10 Newspapers That Do It Right 2019: Honoring Innovative Revenue Strategies, Impactful Journalism and Creative Audience Growth

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This year’s list of 10 Newspapers That Do It Right recognizes some of the most diverse ideas out there today. From an augmented reality app to a video studio, some of these publications are thinking outside the box, experimenting with strategies and revenue ideas to engage with their audiences. On the other hand, some of them, despite operating with limited staff and resources, are being recognized for doing hard-hitting investigative journalism that produced results and changes in their communities.

Our 10 newspapers, along with the ones listed in our honorable mentions, show that journalism continues to thrive, thanks to bright ideas and bright people. We hope they inspire others to keep up the great work.

Recording an episode of CCTLive are news editor Patrick Cassidy (left) and staff writer Wheeler Cowperthwaite.

Cape Cod Times

Hyannis, Mass.

Circulation: 22,842 daily; 25,323 Sunday

True to their hometown spirit, reporters at the Cape Cod Times aim to “fish where the fish are, not where the fish aren’t.” That mantra led the newsroom to start creating engaging projects on the digital realm.

These projects included: Life With Gwen, a lifestyle Facebook program and podcast hybrid; CCT Live, also a hybrid and weekly news roundup; Cape League Corner, a podcast that highlights the summer basketball league in the country; Cape Cod Fun Show, a lighthearted show that highlights activities in town; and Curious Cape Cod, a reader engagement program that allows readers to submit questions and topics online for journalists to investigate and report on.

Executive editor Paul Pronovost said creating these programs gave the newsroom two things: “One, you certainly can reach new audiences or at least an audience in a different way, but two—and perhaps of equal importance—you’re developing competencies that you wouldn’t have had otherwise in the newsroom.”

Some of those newfound skills included how to speak properly, have a good presence on camera, and editing video and audio. Although journalists don’t always like to leave behind traditional print things, Pronovost stressed that experimenting in the newsroom and developing new skills as multi-disciplined journalists is important for today’s industry.

Their success continued in 2018. Life With Gwen saw hits of 13,103 viewers on one episode alone. Pronovost also mentioned that the Cape Cod Fun Show is something that not only residents and tourists can use as a resource to discover great activities, but he’s also heard from people all across the country that enjoy it.

Curious Cape Cod was originally a year-long project parent company GateHouse encouraged them to try in the attempt to find a new way to connect with audiences. Since it launched last June, it has received 75,000 page views, 146 submitted questions and 2,258 votes. Since the results exceeded their expectations, the newspaper decided to continue with it.

Overall, this experimentation and journalism method has resulted in about a 20 percent page view growth, which comes out to about 5 million viewers a month; 5.2 percent user growth; 20,000 podcast downloads; and 22 percent Facebook growth.

“(These projects) basically allowed us to not plateau and to continue to trend upward, and that’s been pretty exciting,” Pronovost said.

The staff of the Columbus Dispatch (Photo by Tyler Schank/Dispatch)

Columbus Dispatch

Columbus, Ohio

Circulation: 80,000 daily; 132,000 Sunday 

In early 2018, Dispatch reporters “pulled back the curtain” on prescription-drug pricing in an innovative series called Side Effects. Editor Alan Miller said while reporting that series, they were able to find one of the biggest obstacles to understanding how the system worked was the cloak of secrecy around it.

“There is a dearth of information available to consumers about the actual cost of drugs, so consumers have no way of knowing whether they are getting a fair price,” he said.

Eventually, after months of reporting and developing the trust of sources within the industry and government agencies, reporters were led to the federal government’s National Average Drug Acquisition Cost.

Miller said the bulk of the ongoing series was focused on “pharmacy benefit managers,” middlemen who are supposed to hold down or reduce costs, but instead, played both ends against the middle and collected billions of dollars in the process.

In addition to publishing the stories in print, a digital component (dispatch.com/sideeffects) also included a drug price database that is updated monthly. Miller said thousands of people have used the look-up tool and readers have responded positively to it.

“This took a commitment from everyone in the newsroom,” he said. “We may be smaller and have other responsibilities, but it was important that we rally together.”

With projects like Side Effects, Miller said it shows that the paper doesn’t have a readership problem, but a revenue problem.

