10 Newspapers That Do It Right

By: Ed Zintel and Nu Yang

10 Newspapers That Do It Right

They come in all sizes, circulation-wise; in two forms of content, paper and digital; and in many areas of focus—local, regional, national and international. They are our newspapers and lately, they have been challenged like never before to stay as important to the world as when the first one was printed (that, by the way, is considered by most to be Germany’s The Relation, first published in 1605).            

Newspaper publishers today know that great content alone is not enough to keep their publications thriving. While going through the submissions for this year’s 10 Newspapers That Do It Right, we read stories about how newspapers are transforming themselves into digital agencies, event organizers, video producers and marketing experts. We learned that for newspapers, getting out and getting involved in their communities is just as important as successful advertising campaigns or award-winning investigative stories.            

Certainly things have changed since the first newspaper was printed, but the newspapers featured on the following pages are proof that the industry is no longer living in the past, but planning for a future.  

Chattanooga Times Free Press
Chattanooga, Tenn.
Circulation: 101,355 Sunday; 73,080 daily

One of the greatest strengths of the Chattanooga Times Free Press is its ability to generate innovative ideas. Six years ago, the paper took on the challenge of presenting “events on steroids” to its community. It has since gone from zero event dollars to millions of dollars in event revenue this past year.            

The event portfolio includes two bridal expos a year, a kids expo that draws 10,000, a two-day women’s event, a high-school sports banquet, a boomer and senior expo, two readers’ choice  awards dinners, a two-day Christmas shopping event, and, coming this year, a men’s expo. Whether it’s a 100,000-square-foot expo or an intimate private party, the Chattanooga Times Free Press is praised for its ability to create great events, so much so in fact that in November 2013, the paper hosted the first Event Revenue Summit—a conference designed to help newspapers grow market share, engage new customers, and generate event revenue. The Summit hosted 60 attendees from across the globe, including representatives from The Dallas Morning News, The Bakersfield Californian, The Seattle Times, and even two “crazy guys from Dublin, Ireland,” according to Times Free Press president Jason Taylor. The three-day conference featured a keynote speech by Taylor, titled “Big Newspapers, Big Markets, Big Events.” Breakout sessions followed, including “Event 101” topics such as planning, promoting, executing events, and booking big-name celebrities (some of the Times Free Press’ favorites are Michael Phelps, Venus and Serena Williams, Drew Brees, Eli Manning, Paula Deen, Martha Stewart and Betty White). The most-attended breakout session was “Securing Sponsorship and Maintaining Sponsor relations: The Key to Unlocking Sponsorship Dollars,” presented by Taylor and Leslie Kahana, Times Free Press advertising director.            

“The Summit was valuable and we got a lot of insider tips on organizing events,” said Savannah Morning News marketing director Stacy Jennings, one of the attendees at the Summit. “We borrowed some ideas that we’re replicating. The event ideas are scalable, and can be arranged quickly. All you have to do is really commit.”            

And, so, the Times Free Press keeps doing events. Marketing manager Lyndsi Lane said the paper puts on about one event a month now. She said employees from all departments, including editorial, advertising, marketing and IT, are involved in hosting the events.            

“We’re leveraging our brand in the community, which helps to get us and advertisers in front of the people,” Taylor said. “It makes sense. We want our audience to know they have ownership of the paper. We’re all about content, which brings readership, which brings advertisers. These events are just an extension of what we do.”  

Democrat and Chronicle
Rochester, N.Y.
Circulation: 152,000 Sunday; 97,000 daily 

The Democrat and Chronicle Media Group significantly improved its platforms and capabilities in 2013 and was a pilot market for two of Gannett’s highest priority strategic initiatives.            

In Rochester, the community’s soul is found in a history steeped in civil justice, invention, labor and industry. ROCRoots, a new initiative that celebrates this history, has been among the most popular ideas the Democrat and Chronicle has introduced. ROCRoots.com is a section that features the people and places that shaped the town. A before-and-after photo tool, “Retrofitting Rochester,” lets visitors compare some of the city’s historic places with then/now comparisons. The paper has a partnership with the city historian on content and reverse publishes stories in print on Mondays. A calendar blog on the site showcases “this day in history” with a photo or video every day. And readers are submitting their own photos, some dating back to the 1800s.            

