gave the paper a way to connect to the community. Larsen said events have generated more than $30,000 in ticket revenue (12 events have even sold out). He expects the paper to grow in this space.
But looking ahead, digital will continue to play a big part in their strategies.
“Local news organizations certainly can prosper if they are willing to embrace the societal shift to an increasingly digital future,” Larsen said. “We have an opportunity to make community news a two-way street in ways that it never was when our focus was set on producing a single consumable good. We must make smart decisions to make news consumption a sustaining, social event that feels vital to our communities.”
Circulation: 30,000 daily; 32,000 Sunday
Doing more with less is not an easy task. Like most newspapers now-a-days, the Fayetteville Observer’s staff is considerably smaller than it was two years ago. Yet, its executive editor Matt Leclercq found a way to do more with less and grew the newspaper’s online page views to 63 million in 2017 with a change to its digital strategy.
The growth developed out of necessity, really. It began a year ago after the Observer’s page production department moved to a design hub at its parent company, GateHouse Media. The move meant the loss of copy desk members that handled most of the web management. When that happened, Leclercq knew the newspaper’s old digital strategy “would no longer work” and something transformative was needed for his now 30-person newsroom.
Leclercq started by implementing a digital team, which consists of a digital editor and two web managers/content producers, dedicated to producing original digital content, collaborating with reporters, and engaging with readers online.
“What the formation of the digital team helped provide was orchestration, ownership and collaboration,” Leclercq said. “Now we could be focused on flow and display of content on the web, in conjunction with our constant conversations with audiences on social media, while providing digital firepower on breaking stories and enterprise.”
Instead of just passively moving print content online, the Observer’s team crafts digital content aimed at engaging readers. “Some of our most popular digital content involves us directly interacting with our readers and social media followers,” said Beth Hutson, digital editor.
She said the team utilizes Facebook to gather reader’s opinions on hot topics which are then crafted into stories for online and social media. “In some cases, we’ve then gone on to use those in print, turning the old print-first model on its head.”
The team also actively collaborates with reporters on presentation for stories online as well as to brainstorm 20 ideas once a week for 20 minutes. Since they’ve started “20 in 20” Hutson said there has been more collaboration between the digital team and the rest of the newsroom, and reporters and photographers are coming up with great digital content not only for their own stories and projects but also standalone digital pieces.
For publishers hesitant or not sure with how to start, Lecelercq encouraged them not to be afraid of investing in someone to be their digital leader. “Every newsroom needs a digital champion. Most of us aren’t able to pull a new position out of our hat, much less two or three new positions. But look around the room. You may already have someone who gets it.”
Circulation: 151,585 daily; 165,538 Sunday
When the Honolulu Star-Advertiser saw an opportunity in the market, it pounced.
By creating the Digital Billboard Network last year, it’s now close to “achieving over $1 million in annual incremental revenue,” said Dave Kennedy, chief revenue officer.
Last year, its parent company Oahu Publications Inc. set out to create a new profit center and the Star-Advertiser ran with the idea. After some digging, the team realized that with the decline of broadcast media audiences, many advertising clients in the area had insufficient channels to utilize commercials they’d created.
So, the Star-Advertiser leveraged that demand and supplied an out-of-home digital broadcast system—the Digital Billboard Network—and now the newspaper is tapping into clientele it normally wouldn’t sell to.
“We realized this and the fact that recent technology advances now allowed us to leverage our legacy strengths—desirable newspaper/online content and an existing network consisting of hundreds of distribution racks located in high- traffic consumer areas,” said Kennedy. “We then applied these realities to capitalize on the one popular media channel least affected by the digital age—out-of-home—and enhanced it with the power of sight, sound and motion.”
The Network now consists of 100 screens prominently positioned in busy retail centers across Honolulu and Oahu. Utilizing Wi-Fi, the screen is fed looping content consisting of news briefs, point of sale messaging and 15-second commercials from third-party advertisers.
As a selling point, the Star-Advertiser employed facial detection technology called SiteView from Phoenix Vision Inc. and installed it into the screens. SiteView measures “the number of times content is actively viewed” by consumers and breaks down the data in terms of gender and age-bracket.
“Advertisers are especially attracted to advertising vehicles that are measurable,” Kennedy said.
