Getting a Jump Start

Getting a Jump Start

Author Larry Downes once wrote in the Washington Post, “Why is innovation so hard for newspapers?” He was speaking about the leaked New York Times Innovation Report, which he called a “depressing read.”  (

“The format of the newspaper is hopelessly entangled with its nearly-dead business model,” Downes wrote.

But he added, “There’s still a chance that newspapers can escape the collapsing black hole of their traditional industry structure.”

And that’s what newspapers are doing. They’re delivering comprehensive video strategies, building in-house advertising agencies, and launching community events, in order to provide audiences and advertisers with relevant products and services.

Newspapers are proving they’re still a powerful brand, and despite the many difficulties they’re facing, we’re seeing companies rise to the occasion to create impactful solutions for today’s media reality.

Below you will find just a few examples of how newspapers are forming their own successful innovations. It’s a sign that there’s still colorful creativity and imagination in an industry know for being black and white.

Innovation: Video Strategies
Calkins Media

When Calkins Media decided to revamp its video strategy three years ago, they knew one thing had to happen: video had to become part of the company’s DNA. But Calkins Media (owners of newspapers in Pennsylvania, Florida and New Jersey) didn’t have the funds to purchase expensive equipment or build a brand new video team.

Jake Volcsko
Jake Volcsko, general manager and digital media and marketing director for Calkins Media

However, they already had key people in their newsrooms who “understood where (they) wanted to go and could articulate that vision to everyone,” said Jake Volcsko, general manager and digital media and marketing director.

Volcsko said if they had created a video team right out of the gate, they would have had to move resources from the newsroom. So rather than take away from their core product, he said, they decided video would be a key component for everyone in the Calkins Media newsrooms. This allowed the company to build up a team and invest in better equipment to produce higher quality video.

Since expanding its video content and the newsrooms’ focus on video, Calkins Media has seen more than a 50 percent growth in audience year over year. They’re continuing to experiment with content and adding new shows to remain relevant to their audiences. In addition, Calkins Media’s newspaper channels are on Roku and FireTV, two online streaming television services. Volcsko said being on these platforms has been beneficial from an advertising perspective.

“Let’s face it; it’s been a while since advertisers have seen newspapers as progressive from a technological standpoint,” Volcsko said. “However, when we show up to a sales meeting, hook a device up to a TV, and steam our content instantly, advertisers sit up and take notice.”

Because video continues to grow, Volcsko said it’s important to get everyone on your team involved.

“When you look at the expected growth in video audience and revenue, it’s hard to ignore,” he said. “If you want to remain relevant as a local content provider you have to keep an eye on where the audience is going, not necessarily where it is today.”

Innovation: Storytellers Project
Gannett Co. Inc.

The Des Moines (Iowa) Registers Lisa Rossi tells her story to a group of Gannett journalists gathered at ONA in Los Angeles. (Photo by Liz Nelson/Gannett)

While the Gannett Co. Inc. is known for working on many cutting-edge and forward-thinking projects, such as its recent work with virtual reality at the Des Moines Register, the media company is also telling its stories old-school style.

In 2011, the Arizona Republic showcased its wildly successful Storytellers Project in which Republic journalists would read their stories to live audiences. The project is a simple and cost effective way to bring local journalists and the community together. It builds audience loyalty and creates a fun event for readers, young and old alike.

Now, Gannett—the Republic’s parent company—is bringing the project to nine other of their newspapers, including The Desert Sun in Palm Springs, Calif.; The Coloradoan; The Greenville (S.C.) News; The Lansing (Mich.) State Journal; The Louisville (Ky.) Courier-Journal; The Indianapolis (Ind.) Star; The Des Moines Register; and The Cincinnati Enquirer.

Innovation: Community Events
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Enquirer Storytellers
Original Thought Required owner James Marable tells a crowd of over 300 the story of why he loves Cincinnati at the inaugural Storytellers night at the Phoenix on Wednesday. (Photo by Cameron Knight/The Enquirer)

The Cincinnati Enquirer has been getting out and meeting its readers at restaurants, breweries and at other local hotspots in order to create greater relationships.

“A big part of how we promote special events relates back to our content,” said Michael Betz, brand manager. He said the Enquirer’s event strategy focuses on the alignment of the events with the newspaper’s content.

For example, the Enquirer’s Storytellers events allow the subjects of Enquirer stories to read their stories to audiences. So far, the newspaper has hosted four Storytellers events, drawing crowds of more than 450 people.