RocRoots has been so popular that the paper decided to offer more ROCRoots content when it redesigned the print edition of the D&C last year. The redesign offers more local information and national news by maximizing the reporting firepower of the D&C and USA today, one of four Gannett papers to be redesigned last year.            

“Gannett is making a huge commitment to shout from the mountain tops of the great things we’re doing,” said D&C editor Karen Magnuson. “They’re fresh opportunities we have for digital, especially with mobile.”            

The D&C digital audience continues to grow steadily and is by far the largest audience of any media organization in the area, according to Magnuson. The paper offers content beyond its main news sites, producing bonus sections housed in its Rochester Magazine app. The content is free to D&C subscribers and includes “Roc the Year,” a colorful look back at 2013, as well as the latest editions of Rochester Magazine. The D&C also launched a comprehensive public service project, Unite Rochester, an effort by the newsroom and editorial board to raise awareness about racial inequity and build a more inclusive community. A series of special reports was published, exposing racial discrimination and economic inequities.            

The D&C also expanded its suite of marketing solutions for local businesses. This included a full suite of digital marketing tools working with Gannett’s G/O Digital team and partnerships with Google and Facebook to provide search engine marketing, enhanced social media presence, website development, targeted email campaigns and retargeted display campaigns.            

Magnuson said she learned a lot from working with USA Today last year, enough to pass along a few tips: “First, listen to your audiences and study their behaviors. All planning and strategy needs to revolve around those findings. Second, determine measurements for success and monitor them closely. Third, be flexible and be willing to kill ideas that aren’t working. Try new things to break new ground.”  

Des Moines Register
Des Moines, Iowa
Circulation: 161,184 Sunday; 89,685

When the Des Moines Register decided to move into a new building, the editors and publisher Rick Green realized they had a unique opportunity that few newspapers have. The Register was looking to move forward. But not just to what the paper needed for 2014 or 2015. The Register wanted a newsroom of the future and it was more than about desks and TV screens. It was about developing a place where the newspaper could grow and develop into a new medium. It needed a full-service video studio.            

Since the move-in last June, the Register’s video studio has grown into a storytelling and reader-educating device. From introducing Register investigations to the latest scoop on the Iowa Hawkeyes football game and the talk of the town in the local business community, Register reporters, editors and videographers are stepping on camera and talking directly to readers. Using the studio technology, the Register has informed readers about the key parts of the Affordable Care Act, hosted an interview with potential presidential candidate Rick Perry, analyzed Iowa Poll numbers on the 2016 election, explained an investigation into the sometimes deadly Taser use by Iowa police and walked readers through what led to the closing of a home for Iowa juveniles, among others.            

In five months, the Register produced more than 120 videos within 10 branded shows, which has generated more than 48,000 video views. In lighter news topics, sports reporters have broken down the key developments of the state’s two top college football and basketball teams, analyzed high school football action, done live interviews with college wrestling coaches, and even made holiday desserts in the studio as part of weekly produced shows. And it’s just the beginning. The Register is looking to expand into shows on other news topics, including entertainment, a Reader’s Watchdog segment and a local tech start-up conversation.            
All of this has shown the Register to be “more assertive in engagement with our audience,” Green said. “We have a great team here and they deserve all the credit.”            

The Register’s video studio’s potential extends far beyond the newsroom. The studio offers Register advertising clients a new medium as well. This year, the Register will begin to shoot commercials for its clients, pre-roll clips for videos airing on the Register site or even just videos for clients to tout on their own website.            

The Register is also exploring pairing the produced shows with advertising clients who have expressed interest in sponsoring them. As technology such as the ChromeCast and Apple TVs become more commonplace in U.S. households, the new video studio positions the Register to be able to live stream videos directly into readers’ living rooms, offers on-demand videos on key passion topics for its audience, as well as new services and opportunities to its advertising clients.           

 “My philosophy as a publisher is that content comes first,” Green said. “Give me great content and then let me tell you how to best deliver it.”

Journal Star
Peoria, Ill.
Circulation: 69,000 Sunday; 55,000 daily

Last May, the Journal Star launched a new series of monthly special sections called Extra. The section generated $75,000 per month in new circulation and advertising revenue, producing some of their best non-daily content written by staff members. Extra is inserted in the last Sunday paper of each month.            