It wasn’t hard for the newspaper to attract new clients. According to Kennedy, 45 clients were secured in less than six months and 85 percent of the $100,000 in monthly incremental revenue stems from non-traditional newspaper advertisers.
Also, the Network has an audience that now rivals local radio stations and morning television shows, according to statistics Kennedy has seen. The attention has also rolled over to the print editions of the newspaper.
“Honolulu Star-Advertiser single copy sales have increased significantly in the participating retail stores where DBN SiteView screens are broadcasting,” said Kennedy.
There are plans to continue expanding the Network, which is absolutely necessary in today’s media world, Kennedy said.
“Innovation and creation of new revenue products is the only way to not only survive, but thrive,” he explained.
Circulation: 186,538 daily; 292,650 Sunday
Devastation and euphoria rippled through the Houston Chronicle’s coverage area last year—first in August with massive flooding from Hurricane Harvey, and then less than two months later, a World Series title. Throughout it all, the Chronicle didn’t skip a beat—thanks in part to extensive preparation and strategic thinking.
“If you aren’t prepared, you cannot capitalize on those moments,” said Nancy Barnes, executive editor.
Barnes spent the better part of 2016 training reporters from a string of newspapers newly- acquired by the Chronicle. She groomed the weekly staff to be the daily breaking news team in areas the Chronicle couldn’t reach.
When Harvey hit in 2017, the training proved vital. “We had weekly reporters stationed in bureaus around the metro area…that were mostly closed off when the highways were flooded,” Barnes said.
The weekly team coupled with the main newsroom worked around the clock updating two websites “with everything from useful information—which roads were passable—to constant breaking news about newly flooded areas, shelters, rescue operations, fatalities (and) reservoir safety.”
When the print edition could no longer be delivered, the Chronicle lifted its website’s paywall. As the roads cleared, they gave away the paper for seven days. All in the effort to better serve its community, which reaped great rewards—the website hit a record 21 million views in one day and received 98 million page views overall for all Harvey content.
“We believe that this built goodwill not only among our readers, but the broader community that may not frequent our websites on a regular basis,” Barnes said.
Attention kept rolling weeks later when the Houston Astros delivered a World Series title (the first in franchise history) to a town very much in need of a victory. Again, the Chronicle made most of the opportunity.
“It’s vital that our organizations be ready to serve consumers with the content and products they want, when they want them, and to monetize those opportunities,” Barnes said.
And the Chronicle was more than ready. As readers filled their parking lot and lined up around the building, the Chronicle was there. In total, more than 750,000 newspapers were sold following the Astros’ World Series victory, 125,000 of which were printed in anticipation of the high demand. They also sold more than 100,000 memorabilia packages, which is an important lesson about the need to service your customers.
“With creative thinking and planning, organizations can find revenue opportunities around…the big moments in life that consumers want to participate in and remember,” Barnes said.
Las Vegas Review-Journal
Las Vegas, Nev.
Circulation: 231,443 daily; 164,976 Sunday
As the “Best of Las Vegas” rolled into its 36th year, the Las Vegas Review-Journal knew it needed a new approach. Despite doubling its revenue in 2016, the “Best of” section struggled with profits.
“In the past, as with most newspapers, we would spend three months, grab the money, run a newspaper section and then have to start all over again,” said Kimberly Parker, vice president of advertising.
That wasn’t going to work in 2017, which is why the Review-Journal brought in NERUS Strategies LLC. That move would result in the 2017 “Best of Las Vegas” bringing in more than 1.3 million votes, $725,000 in revenue and an 84 percent revenue growth year-over-year.
The NERUS team stepped in and helped the Review-Journal create twice-weekly feature editions for “Best of Las Vegas” and an all-new 120-page full color glossy magazine. In addition, it also created a digital platform which served both the readers (voters) and advertisers, optimizing voter engagement while providing our advertising staff with the ability to serve customers in a new and meaningful way, said Parker.
Not only did NERUS simplify the voting process but it brought a new approach to the project, transforming both the advertiser and user experience, according to Parker.
“Whether it was running marketing promotions, designing ads, making sales assist calls or writing content,” she said. “They provide whatever is needed in order to free up sales to do what they are paid to do: sell.”
NERUS helped create a year-round website with a self-serve shopping cart function that gave users and customers the freedom to browse at their leisure.