“At the Dispatch, we have more eyeballs than ever reading the stories we produce,” he said. “What we need is more revenue, and we, like all other news organizations, are seeking to do that by making ourselves relevant to readers and advertisers—especially in the digital space.”

Some of these newer initiatives include: The Good Life, an occasional series in the paper’s Life & Arts feature section highlighting the good things people are doing through volunteerism and community service (in 2018, the paper expanded the label to a section on Dispatch.com); a monthly pet page in the features section with a sponsor and other ads to support it in print and online; “Everyday Heroes” program, where heroes from the community are honored and recognized in a magazine-style special section and a special event (revenue comes from advertising, sponsors and ticket sales); Window on the World stage, where local artists are invited to perform in the front window of the Dispatch building; and podcasts, where the Dispatch saw 295,328 digital audio downloads in 2018.

(From left) Deputy night editor Scott Perry, digital editor John Reidy and Central Illinois editor Chris Coates discuss stories. (Photo by Jim Bowling/Herald & Review)

Herald & Review

Decatur, Ill. 

Circulation: 11,835 daily; 18,550 Sunday 

Playing detective has paid off for the reporters at the Herald & Review. By scouring through documents of local elected bodies, reporters were able to connect dots and discovered trends that led to important stories. Central Illinois editor Chris Coates admitted the process may be unglamorous and tedious, but this aggressive approach to a simple strategy has delivered big results.

“In a time of shrinking resources and limited bodies to attend meetings, these documents are goldmines of material that, with the right mindset and patience, can spark meaningful watchdog journalism,” he said.

A few examples include: a Macon County Jail report showing there were not enough doctors on call and inadequate medical screenings for new inmates, and a failure to track medical data and no training for new employees, which all emerged from reports from a county justice committee meeting; a shortage of court reporters affecting judicial districts in Central Illinois and across the state, which came from comments made by the chief judge during a committee meeting; and the Decatur School District seeking legal solutions and hiring a consultant after ongoing problems with getting grass to grow on a high school football field that was built in 2014, which tipped off reporters after they read through various school board packets.

Coates, who came to the Herald & Review in 2016, said he was skeptical about the process at first when he noticed regional editor Allison Petty spending a lot of her time looking through minutes from various meetings, but he credited Petty’s ability “to spot things” that convinced him that taking the time to dig through these documents was worth it.

“Our newsroom values public service and investigative journalism of all kinds, and public documents are a key part of that strategy,” he said. “In the case of minutes and reports, the entries can be a jumping-off point to Freedom of Information requests, more digging and gumshoeing. They are the start of the scent trail…It starts with knowing what to look for and creating a newsroom culture that loves searching for a hidden gem.”

Even as papers chase after digital traffic, Coates said building brand loyalty through in-depth reporting and analysis is just as important as page views.

“We’re going after the audience whether that’s in print or digital,” he said.

By offering impactful journalism, the Herald & Review can provide a service to the community by leading conversations.

Community engagement is the foundation for every newsroom, Coates said.

The management team of the Idaho Press (from left): production director Roger Stowell, Emmett general manager Diana Baird, editor Scott McIntosh, publisher Matt Davison, finance director Rhonda McMurtrie, advertising director Michelle Robinson, circulation director Shelley Thayer and Boise Weekly publisher Sally Freeman.

Idaho Press

Nampa, Idaho

Circulation: 16,510 Tuesday-Saturday; 19,980 Sunday  

In November 2017, the Idaho Press (then called the Idaho Press-Tribune before changing its name last June) was acquired by Adams Publishing Group. Not only did the publication start off 2018 with a new owner, it also lost its biggest printing customer.

“As we began strategy meetings to overcome this challenge, we defined two possible options for us to consider,” said president and publisher Matt Davison. “Option one, get smaller quickly. This would likely result in day cuts, section eliminations and significant staff reductions. Option two, get bigger and better.”

So, with the support of its new owner, the Press chose option two and aggressively expanded its local news coverage and offered home delivery across the entire Boise City-Nampa metropolitan area. As a result of the expansion, the paper also went on a hiring spree: a new community engagement editor, who relaunched the third section of the paper and reinvigorated the Sunday Life section; a new photo editor; a new sports editor; three new reporters to cover Boise City Hall, Ada County government and Ada County cops and courts; and a government reporter to cover the state capital.