To attract more attendees Betz said they also focus on events with social media appeal, such as this summer’s all star baseball event, in which they used the hashtag #cincisummer. The hashtag allowed audiences to get involved and share their story as well.

Last year, the Enquirer hosted a community party celebrating a handful of local restaurants that were featured on the Food Network. The event saw 1,000 people at the viewing party.

In addition to finding events with social media appeal, Betz said it’s important to promote the events on all of the Enquirer’s products including its website, social media and the print product in order to get as many readers as possible to see it. Because although Betz said they’ve been working on appealing to readers ages 24-34, they’ve seen readers of all ages attend these events.

“We want to create an experience outside the box that traditional newspapers wouldn’t,” said Betz.

These kind of events help get the Enquirer’s brand out there while developing a greater relationship with its readers by utilizing social media and the newspaper’s content.

Innovation: Denver Post TV
The Denver Post

A shot of the Denver Post newsroom with the DPTV anchor desk in the center.
A shot of the Denver Post newsroom with the DPTV anchor desk in the center.

When you’re producing 15 video shows and boasting more than 6.5 million video plays with an average of 20,000 plays a day, it’s hard to imagine that a year ago, the Denver Post wasn’t producing enough video content. But that was the case, according to editor Gregory Moore.

A year later, after launching Denver Post TV, the newspaper now produces video shows covering sports, news, movies, game critiques—and to capture a younger audience, a cannabis show.

Greg Moore
Gregory Moore, editor of the Denver Post

The Post revamped its video strategy by hiring a local on-air talent, creating a television studio in the middle of the newsroom and improving video equipment. Although Moore admitted quality video equipment can be expensive, he said one of the most important things is to “not pay sticker price for the equipment.”

In order to create a successful video strategy, Moore said you’ll need to get buy in from the entire staff, because “video is good for the newspapers journalism and brand and it can help keep the paper relevant for the future.”


Morris Publishing Group

The holiday season is fast approaching and Morris Publishing Group plans on being right there in the fray. Based in Augusta, Ga., the media company (which owns 11 daily newspapers and five non-dailies) recently launched, an e-commerce website that showcases products and services offered by local retailers.

While the website is still in its early stages, works more like Amazon than other online retail website by integrating the products featured on the site with newspaper content.

Derek May
Derek May, executive vice president, newspapers

“Our business is bringing solutions to local merchants and helping small local merchants have an e-commerce strategy,” said Derek May, executive vice president, newspapers.

Morris Publishing first launched on the Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle site. In addition, the company is slowly introducing the system to three more of their daily newspapers before the holidays: the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville, Fla., the Savannah (Ga.) Morning Herald and the Athens (Ga.) Banner-Herald before rolling it out to all of their products.

“E-commerce is sure to grow in the coming years,” said May. “And with our trusted brand, huge local audience and great relationships with local businesses, we are uniquely positioned to compete effectively in this space.”

In order to have an effective e-commerce solution, May said the Morris Publishing team has assisted local retailers in shooting up-to-date and quality photos of products and writing descriptions for the website.

Having a website full of products is also important, said Heather Nagel-Doughtie, chief digital marketing officer. Working with local merchants has been the most important aspect of creating

“We’ve started having conversations with local retailers about their products that we’ve never had before that we wouldn’t have been able to before,” she said.

Innovation: Interactive News Team
The Globe and Mail

Interactive News Team
The Globe and Mails interactive news team (Back row, from left to right) Alasdair Mckie, Jeremy Agius, Michael Fraiman, Evan Annett, Julia Wolfe, Matt Frehner, Terra Ciolfe, Kristy Hoffman (Front row, left to right) Oliver Sachgau, Laura Blenkinsop, Danielle Webb (Not pictured) Matt Lundy, Mason Wright, Christoper Manza and Micael Pereira.

Last year, Toronto’s Globe and Mail brought together coders, developers, designers, editors and writers to create a small interactive news team to assist the Globe and Mail newsroom.

The team builds tools, creates graphics and develops processes to assist with the newsroom’s daily projects as well as more in-depth pieces to help create better digital journalism. One of the most important things the interactive news team does is experiment with new technologies and processes that the Globe and Mail staff might not otherwise have time for.

“It’s important for newsrooms to try things and to try things and fail,” said Matt Frehner, senior editor global interactive news. He said while they could create 10 photo galleries each day, having the ability to say no and having the time to experiment with coding and other projects is an important part of building a stronger, more contemporary newsroom.