“We often found customers logging on during the early morning hours or late in the evening as their own personal schedules allowed,” Parker said.
An addition of an entertainment channel filled with ongoing news and events to the site helped boost page views for the Review-Journal.
“It allows us to sell digital solutions to a unique audience that is highly engaged in Las Vegas entertainment, news and travel information,” Parker said. “The website (BestOfLasVegas.com) now has valuable content year-round.”
Most of all, NERUS helped the Review-Journal change the “Best of” experience into a product line, said Parker, and they saved money on production, digital and marketing services.
Parker said their partnership with NERUS would continue this year and offered three pieces of advice to other publications with “Best of” programs: “Have it managed outside the newsroom; let it be managed by professionals that know the space; and treat those professionals as partners, not vendors.”
Circulation: 277,834 daily; 312,161 Sunday
To retain their current subscriber base, Newsday had one answer—give them more. According to Patrick Tornabene, vice president of audience development and analytics, they first experimented with opt-in products for an additional fee, but after seeing a low uptake and low retention numbers, they switched to a no-fee approach.
“The results have been dramatic,” said Kim Como, Newsday communications manager.
The first free opt-in product was a niche publication of games and puzzles called “Brain Benders Monthly,” a collection of crosswords, Sudoku, Jumbles, and kids’ pages. Launched in May 2016, the churn probability dropped an average of 12 percentage points, according to Tornabene, and in the first year, the publication yielded $3.5 million in retention revenue.
In April 2017, a second opt-in product was released. Called “Classic Editions from The Newsday Vault,” the publication is a reprint of historical editions from the paper with a cover story that had significant meaning to the area. For example, the first classic edition in April was the opening day of the 1964 New York World’s Fair and a second edition in June was the 1979 Protest at Shoreham, where anti-nuclear protests took place. Tornabene said research showed that 43 percent of responders would be more likely to continue their Newsday subscription in order to keep receiving the Classic Editions.
In late 2017, Newsday launched its third opt-in product for subscribers “Long Island Our Story.” Originally published in 1997-98, it documents Long Island from the Ice Age to the Space Age. The reprints are chapters from a book the newspaper published of the same name and it will be released over a series of months. Tornabene said there are currently 32,000 subscribers receiving the series.
“To pull this off we truly had to involve every department throughout the organization,” said Frank Cutrone, vice president of production. “Departments brainstormed and invented new ways to overcome all the challenges we faced along the way. Together these targeted products are extremely valuable to our audience and exist by pure will and determination of our Newsday team.”
And each opt-in product has showcased the value of having a Newsday subscription.
Jack Millrod, assistant managing editor, features news desk, said, “The whole idea of the Newsday vault delivering both the Long Island history installments and blast-from-the-past Classic Editions gives us a wonderful way to connect with a past we share with longtime readers. They lived through so many other memorable stories we’ve covered. And for us, it’s like having a time machine that takes us back to a specific day from any time during the eight decades we’ve been covering Long Island.”
Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram
Circulation: 32,300 daily; 46,600 Sunday
Sometimes, a newspaper has to tear down something in order to rebuild. For the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, it was the removal of an old, three-story press. Commercial printing revenue was the fastest growing piece of business, and the company realized it was time to invest in a new press machine.
“While our flexo-press served us well for close to 30 years, it was expensive to operate since the plates cost significantly more than plates for a traditional offset press,” said publisher and CEO Lisa DeSisto. “Since the new press is less expensive to operate, we were finally able to compete for commercial printing revenue and now print several titles we do not own. Making the decision to invest in a new press kept 60 jobs in Maine.”
The new press—a DGM 850—was installed in December 2016. DeSisto credited the resilience and flexibility of the press operators during the entire transition.
“They still had to meet a deadline to get the newspaper to subscribers’ doors by 6 a.m. and not let any of the changes impact deadlines with our commercial printing clients,” she said.
In January 2017, the process to dismantle the old press started, which also presented a unique possibility for the newsroom.
“This giant vacant space gave us the opportunity to move our newsroom out of the high-rent area in downtown Portland and get everyone together under one roof,” DeSisto said. “Since we also pay for employees parking having plenty of free parking at our printing plant also enabled us to save money. We transformed the former press hall into a beautiful, funky modern workspace (that) now holds the entire newsroom, marketing, circulation, IT, creative services, digital development, a video studio, a cafe space for the staff and company sponsored events.”