The print product also underwent a transformation. In August 2018, the Press purchased Boise Weekly, a 20,000 alternative weekly and established a Boise bureau. The weekly is inserted into the Press every Thursday as its entertainment section. In addition, the paper added a new Farm and Ranch section every Friday filled with agriculture content from across the state. The paper also added to its local sports coverage, and reimagined its Sunday Comics into a new tabloid publication called Lazy Sunday. The section includes all Sunday comic strips, a collection of several new puzzles and a weekly TV grid—and it has been very popular among readers and advertisers.

All of these efforts have paid off, said Davison. Since March 2018, the circulation has increased 22 percent daily and 31 percent Sunday.

“Our expansion effort was not only motivated by finances,” Davison said. “We launched the effort because we saw a need in the community, a need for a printed daily newspaper that provides news of the day all in one place, sports scores, late-night city council decisions, late-breaking news from the night before, along with all of those features that traditional newspaper readers have always appreciated finding in their local newspaper.” 

(From left) Rep. Don Hineman, Rep. Jason Probst, former State Rep. John Rubin, Sen. Laura Kelly, Rep. Jim Ward, Sen. Susan Wagle, and Star editorial page editor Colleen Nelson discuss issues with Kansas government’s lack of transparency during a town hall meeting.

Kansas City Star

Kansas City, Mo.

Circulation: 100,000 daily; 135,000 Sunday 

One of the most important tasks that a newspaper has is to make sure government officials are being transparent. So when Kansas City Star reporters discovered Kansas is one of the more secretive states in the country, they went to work.

“From the governor’s office to state agencies, from police departments to business relationships to health care, on the floors of the House and Senate, a veil has descended over the years and through administrations on both sides of the political aisle,” according to its “Why so secret, Kansas?” report.

Editor Michael Fannin said the more they pulled the thread, the more other things started to pop up. “It was like turning over one rock and finding three more rocks underneath it.”

Among the stories published in the six-part series: Children known to the state’s Department for Children and Families suffered horrific abuse, while the agency cloaked its involvement with their cases; in the past decade, more than 90 percent of the laws passed by the Kansas Legislature came from anonymous authors; and when Kansas police shoot and kill someone, law enforcement agencies often escape scrutiny because they are allowed to provide scant details to the public.

“The work had major impact, prompting four executive orders by the governor and three new laws passed by the legislature that made state government more transparent,” said Fannin.

Their work was also honored last year as a Pulitzer Prize finalist for Public Service.

In 2018, the momentum continued. Fannin said the paper was the first to report when Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens and his staff were using a secret messaging app to do government business, which prompted an investigation and Greitens’ resignation in summer 2018. In another case, Star reporting showed that Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley allowed campaign consultants to direct state workers in his office soon after he took oath. The Star also revealed how a former county executive used a quadriplegic friend to help him launder campaign donations for personal use; he is currently serving a sentence in federal prison.

Managing editor Greg Farmer said the articles were a result of good sourcing and deep reporting on the ground.

“If we don’t do this work, no one else will do it,” he said. “We owe it to citizens to look at our government closely, to dig in everyday and shine a light on the state level.”

Fannin added, “As long as we’re doing ambitious journalism, readers and subscribers will see the quality. Doing great journalism is one of the solutions to help our industry.” 

Pictured are (front row, left to right): Ledger Dispatch publisher Jack Mitchell, publishing associate Lynn Amo, circulation manager Joe Svec, (back row, left to right) reporter Rachel Norris, editor Caitlyn Schaap, production coordinator Sarah Tullus, classified advertising representative Mica Rabaino, advertising sales representative Conni Boyd, AR specialist Teresa Mitchell, advertising director Beth Barnard and advertising sales representative Patty Claveran.

Ledger Dispatch

Jackson, Calif.

Circulation: 5,500 (Tuesday and Friday) 

For publisher Jack Mitchell, the most famous augmented reality (AR) platform that comes to his mind is Pokémon Go, which, he reminds us, has made $1 billion.

In 2017, Mitchell came across something similar and decided to try it out on his newspaper. When he saw a bottle of wine that utilized AR to tell stories, he was inspired to create an AR app that would put newspapers in control of their digital money.