Currently, topics have included Historic Flood, coverage of the recent flooding in April that also shared dramatic personal stories and provided information for victims; Illinois Travel, a section focused on popular tourist locations throughout the state; 100-Year-Old Business, a profile of 17 of the 50-plus businesses in the region that are 100 years old or older; Caterpillar, a section focused on the construction and mining equipment company headquartered in Peoria; and Jim Thome, a celebration of the Peoria native and baseball player’s Hall of Fame career.            

Subscribers are charged a monthly $2 fee for Extra, which range from 24 to 48 pages per issue. Communication regarding the premium edition was channeled through direct mail, notification of subscriber renewal statements as well as the creation of a specific URL to outline the content of the Extra editions as well as a calendar of topics. Executive editor Dennis Anderson said at first there was some pushback from readers on the additional fee, but it only made them work harder to create top quality content for each section.            

“Once reader saw the sections, there hasn’t been any pushback,” he said. “Feedback has been very good and positive.”            

Anderson added, “This project’s success is the result of all departments working together, especially consumer sales and marketing director Norb Gray’s circulation department.”            

The premium edition is also included in all single-copy papers with no additional charge. To create more value, the edition is sold as a standalone single-copy product priced at $2.75. Anderson said while retail sales are relatively low, the approach has helped place extra value on the product from a consumer’s perspective.            

Future Extra sections include a look back of photos in 2013; personal finance; Ethnic Peoria, focusing on the diverse cultures in the community; and another 100-Year-Old Business section.            

“For these Extra editions to be successful, the content, and the packaging of it, must be first-rate,” Anderson said. “This cannot look like any other regular special section that a newspaper might publish. It has to be unique.”  

La Presse, Ltée
Montreal, Quebéc, Canada
Circulation: 250,537 Saturday; 203,343 daily

After three years of research and development and a Canadian $40-million investment, La Presse, Canada’s French-language newspaper of record, launched La Presse+, a free-subscription digital edition for iPad, in April 2013. La Presse+ delivers the most comprehensive news and information experience ever from Québec’s largest newsroom, according to president and publisher Guy Crevier.             

La Presse+ brings subscribers the news in an intuitive, interactive and user-friendly media environment that blends the best of print, web, mobile and video. Delivered to users daily before 5:30 a.m., seven days a week, La Presse+ provides enriched interactive versions of all editorial content available in the paper edition of La Presse, along with a broad array of exclusive multimedia content. Besides the daily morning edition, La Presse+ also enables users to stay on top of current affairs with a function dedicated to breaking news.            

Crevier predicts this new digital edition is destined to become the new flagship of La Presse’s news and information ecosystem (digital edition, mobile applications, web, print). La Presse, based in Montreal, is known for its distinctive, rich and diversified coverage of news and current events. Recipient of numerous awards for the quality of its content and design, La Presse is also known for its in-depth series and special reports, as well as for the large amount of space it devotes to discussion and debate.            
Crevier believes that news available free of charge on digital platforms is now well entrenched in digital news and information consumption habits, and an irreversible phenomenon. In 2010, he said La Presse mapped out a future vision built around a new digital edition for tablets. The objective was clear from the start: create a new digital medium that fully leverages the multifunctional capabilities of the iPad while maintaining La Presse newspaper’s DNA in terms of content quality, design and storytelling richness. This new medium had to be user-friendly and intuitive enough to win over traditional newspaper readers, while offering sufficient attractiveness and interactivity to appeal to young adults of the digital generation.           

 La Presse+ now has 400,000 subscribers, gaining 60,000 new subscribers last December alone. Crevier said 125,000 tablets open to La Presse+ daily and the average length of time it stays open to the edition is 36 minutes, 65 minutes on Saturday.            

“The technology was there with the iPad and we did all of our research and came to the conclusion that though this was going to be expensive, the risk of doing nothing, the way newspapers are going, was not worth it,” Crevier said. “We’re very creative and analytical here and we found out what our readers, particularly the younger generation, wanted and this was it.”