By September, the entire newsroom had all moved into the new space, which is about six miles away from their former downtown location. DeSisto said there is more work that needs to be done to the building, but the new newsroom encourages more collaboration. Everyone occupies the same floor and sits out in the open area, even DeSisto. Only the editor and managing editor have offices.
“We engaged the entire staff in the design of the new space as it was important for their ideas on creating a highly productive space helped shape some of our choices,” she said. “What started as a cost-savings measure has been a lift for morale and improved cross-department collaboration. We all love to hear the hum of the press—and with our commercial printing success—we are really humming.”
Circulation: 43,575 daily; 47,310 Sunday
The Register-Guard saw an under-served problem in its community and set out to raise awareness about an extremely visible sect of the Eugene population: the homeless. What they would go on to achieve brought attention to the issue and made a difference in the community’s approach to the homelessness problem.
For editorial page editor Jackman Wilson and associate editorial page editor Ilene Aleshire, homelessness was an issue that could not be properly assessed in one column or even a 10-part series. They decided to tackle the problem over the span of a year.
Packaged under the label “Focus on Homelessness,” the team wrote more than 50 editorials on the subject. Topics focused on what was being done to address the problem and showcase solutions that were within reach.
“There’s a hunger for evidence that something is being done to deal with this problem,” Wilson said. “We found a lot of it.”
One example was their coverage of “rest stops,” which are places where groups of homeless people can live such as in cars or primitive shelters without violating anti-camping ordinances.
“We described various aspects of how they work in several of our editorials, with the basic editorial point being that while rudimentary shelter cannot be considered adequate housing, rest stops are a big step up from the street,” Wilson said. “Our work in describing the rest stops and how they operate has led to some reduction in the difficulty of finding sites for them.”
Throughout their series, which started in February 2017, the Register-Guard gained the attention of readers, government officials and even academics in the area.
“Local government officials and people who work for agencies that work with the homeless population often told us they were pleased that the newspaper was examining the issue and that it gave them information they did not have before,” Wilson said.
The Register-Guard wrapped up the series with a public forum this January. About 170 people attended the event, which sold out early, to discuss the series and the issues it raised. Wilson said nearly 25 people spoke, and all of them had something to say that was worth hearing. Although the editorial series officially ended Feb. 11, Wilson said the city’s homeless problem would still be on the paper’s radar.
“By providing perspective and fostering ongoing conversations around important issues, local news companies are well suited to meet that need, and to serve local advertisers and benefactors who not only want to help fund the work but be a part of those solutions,” said publisher Logan Molen.
The E&P staff thanks each paper that sent us a submission this year for 10 Newspapers That Do It Right. Every year, we’re impressed and encouraged by the good work being done at newspapers around the world. Narrowing down the list to just 10 papers is always a challenge, but we still want to recognize the ones that didn’t quite make the final cut this time.
The Canton Repository produced a 28-page magazine-style series called “Epidemic: Opioid & Heroin Awareness Toolkit” while forging partnerships with nine local nonprofit agencies to help produce 250,000 high-quality pieces. In addition, the sports department produced a popular 53-week series titled “Stark’s Greatest,” where writers looked back on the greatest teams in the county’s history. The paper also started a program called “Access Eats” that has been distributed to the rest of the properties in GateHouse Media Ohio. The program generated more than $35,000 in revenue.
In July 2017, the Cincinnati Enquirer and its sister newspapers across Ohio sent a total of 60 journalists out on more than 120 assignments to chronicle the toll of heroin addiction in the state and around their communities. The result was a raw, yet often moving, chronological narrative called “Seven Days of Heroin: This is What an Epidemic Looks Like.” Published in September 2017, the coverage generated more than 1 million pageviews in just a few weeks.
Daytona Beach News-Journal
Dayton Beach, Fla.
In 2017, the Daytona Beach News-Journal newsroom increased the “impact journalism” it delivered to its readers. Some of those stories include: a five-part series, “Tarnished Jewel,” focused on Daytona Beach’s struggling core neighborhood on the beach side, and “Rising Seas,” a collaboration with other GateHouse Florida Newspapers on a multi-part series explaining how rising sea level is impacting coastal communities across Florida. Digital traffic also increased 20 percent in 2017, to more than 76.4 million page views. Additionally, revenue from events more than tripled than from what it was three years ago, and promotions generated more than $750,000 last year.