Partnering with Strata, a developer of AR platforms, Mitchell created what is now called Interactive News (interactivenews.live), software that works with newspapers to create their own AR app and publish augmented reality content over any article or advertisement.

So far, Interactive News has been successful for not only the Ledger Dispatch, which has increased its revenue by 30 percent, but for several other newspapers using the app as well. There are currently 30 apps running with about 50 to 60 products.

To begin improving revenue, Mitchell approached businesses in hopes they would purchase space. The first was an auto dealer that had not run anything in the Ledger Dispatch in about two years. Mitchell presented the idea that they run ads using AR and the dealer “immediately signed on for a full page in every issue.”

The next advertiser to sign on was a real estate company, and from there, the app began to really gain traction. Now, the Ledger Dispatch is using Interactive News to promote movie trailers, businesses, political ads, tourism videos, concerts, dinner reservations and more.

“(Interactive News) is really about retaining or regaining advertisers that have left or verticals that have diminished in print as well as finding new ways to bring in advertisers and the new revenue streams from pieces,” Mitchell said.

Aside from bringing in advertisers, Mitchell discovered that the app allows for a more diverse audience. By simply using a mobile device to scan, a user can choose to read the paper in Spanish, Portuguese, Korean or French.

To the Ledger Dispatch’s surprise, Interactive News unwittingly gained the attention of young readers—something many newspapers aim to achieve. A year ago, Mitchell believed there was no way to attain the younger market but now he says the newspaper is seeing more readers in high school all the way down to five-year olds who all enjoy using the AR app.

Pictured (from left): producer Ed Bond, sports columnist Loren Tate, beat writer Scott Richey, reporter Julie Wurth, reporter Mary Schenk, and radio news director Carol Vorel in the WDWS-AM radio studio inside News-Gazette Media.

News-Gazette

Champaign, Ill.

Circulation: 24,654 daily; 27,651 Sunday

In 2017, the News-Gazette underwent a rebranding that included a new logo and name (News Gazette Media), and relocated all of the company’s operations under one roof. As a means to unite the operations and utilize skill sets from print and radio, News Gazette Media deemed 2018 the “Year of the Podcast.”

The News-Gazette itself released five podcasts last year including: Cold Cases, a conversation with detectives about unsolved crimes; Legally Speaking, a conversation with the headline-makers; Campus Conversation,  a conversation with University of Illinois newsmakers; Inside Illini Basketball, a sports podcast; and Tatelines: Unedited, a podcast that takes listeners down memory lane.

However, these projects are more than just creating a few podcasts. Many include several multimedia offerings (at the very least, the podcast will get a teaser in print) so that they may reach the widest possible audience.

Cold Cases, a large traffic-driving podcast for the newspaper, was pitched and crafted into podcast form by longtime radio news director Carol Vorel. It was also made into a partial print product and teased on the company’s radio programs.

Podcasts like these showcase the importance of journalism as well as that of community engagement. Editor Jim Rossow said the podcasts have “fired up in the community service kind of way, that by us writing about it and talking about it on a podcast, it actually made a difference and gave (the cases) more purpose than ever.”

When creating these podcasts, the newsroom was faced with challenges, but they were embraced as learning experiences. While radio news reporters saw themselves behind the keyboard, veteran print reporters learned to handle themselves in the recording studio.

Rossow said the newsroom benefited in many ways, not just in the studio. “From a social media standpoint, it’s great because we ask all our podcasters to promote their own work. Also, I think learning how to interview for a podcast is different than interviewing for a story. You can’t stumble around with your word choice.”

While there was much to learn for this newsroom, Rossow said that the process is easy enough for any newsroom and it works as another way to branch out and grow audience.

The next big step is to recruit advertisers. This year will also see the release of two new sports podcasts and another titled, Life Remembered, a podcast about those who had a lasting impact on the community during their lifetime.

Author Chris Crutcher (left) speaks with fellow Spokane author Sean Vestal about his newest book at a recent Northwest Passage event. (Photo by Libby Kamrowski/Spokesman-Review)

Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Wash.