“One major focus of the hiring was to bring people in to the newsroom (who had) digital developer journalism experience,” Frehner said.

He added it was critical to create goals and objectives when developing a team like this. They developed criteria for evaluating projects of importance for the team, which includes: audience and impact, scope, experimental value and extensibility.

So far, the team has built the Globe and Mail chart tool, which supports line, area, stream and column charts, they’ve developed a WYSIWYG tool (which helps developers see what the project will look like while it’s being edited) for long-form stories. They have also developed tools for their social media team, among other things.

Innovation: Washington Post Video
The Washington Post

The Washington Post recently revamped its video model to offer platform specific videos and changed the platform’s name to Washington Post Video. Micah Gelman, director of video for the Washington Post, said their previous video model Post TV, which aired interviews at regularly scheduled times, didn’t meet their audiences’ needs. “That’s not how people consume video anymore,” he said.

In order for videos to be successful today, they have to be relevant and accessible to readers, Gelman explained.

In addition to the video for the website, the Post created a vertical video format that’s better suited for mobile phones as part of Washington Post Video. This will allow reporters on the presidential election campaign trail an easier way to shoot quality video suited for platforms such as Snapchat and Facebook.

Innovation: Statesman Studio
The Austin American-Statesman

Statesman Studio Group
Statesman Studio group shot: (Sitting, from L-to-R) Jessica Gardner; Paige Cavazos; (Standing, from L-to-R) Jason Garcia; Katie Smith; Kim Harrington; Julie Prebula; Avi Schaeffer; Dan Hanrahan, director; Jennifer Cooper; Daniel Loyd; (Not pictured) Amy Lemen

The Austin American-Statesman’s in-house advertising agency is Austin, Texas’ “best kept secret,” according to Dan Hanrahan, interim director of Statesman Studio.

The studio was launched in 2014 and is approaching $3 million in sales revenue, raking in $350,000 per month in sales-generated revenue. In order to create a successful in-house advertising agency, Hanrahan said the first thing they did was create a process and an established set of services and worked to find out what the market wants by working with local businesses and offering a strong product. For Statesman Studio that includes advertising, creative services, campaigns, native advertising, video advertisements and time-based services that allow businesses to choose the product they want.

Innovation: Niche Smartphone Apps
The Miami Herald


Soon after Apple launched its first iPhone in 2007, the Miami Herald began working on a Miami Dolphins app to offer its audience exclusive content for the city’s football team.

Alex Fuentes, vice president of interactive and marketing, said they began developing the app in early 2008 and had it up and running by spring

Alex Fuentes
Alex Fuentes, vice president of interactive and marketing for the Miami Herald

2009. Since then, the Herald has launched 11 additional in-house apps—eight of which are sports related (including high school football) and the tenth app is a main news app, all of which are available for iOS and Android.

The Herald was able to utilize the first app’s template when creating the other nine, so duplication was simple, Fuentes said.

Developing these apps is important in reaching audiences today. “The way people get their news has changed over the last 10 years,” Fuentes said. “Being able to provide our content the way they want it is essential…Have a main app for your brand, but also look into what is your specialty—it depends on that market.”

While keeping up with the constant updates can be challenging, Fuentes said being accessible to readers is important. Although the Herald’s first app took roughly nine months to build, apps have become increasing more common and better resources have been developed for them. It now takes only three to six months to create one, he said.

The Herald is currently working on creating an eleventh app called Flashback Miami in collaboration with the Jefferson Institute, which would take audiences through some of Florida’s historical sites, allowing people to snap photos and accumulate points that can later be spent on Herald merchandise.

The apps can be downloaded for free, but users will be promoted to subscribe after the free content limit is reached. Although Fuentes could not disclose numbers, he said the Herald is pleased with number of app downloads.

Innovation: Mobile Moments
The New York Times

Mobile Moments
Some of the moments marketers can choose for their advertisements with Mobile Moments.

The New York Times recently launched Mobile Moments, a mobile advertising solution platform aimed to provide targeted ads during specific times-of-day. The ad solution will feature targeted short stories (“Screenplays”) created by the Times’ T Brand Studios on the paper’s news app and mobile Web, according to a press release. Depending on the time of day, the ads can be a graphic, video, an interactive chart, or a swipeable series of short stories. With an increase in moment-to-moment publishing and personalized journalism, Mobile Moments adds compelling advertisements to that content.

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Published: November 16, 2015


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