Quad-City Times
Davenport, Iowa
Circulation: 49,900 Sunday; 40,657 daily

Seven years ago, the Quad-City Times created a database of opted-in emails collected through contests and online daily deals. Since then, the paper has grown its contest database to more than 80,000 emails and deals database to nearly 50,000 emails. Currently, there are multiple email databases collected from contests, deals, breaking news, weather updates, morning headlines, afternoon updates and the business journal.            

Get It Today, the Times’ deals program, started in August 2010 and has generated $2.2 million to date. Deals offered include gift cards and services that are marked at least 50 percent off. A team of 15 retail sales representatives turn the deals in to be reviewed weekly by a deals board consisting of the digital advertising director, the general manager and the publisher.

According to digital advertising director Katie Wilson, due to the deals’ success, the paper has managed to keep competitors like Groupon out of the market.

“We came in at a good time and held our ground,” she said, adding that having a large database already in place was a big advantage.            

Wilson said sponsorships opportunities are also available including in all of the Times’ newsletters.

“Sponsored positions are an easy way for newspapers of any size to implement and generate revenue consistently, and for businesses to remain top of mind to an engaged audience,” digital sales specialist Alissa Langford said. “The more emails a newspaper has in its database, the more valuable that list is to local businesses and newspapers sell access to use the list.”            

In 2012, the Times also partnered with a local television station to grow the deals program and give more value to businesses.            
“The quality of the email database, in addition to the quality of the deals and contests that we promote, is key to a successful and trusted program,” Langford said.            

The Times were also honored recently with five national awards in the Second Street Awards for Best Regional Travel Deal, Best Deals Store, Best Midsize-Market Contest Program, Best Midsize-Market Deals Program and Best Overall Promotions, competing with nearly 3,000 media partners across North America and Canada.            

Moving forward, Wilson said the paper will continue to build its weather database and build an obituary database, where readers can opt-in to be notified by email when obituaries are uploaded online. There will be sponsorship opportunities available with that newsletter as well. Wilson said the paper is also wants to build texting database.             

“Our motto has always been that we have the audience, both print and online, and email is just one more way to reach an audience and help with the success of a business,” Langford said.  

The Early Bird
Greenville, Ohio
Circulation: 28,000 weekly
Brothers Keith and Fred Foutz have demonstrated a continuous effort to increase and highlight hyper-local news and have added editorial content/coverage and pages since taking ownership of The Early Bird in June 2012.            

Keith said the page count is up 40 percent and up almost 15 percent in total revenue from the purchase date. Just how have they done it? By going against the grain. While most newspapers have been cutting back in recent years, The Early Bird has added content and staff, expanding to 14 full-timers and 20 part-timers. Police beat coverage appears in both in print and digitally. The free weekly covers commissioners meetings and ribbon cuttings in the rural town of Greenville, population 12,000. The Early Bird is out in the community.            

“We credit our small but creative, enthusiastic team of hard-working individuals that is willing to not only accept change, but embrace it for our success,” Keith said. “One of our philosophies is ‘if you’re not progressing, then you’re regressing,’ There is no such thing as complacency in our industry. We have gone back to the basics of true community journalism.”            

You don’t have to do something exceptional or be convicted to be recognized in The Early Bird. “Obviously, both of those are covered but it’s equally important to focus on positive news that occurs within our communities,” Keith said. “It just takes a commitment to find those situations.”            

Being a weekly publication, The Early Bird relies upon its web presence to keep its readers up to date daily with blogs of news, late breaking and otherwise. The paper has added crossword puzzles and an editorial cartoonist. Keith said he and his brother have installed empowerment and accountability into their small staff by listening and implementing their suggestions and encouraging and rewarding their input. They share the basic financial numbers with their staff so when they establish goals and conduct strategy sessions, “everyone has a grasp on why marketing and branding efforts are so vital to our continued success.”            

This small paper is ramping up its use of technology, too, for such things as e-bills and email blasts that are customized to the customer level. Keith said he plans to take advantage of the local high schools and provide students with internships or opportunities to have their journalism students published.            

“We’ve been able to transform the paper from a shopper to a newspaper that is respected and desired by mirroring the communities we serve,” Keith said. “We’ve gone from six-digit losses that had been consistent over the previous five years to actually showing a profit for this past year. As they say, ‘the proof is in the pudding.’ ”  

South Florida Sun Sentinel
Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Circulation: 250,000 Sunday; 150,000 daily
Through a series of innovative practices, the Sun Sentinel has seen an increase of videos views on the paper’s website. According to editor Howard Saltz, about 22 percent of all website visitors watched a video during their visit.            