Circulation: 58,215 daily; 74,723 Sunday 

The idea for a book club started even before editor Rob Curley and senior editor and director of the Northwest Passages Book Club and Community Forum Donna Wares joined the company. The two had previously worked together at another publication, where they had created a limited-run book club.

Every month, the Northwest Passages Book Club invites its readers to share a Common Read. Like most book clubs, there is a discussion. In this case, there is one online as well as an in-person, on-stage conversation with the author.

The events typically have the same program. First, the audience is invited to mingle, enjoy a glass of wine and a few appetizers or dessert. Then a video (created by the paper) plays to introduce the featured guest, which is followed by discussion that lasts roughly 30 minutes to allow time for a Q&A. Lastly, the audience is asked to complete a survey to share what they liked, what the paper could do better and what speakers they would like to suggest.

There are two or three events a month on average and they keep the cost to around $5 a ticket to ensure everyone has the opportunity to attend. The announcements for books and events are made available to readers in the paper’s print edition as well as its website, along with articles written about the chosen authors and the live events. In addition, readers can find a link to the book club’s Facebook page on the site, where readers can discuss the Common Read of the month.

Wares said speakers are chosen if they are local authors, or based on relevant topics or books that have a connection with the Pacific Northwest. An example is author Rick Steves, a well-known travel writer, who is not from Spokane specifically, but is very popular in the region. According to Wares, his sold out event attracted 750 people.

The book club has also evolved to offer civic and fun events as well, such as debates with Congressional candidates and Super Bowl get-togethers.

“Northwest Passages has changed our relationship with our readers on so many levels,” Curley said. “Not only making our journalism much more experiential, but also helping both our community and our newsroom better understand the importance of a local newspaper, especially now.” 

The StarNews staff presenting a Port City Life program at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

StarNews

Wilmington, N.C.

Circulation: 25,000 daily; 27,000 Sunday

When the StarNews learned from a Pew Research study that 79 percent of people ages 55 to 64 received their news via mobile device, they knew that was an audience they had to tap into, especially since their own audiences in the same age bracket on StarNewsOnline.com was ranked low.

A readership initiative was the first part of a multi-pronged approach and, while the 45 to 65 age group was the newspaper’s main focus, they spilt their audience into six groups and identified what kind of coverage was important to them. Editor Pam Sander said that every reporter was required to identify which audience they would focus on prior to writing a piece.

Resources were also committed to the project.

“We created a full-time position devoted to the project and $1,000 per month in freelance money for audience-driven content,” said Sander. “We developed a food website and restructured the food reporter’s position to focus more on this audience segment.”

This initiative resulted in the creation of a magazine called Port City Life, which is produced by the paper. The newsroom also began to create more commerce by partnering with businesses and advertisers. For example, if a business purchased a full page ad, the StarNews would host an event at that business, or those businesses could choose to sponsor an event. Some of these events (part of the Port City Life Club) include Mimosas After Dark, a Fine Vines education wine series and a signature cocktail competition.

The StarNews also created a sponsorship program for the Port City Life team. It includes a visual story that combines advertising and a news article leading up to a Port City Life event.

Since the events are free, those wishing to attend only need to sign-up online and that has given their newsletter a huge bump. Events and email blasts supported by business partnerships now have more than 2,000 email subscribers and 800 Facebook followers, said Sander. StarNews also offers readers the opportunity to subscribe to the (now monthly) Port City Life magazine and receive an annual digital subscription, which they hope will help reach their goals.

As a result of this mission, Sander said they have more readers than ever. The 45 to 54 age group has climbed from being the third ranked audience to first place, and the 55 to 64 age group has moved from fourth place to second place. In addition, digital subscriptions have increased more than 35 percent, and revenue directly related to these efforts has reached more than $500,000.

The staff of the Sumter Item

Sumter Item

Sumter, S.C. 

Circulation: 10,000 daily; 12,000 Sunday 

Although the Sumter Item was already experimenting with video when publisher Vince Johnson joined in September 2017, creating Studio Sumter took their video production to the next level.

Launched in February 2018, Studio Sumter produces local commercials and handles video contracts with the city, county, chamber, economic development board, school system and various other regional groups and businesses. It also produces a daily news show called Sumter Today, hosted by Kayla Robins, the paper’s executive editor. The show comes out Monday through Friday, with an occasional video on the weekend.