Top newsroom leaders formed Erie Next as a way to move forward together with the community. The Erie Next commitment took a variety of forms, including scores of solutions-oriented news stories focused on community challenges and opportunities; editorials and other commentary challenging the community and its people and calling its leaders to account; periodic front-page editorials on the community’s most critical issues; a series of public forums that brought community members together to brainstorm solutions and find common cause; and the formation of a Reader Advisory Board to offer counsel.
Globe and Mail
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
As a 170-year-old legacy print organization, the Globe and Mail made a deliberate decision to invest in innovation by changing its culture, workflow, workforce and platforms. Some of these examples include building a custom in-house data analytics tool that provides real-time and historical information on what their online audience is reading; the creation of Lab 351 in partnership with Communitech, a non-profit incubator accelerator; and partnering with the Washington Post’s Arc software, which led to more than 30 percent increased engagement and website page-load speed improving by almost 50 percent.
Herald & Review
In January 2017, the Herald & Review started “Project Reset.” The result includes a reorganized newsroom dedicated to more local voices, stronger visuals and fresh features; improved visibility and public outreach; and an 87 percent jump in year-over-year pageviews in 2017. A podcast called “Voices” was created, featuring journalists discussing their work and how stories come together. There are new email newsletters summarizing the day’s news and sports, as well as regular Facebook Live posts. In addition, the Herald & Review app screenviews increased 228 percent between 2016 and 2017.
Press of Atlantic City
The Press of Atlantic City launched Big Surf Media, a small, internal marketing agency to help local businesses build websites, optimize online content, and brand themselves through social media and other channels. All of the work is in house, and the small team consists of seven people from both the sales and editorial sides. The ad director and executive editor run the team, which includes two digitally-savvy sales managers, a web coder, an administrative assistant and a consultant. Only in existence for six months, it is the fastest growing piece of business.
The staff at the Quad-City Times formed a team focused on virtual reality. With skills in visuals, editing and storytelling, the team created an app called QCT VR, available for Android and iPhone. The app’s content management system is designed for easy sharing and display of large VR videos. It launched last September with a multi-chapter VR story about the Quad-City Times Bix 7. Sponsors were also found for two of their stories. Looking ahead, the paper’s goal is to produce and publish one VR story a month.
The Herald-Tribune continued to expand on its coverage despite shrinking resources. The newspaper took home more than 80 journalism awards during 2017, with the greatest recognition going to its “Bias on the Bench” series. That project explored the disparate sentences that black and white defendants received from the Florida court system. Last year also saw the newspaper launch “Catching Our Drift” series, a three-part that explored the economic crossroads at which Sarasota County and the broader region finds itself.
Sequoyah County Times
The Sequoyah County Times designed a treasure chest contest with the goal to increase circulation and readership—but to also generate fun excitement throughout the community. The paper started by purchasing a treasure chest and keys from a promotional company. In the package, participants could order as many “dummy’ keys as they liked and as many “working keys as they chose. The paper sold advertising packages guaranteeing foot traffic into local businesses. The advertising packages were frequency agreements, whereas the advertisers agreed to run their ads throughout the promotion until the treasure chest was opened.
In May 2017, the state of Illinois was lurching through nearly two years without a state budget. As the capital city newspaper, the SJR editorial board felt an obligation to influence policy-makers by helping get citizens engaged and informed, so they launched “Sounding the Alarm,” an ambitious 8-day series of editorials that highlighted the key problems facing the state. The project kicked off with a double-truck graphic highlighting vetted statistics showing how Illinois compared with its Midwestern neighbors on a number of key economic indicators. It then followed up with a series of six editorials making policy recommendations to improve the state’s long-term standing in several key areas. Lawmakers finally passed a budget in early July.
The Virginian-Pilot introduced readers to Ginny, the paper’s homegrown Facebook bot. Readers could interact with her through Facebook Messenger, including news alerts, story searches, news tips and more. The paper also doubled digit percentage growth on its Facebook and Twitter accounts; shifted focus to local audience growth by joining the Metrics for News program; and put more effort into newsroom culture by cleaning out the old cluttered newsroom and putting an emphasis on training in the newsroom to build digital competency.