“This is an unusually high percentage, and it is lucrative because advertisers embrace the opportunity,” Saltz said.            

Before coming on as editor in 2011, Saltz said the newsroom was doing great things with video, but the paper has recently implemented some untraditional initiatives. Editors determine what are likely to be the most-trafficked stories and assign stories to them. Even if a story isn’t the most visual, if editors see a high volume of website traffic to the story, a video will get posted with it. Editors and producers also do voiceovers with stills. In addition, audio-as-video producers receive audio from a radio partner and create a video by sequencing still pictures as the speaker refers to things. For example, online sports editor Keven Lerner takes audio from radio WQAM in Miami and attaches relevant photos and video clips to create a full video.            

Video has also impacting newsgathering. “The breaking news team aggressively uses surveillance footage and 911 calls as video, often putting into video form with stills or B-roll,” Saltz said. The Sun Sentinel website also live-streams from municipal bond court and posts clips from the live stream on crime stories.            

The newsroom also created a video coordinator position a year ago transitioning former staff photographer Sarah Dussault into the position. Saltz said Dussault focuses on producing video content, optimizing placement, conducting training and analyzing metrics.            

“Our goal is to create an inventory of good storytelling,” Saltz said.            

In addition to making strides with video, the Sun Sentinel produced four additional magazine-like pages per day in their print product to justify subscription price increases. Saltz said market research revealed that readers wanted more in-depth national and world reporting. Known as enhanced content, the pages contain analytical, thoughtful, magazine-like stories from various wire services and sister papers.                

The Sun Sentinel also revived its investigative team with three reporters and two database experts. This new strategy resulted in a Pulitzer Prize Gold Medal for Public Service last year for an investigation of off-duty police officers who recklessly speed and endanger the lives of citizens. It was the paper’s first Pulitzer in the newspaper’s 102-year history.    

The Times
Ottawa, Ill.
Circulation: 15,500 (Monday through Saturday)

Described as a “marketing nirvana” by Times publisher John Newby, Starved Rock Country is an extension of the paper’s brand, created to promote the community on a regional level and add tourism dollars to the area. Named after a popular state park in Illinois, Starved Rock Country is “all about collaboration and working with everyone in the region to create jobs and promote new tourism opportunities,” Newby said.            

The centerpiece of Starved Rock Country is a profitable magazine launched in 2012 and supported by local chambers, cities and towns, tourism boards and other regional government agencies as well as advertisers not typically seen in a community newspaper. The magazine is put together by current staff members. A brand manager was hired to do marketing and sell ads in the magazine. It is published quarterly and has a distribution of 25,000.            

Although the original concept of Starved Rock Country was the magazine, the idea evolved to event hosting. “If the magazine could bring in people, how could we attract people and business?” Newby said.            

A concert series started in 2013 with a sold out and standing room only audience for a Brule concert featuring contemporary Native American music. This year, five concerts—including one featuring American Idol winner David Cook—are scheduled for the series. To entice readers to attend, subscribers are offered special discounted prices.            

Other upcoming events include a marathon set for May that has attracted runners from 21 states and a golf tournament scheduled for June with 100 people already signed-up to play along with corporate sponsorships already in place. Newby expects to put out 12 events this year.            

The paper also created a new Starved Rock Country e-commerce website that provides local offerings to the community. The site is open to magazine advertisers and event sponsors, and with each transaction, the paper receives 10 percent of the final sales price.            

“In only one year, Starved Rock Country has blown past our digital operation in terms of revenue and will contribute at least double to the bottom-line, rivaling circulation’s contribution to the bottom-line,” Newby said.             

Looking back, he said he didn’t anticipate seeing this kind of success so early on. “We thought maybe in two or three years.” He anticipates Starved Rock Country to also surpass digital advertising in 2014.            

“We believe that while print is still viable—even if slowly fading—and digital is coming on fast, it won’t be able to replace the print revenue losses fast enough,” Newby said. “A two-legged stool won’t stand long; it needs a third leg to assure stability.”  