Studio Sumter resides in a converted Halloween store near the newsroom. Using a green screen, Robins reports stories using a script written by chief digital officer Micah Green. Although Robins is the host, the time commitment really comes from director of video production Ty Cornett who does all the editing.

But all the hard work has paid off.

Sumter residents have embraced the show. Johnson said according to analytics from Facebook and Google, Sumter Today receives more than 500,000 video views, and it’s been profitable since day one (their current sponsor just locked in for another year).

“The main thing is getting a sponsor before you produce it,” Johnson said.

Videos focus on sharing positive news rather than breaking news or crime stories. “The goal is to build community,” Johnson explained.

Recent segments include a career day at a local elementary school, how firefighters train and a tour of the new police headquarters.

One of the benefits of a small video crew is the quick turnaround. According to Green, sometimes it only takes 48 hours to shoot and edit a quick 30-second commercial for a local advertiser. One of their recent productions was a series of video commercials for a local menswear store. Johnson said once people saw the quality and work that went behind the videos, the excitement began to build among sales reps and clients.

For a family-owned newspaper entering its 125th year, their digital growth is a big accomplishment. In the past year, the Item also built its own email database from less than 4,000 to more than 30,000 local email addresses.

“Combined with numerous other engagement and growth initiatives, the results have been staggering—more than 250 percent overall digital revenue growth and more than 40 percent digital audience growth year-over-year,” said Johnson.

 

Honorable Mentions

The E&P staff would like to thank each paper that sent in a submission this year for 10 Newspapers That Do It Right. Every year, it gets more difficult for us to narrow down the list to just 10 papers. Your hard work does not go unnoticed, which is why we still want to recognize the ones that didn’t quite make the final cut this time.

Advocate

Baton Rouge, La.

In April 2018, the Advocate began publishing the findings of a yearlong investigation of the racial impacts of non-unanimous conviction laws. The newspaper reviewed about 3,000 felony trials in courthouses and found that 40 percent of convictions came from jurors who could not agree on a guilty verdict. The paper built an online graphic to illustrate how divided jury verdicts pollute justice and had cartoonist Walt Handelsman create an online animation to help draw attention to the issue. After the Advocate published its findings, both Democrats and Republicans worked together to pass a unanimous jury amendment.

Albany Times Union

Albany, N.Y.

In 2018, the Albany Times Union decided to change their business model to a membership program for subscriptions in order to add value to all print and digital readers. Currently at three levels of gold, silver and bronze, subscribers are automatically enrolled in a level based on the amount they pay. Since the inception, the paper has reduced subscribers churn from 37 percent to a record low 29 percent. Revenue has increased along with retention rates, and a recent survey showed 88 percent of their consumers were aware of their membership, more than 50 percent have taken advantage of at least one benefit, and open rates on certain products via email were more than 50 percent.

Capital Times

Madison, Wis.

In 2017, the Capital Times launched Cap Times Idea Fest, a two-day ideas festival on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. Since the launch, the festival has brought in more than 150 guest speakers and registered more than 2,500 attendees. Not only did the paper provide readers with a rich experience, the festival also brought in a significant amount of new revenue. The margin of revenue to expenses was more than 40 percent in the first year and almost 150 percent in the second. Ticket sales tripled in the second year, and the paper was able to secure a presenting sponsor for a three-year deal.

County Press

Lapeer, Mich.

Four years ago, View Newspaper Group—the County Press’s parent company—launched a brand department, starting first with a craft beer festival called View Brew Fest. While in the process of expanding the company’s event lineup and strengthening the company’s brand, the department also began taking on outside clients, producing sponsored content pieces for current advertising clients, spec ads, press releases and entire media campaigns. Since its creation, the brand department has grown from one to three team members, and the event lineup has expanded from one to four signature annual events and a quarterly morning networking event. In 2018, the department brought in revenue totaling nearly $200,000 and was able to donate nearly $30,000 to local nonprofits through event partnerships.

Eugene Weekly

Eugene, Ore.

As a smaller news organization, the Eugene Weekly teamed up with the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication to bring together two important disciplines: investigative reporting and solutions journalism. As a result, the Catalyst Journalism Project has helped deliver stories that break news, hold people in power accountable, and shine a light on possible pathways to make the community a better place. Current stories in the works include a look at racial bias in police arrests, crimes committed against the homeless and problems with the city’s parking ticket system.

