Critical Thinking: J-School Students and Industry Vets Tackle the Tough Questions

By: Deena Higgs Nenad

Q: A newspaper is in the midst of a budget crisis. Paid print subscriptions have plummeted, while free digital subscriptions are up. The reporters are overworked and underpaid, and the staff is minimal. There is no money to hire more people, but the paper desperately needs to get out news online and in print. What are some ways the newspaper can generate revenue in the short and long term to make this happen?

Abram “Abe” Brown: 21, senior at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications in New York.

Brown is a magazine journalism student who has interned with The Post-Standard in Syracuse and The Buffalo (N.Y.) News. He was also a copy editor and assistant editor for the university newspaper, The Daily Orange. He will graduate in May. Follow him on Twitter @abebrown716 or e-mail him at

A: You could raise newsstand prices. You could ask your employees for givebacks. You could even sack a few more. But these short-term moves are just more belt tightening, and it’s hard to tighten an already size-zero waist.

If news must go out and revenue must come in, skip the short-term solutions. Think long term. Think about one thing: Stop giving your content away free. That old newspaper business model stopped working years ago. Use a paywall. Make it reasonable for your readers – as reasonable as that print subscription. Soon the paywall will bring increased revenue. Plus, we’ve seen that the paywall is possible. Smaller papers have experimented, and The New York Times promises to lead this must-follow trend.

An obvious problem exists with adopting a paywall. Readers are used to getting online content free. Some readers will balk at a paywall and refuse to pay. Newspapers with strong market penetration will find that a paywall drives away some readers. But those readers will have few other quality news sources to turn to.

Newspapers with weak market penetration or ones that face intense competition may need to target a specific audience. Each niche will differ by publication: political leanings, ethnicity, class. With a target audience set, let the editorial content shine.

As editors, make your paper essential and talked-about. If non-subscribers feel left out of the conversation, then even the most recalcitrant ones will feel compelled to subscribe. Personnel decisions become crucial here too. Hire only staffers who can help your paper transform.

Consider it time to break with the old and adopt the new. No one wants to wear skinny jeans forever.

Robert “Bob” Fleck: 48, Senior Vice President of Advertising for the Chicago Tribune Media Group

Fleck joined the Tribune in 1992 as a sales representative and became senior VP in February 2009. A graduate in business from Elmhurst (Ill.) College, he sits on many boards, including the Better Business Bureau and Glenkirk Foundation, which helps the developmentally disabled. Reach him at

A: The newspaper industry is facing unique challenges. Here are five essential components to running the business and generating revenue:

1. Relentlessly obsess about your customer. We know that customers are consuming media in more ways than ever. Maintaining and growing your diverse portfolio to meet their needs should be a huge priority. Your portfolio must be diverse. It must continue to evolve as you deliver content to engaged audiences in print, online, mobile, out-of-home, and events.

2. Win in digital. Building sites that draw users and traffic, then capitalizing on user data through permission marketing and behavioral targeting is critical. One way is by building digital shopping solutions and vertical marketplaces focused on utility, serving as the conduit between buyers and sellers, or by providing local businesses with services to enhance their Web presence.

3. Provide unique and differentiated content. Readers will continue to invest their time and money in your product if you provide local, unique, relevant, and differentiated content.

4. Create a winning plan. An efficient, lean operation functions most effectively when everyone is driving in the same direction. Create a mission for employees to rally around, and set clear priorities and goals to get there.

5. Leverage your capabilities. A highly engaged talented workforce will drive results. In addition to employees, leverage your unique infrastructure to find new buckets of money. You’ll see big differences by leveraging reader data, customer insights, and distribution capabilities as well.

Generating revenue is about continuing to diversify your portfolio and providing your customers with innovative solutions that drive results. If you do this, you are sure to see a profitable year.


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