York Daily Record/Sunday News
York, Pa.
Circulation: 58,659, Sunday; 30,636 daily

In 2012, the York Daily Record put their newsroom into overdrive by creating the NewsVroom, a mobile media lab equipped with laptops, iPads and smartphones. To do that, the paper converted one of its delivery vans and thanks to sponsors, they were able to cover the cost of wrapping the van in a NewsVroom graphic designed by a newsroom artist. In addition to the technology equipment, the van also carries tables, chairs and pop-up tents.            

At least twice a week, volunteers from the editorial, advertising and circulation departments take the NewsVroom out to community events.

“The point is not to sell products while we’re out there, but to have face time with the community,” managing editor Randy Parker said. “We want to put an iPad or smartphone in their hands and encourage them to download our apps…this is more of an educational project.”            

One of the success stories of the NewsVroom is No Sweat, York. Inspired by a seven-part series printed in 2011, Fat Battleground: Obesity in York County, the paper brought No Sweat in the Park into the community with the NewsVroom van in tow. Since the event launched in May, hundreds of readers have attended Zumba classes, a fitness boot camp, yoga workshops and a Body Combat class.            

The No Sweat, York blog was also created. Advertising, circulation and the newsroom worked together to populate the blog with healthy recipes, exercise tips and personal stories. The paper also reaches out to local hospitals, doctors and fitness professionals for articles and videos.            

“This summer, we grew readership on our blog, we collected email addresses for our newsletter, and we promoted good exercise habits in our readers,” niche publications editor April Trotter said. “More than 1,000 people burned calories that might not have otherwise.”            

With six apps and an eBook in the market, Trotter said they have plenty to show off. “We teach groups how to take better photos of their events, and we show them how to share those pictures across our platforms,” she said. “We let them use our smartphones to experiment with live Tweeting or Touting, and we let them use our iPads to report on the events.”            

Sister newsrooms in Hanover, Pa. and the Philadelphia suburbs have also adapted the NewsVroom model, launching their own mobile media lab to take to social gatherings and sporting events.            

While on the road, Parker said he tells readers, “The York Daily Record is not a newspaper.” After he lets the comment sink in, he explains, “The newspaper is just one tool we use to serve the community. We use the web. We use apps. We use the tablet.”            
Parker said right now editors are looking at ways to take the NewsVroom into other counties. “We want to expand our footprint and go outside our readership…there’s no risk of running out of things to talk about or places to go.

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4 thoughts on “10 Newspapers That Do It Right

  • March 5, 2014 at 1:52 pm

    “Partnership” efforts like in Ottawa are always fraught with potential issues. What if the Chamber of Commerce there starts spending funds unwisely? Does it now no longer become a news story? If the Quad Cities is really that worried about Groupon, when more and more merchants have more and more disdain for it, doesn’t that say something? And two of the top 10 are relying more and more on special sections. Hmm, why not just ditch a slow news day, like a Tuesday, if you’re a seven-day daily, and make that “special section day,” and if people are paying that much, raise the subscription price. Also, the leaders of two of the first three papers used the c-word. Ugh.

  • March 5, 2014 at 4:53 pm

    No links to the digital version of each newspaper, no supporting images or social shares and a wall of text. (Yes, I see the clunky image viewer top right and the generic share buttons). Soldier on newspaper industry, soldier on!

  • March 6, 2014 at 4:53 pm

    For decades, we thrived because of strong marketplaces. Auto, Real Estate, Recruitment, major accout ROP and preprints. People came to shop, and read. Just by it’s design and nature, classified content wasn’t successful because some came to read about sports and saw a job they were interested in. Interruptive advertising still works, but we need new marketplaces to thrive again. A very high percentage of digital revenue is from sites where people are looking to buy something specific. A very small amount comes from sites whose main hook is content.

  • March 7, 2014 at 4:53 pm

    I doubt most of the above won’t be publishing print in the next decade. Does anyone think that most newspapers can really compete online? Newspapers can’t afford the delivery costs of print and the subscribers that really want it will mostly be priced out. Then What. I am in a metro market…newspaper is now 125k…about one third of what it was. I am waiting for the three day package to be announced, no weekday newspapers.


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