Hot Springs Village Voice

Hot Springs Village, Ark.

In 2018, the Hot Springs Village Voice focused on the 55th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. In February 2018, the paper printed the first article—an interview with former Secret Service agent Mike Howard, who was on the advance team for Kennedy’s final trip. Along with the print story, the editor recorded the interview, and the social media correspondent edited the video to create a documentary style feature that was exclusive to the website. The paper continued their JFK coverage throughout the year with interviews from several people who were there that day, and follow-up interviews with Howard. A special edition magazine was also launched. The publication was filled with exclusive photos, new interviews and local remembrances, and it sold almost 5,500 copies.

Journal Star

Peoria, Ill.

In the year leading up to the Illinois Bicentennial (Dec. 3, 2018), nearly two-dozen members of the Illinois Associated Press Media Editors and the Illinois Press Association produced a weekly series of articles featuring key moments, figures, industries and events that help make Illinois unique (200illinois.com). This state-wide project was created and coordinated by Dennis Anderson, executive editor of the Journal Star, and produced and shared by 21 newspapers in Illinois and published by more than 110 newspapers statewide, as well as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. This project was not only a readership initiative, but it provided newspapers sponsorship and advertising opportunities as well.

Paper of Montgomery County

Crawford, Ind.

Typically printed for six days a week, the Paper of Montgomery County went to seven days a week, 365 days a year more than a year ago, thanks to an online edition. This strategic move away from print began in 2013 when the paper started showing a 75/25 allocation split on all advertising bills (75 for print and 25 percent for internet). Now the equation has changed, and the split is 75 percent internet and 25 percent print. That strategy enabled the paper to start an online edition, which was free at first, and then they started selling subscriptions to it. As a result, print and digital subscriptions have both increased tremendously.

Richmond Times-Dispatch

Richmond, Va.

In 2016, the Richmond Times-Dispatch hired their first-ever staff meteorologist to reinvent a staple of news coverage and deliver a distinction in how newspapers reported on weather. To find the right person, the paper posted the job on JournalismJobs.com, but not under the “newspapers” category, under the “TV/radio” category, believing that was where a traditional TV meteorologist would be searching job listings. The paper found meteorologist John Boyer. Since he joined the paper, weather-content page views have increased from 3.2 million in 2016 to nearly 13 million in 2018. In addition, the advertising department was able to sell a two-year print and digital sponsorship package that generated $260,000 in new revenue.

Smoky Mountain News

Waynesville, N.C.

Since printing its first issue 20 years ago, the Smoky Mountain News has experimented with different revenue streams. Originally, the newsroom published special sections for local nonprofits, while selling ads for them and giving them an annual magazine to use to help them raise money. From there, the paper evolved into a company that is now the leading niche publisher in the region. The company currently produces more than 20 niche magazines each year, in addition to a six-time a year nationally distributed lifestyle magazine and a 12-time per year real estate monthly. In 2018, the company launched another initiative: a digital advertising agency called Mountain South Media. 

Tampa Bay Times

Tampa, Fla.

The Tampa Bay Times continues to see success with the 24 consumer events they currently produce annually. Among them are homes shows, boat shows, job fairs, bridal shows and senior expos. Nearly 2,000 local businesses participate in the consumer shows. The events offer one more way for the company to reach out to the local business community, building relationships all year long.

USA TODAY NETWORK

McLean, Va. 

To deepen relationships with its audience and improve subscriber engagement and retention, USA TODAY NETWORK launched a new onboarding and engagement program in 2018. Audience insights from the NETWORK’s enterprise Voice of the Customer program identified many of the biggest subscriber pain points and drivers of churn, which were then used to drive improvements to the customer experience through product, service, and communications enhancements. As a result, the onboarding and engagement series was designed to improve digital engagement, with a focus on informing customers of benefits such as newsletters, podcasts, mobile apps and a loyalty program. Auto bill pay enrollment increased by 22 percent, and the number of online bill payments increased 19 percent YoY in 2018, with overall self-service usage increasing 10 percent YoY.

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