10 That Do It Right

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Ten that do it right. What does that mean, anyway? It all depends on what you mean by “it.” We weren’t necessarily looking for the 10 best newspapers: If we were, at least a couple of the same papers would be here every year.

Our criteria are partly objective: We looked for newspapers that have shown circulation gains, and maintained flowing revenue streams (although any paper that didn’t lose its shirt this past year must have done something right). So to the subjective: Attractive design. Community awareness. News generated by staff initiative, not recycled wire copy. Interesting marketing ideas. We found much to like, as did their readers. — Wayne Robins

Arizona Daily Star, Tucson
In the late 1990s, the Arizona Daily Star was growing — but not fast enough to offset the circulation declines of its joint-operating-agreement (JOA) partner, the Gannett Co. Inc.-owned Tucson Citizen.

Tired of talking about poor circulation growth, news staffers at the Pulitzer Inc.-owned Star took action. On their initiative, the paper redesigned its look, implemented circulation-growth incentives for newsroom managers, and improved the quality of the enterprise reporting, Publisher and Editor Jane Amari says. “The idea that they could have an impact on their newspaper was an attractive idea to them,” she says.

The business side also got involved, using billboards to sell the day’s top stories, tracking sales by source, striking partnerships with sandwich shops and gas stations, and increasing Newspaper In Education sales.

The efforts are paying off: In the six months ended March 31, circulation was up 3.5% daily from a year ago, to 106,708, and up 0.1% Sunday, to 177,883.

The cornerstone of the editorial changes was revived enterprise coverage, Amari says. Nine more editorial staffers were added, and enterprise is now a daily feature on Page One. The paper runs a training program to improve
reporters’ investigative and other skills. The Star also hired a reader advocate and assembles reader roundtables to discuss coverage of sensitive issues.

The paper’s efforts are getting noticed elsewhere. In the Arizona Newspaper Association’s 2001 Better Newspapers Contest, the Star won first prize for general excellence among papers with 25,000 circulation or more — beating the state’s biggest paper, The Arizona Republic in Phoenix — and first prize in several editorial categories.

Amari says giving people the time and space to do in-depth reporting is key to the paper’s editorial improvement. In 2000, for example, the paper ran “Mama’s Santos,” a 36-part, first-person series about the Arizona cotton industry, told through the eyes of a reporter’s mother. The commitment to enterprise reporting hasn’t wavered during the past year, even though the paper had to tighten the news hole to help offset a 10.2% decline in JOA advertising revenue. — Lucia Moses

Cape Cod Times, Hyannis, Mass.

Just one look. That’s all it took for us to fall in love with the Cape Cod Times. It is one gorgeous newspaper: beautifully designed, exquisitely laid-out, with lots of white space to enhance the vivid photography.

“We want design that offers readers a sense of place,” says Editor Cliff Schechtman. “Good design is not about bells and whistles — it’s about storytelling, and from our photography the reader can almost subconsciously feel what the story is about.”

This beauty also has brains. It won a number of awards in its class, including general excellence, in the most recent New England Press Association contest. One reason: the Cape — the summer resort area that includes posh Hyannisport (home of the Kennedy clan), artsy Provincetown, and blue-collar towns such as Sandwich — has always attracted writers, artists, and photographers, who are are now among those living there all year.

“There are so many talented people on the Cape who could work at any newspaper they want,” says President and Publisher Peter D. Meyer. “They make the lifestyle choice, and the Cape Cod Times is the beneficiary of that talent.” They’re staying, and they’re reading. Daily circulation is up 3.4% over last year, to 46,740, and Sunday circ is up 1.8%, to 55,812.

Meyer says 2001’s revenue was a notch ahead of 2000’s, another anomaly in a dreadful year for many newspapers. “The service sector is so important to the Cape community that [help-wanted classified ads] are still there. At least we haven’t been impacted to the degree that papers in other cities have had with the huge collapse in white-collar jobs.”

During the summer, about a million people visit the Cape, with a steadily increasing but still small percentage left behind after Labor Day. “There was a time when the streets would roll up and most of the restaurants would close down,” Meyer says, “but that’s not true any longer.” Adds Schechtman: “The seasonality is a challenge. … But if you’re half-awake, there are good stories and really interesting things happening here year-round.” — Wayne Robins

Hoy, New York
Since Hoy (“Today”) dawned brightly in late 1998, Newsday‘s Spanish-language sibling has become not only the largest-circulation Hispanic daily newspaper in New York but one of the largest-circulation Latino papers in the nation as well. And it’s no wonder.

“We want to be the No. 1 Spanish-language newspaper in the country, period,” says Louis Sito, Hoy‘s president and publisher.

Because of Hoy‘s attractive 25-cent weekday cover price, changes in the demographic composition of the city, and excellent editorial content — Hoy won 10 first-place awards, including a tie in the Outstanding Hispanic Daily category, in the National Association of Hispanic Publications’ Hispanic Print Awards this March — Sito and his Tribune Co. colleagues have a real shot at meeting this goal.

Hoy reported its weekday circulation in the most recent ABC FAS-FAX, covering the six months ended March 31, as 75,113, a nearly 40% gain over the year-earlier period. The tabloid also reported the circulation of its Sunday issue, launched in February of last year, as 25,462.

Nationally, the only ABC-audited Latino daily newspapers with higher circulation than Hoy are Los Angeles’ La Opini?n (128,495 weekdays and 72,752 Sunday), co-owned by the Lozano family and Tribune, and Miami’s El Nuevo Herald (89,168 daily and 95,973 Sunday), owned by Knight Ridder.

Locally, El Diario-La Prensa has reported to ABC circulation of 52,558 weekdays and 38,303 Sunday. El Diario, founded in 1913, thus would appear to be Hoy‘s primary competition in New York.

But Sito doesn’t see it that way: “My competition is basically the electronic media … Spanish radio and Spanish TV.” In this competition, he says, “Hoy is the only mass medium that’s growing dramatically, I believe, because people are seeking us out for information about their daily lives — the same thing that most people seek in other print media — general information, the daily news. Hispanics are no different.” — J.J. McGrath

News & Record, Greensboro, N.C.
Several years ago, circulation loss, the decline in North Carolina’s core textile and furniture businesses, and the growth of the Web had the News & Record in a general state of uneasiness. President and Publisher Van King realized the paper had to invest in technology and quality journalism to be able to grow.

With backing from parent Landmark Communications Inc., he led a $10-million mailroom expansion last year that enabled deeper zoning for advertisers, instituted 5:30 a.m. home delivery, and expanded the newsroom staff by about 16% to improve hard-news coverage. Supporting these changes was a new promotional campaign with the tagline “News & Record: For Your Life.”

The News & Record also increased its sources of new-subscription starts, and shifted away from discounting and event sales toward retention strategies, such as automatic-payment programs. Combining the distribution and marketing departments has improved communication, which has helped reduce delivery errors.

Despite competition from nearly a dozen other dailies, daily circulation has grown three years in a row, to 93,436 as of March 31. Circulation Director David Reno believes that circulation should be everyone’s business. “If I continually get papers out late, I won’t have good service,” he says. “That hurts retention. Everyone has to work together.”

With the economy still poking along, few publishers are as upbeat as King. Having improved the hard-news coverage, he next wants to tackle features and continue to better retention and ad sales as the economy revs up. “People talk about newspapers in decline,” says King, publisher since 1992. “We’re in a great position. … We have a lot of work to do,” he says. “It’s not easy, but I still feel like our best years are ahead.” — Lucia Moses

Northwest Herald, Crystal Lake, Ill.

As far back as the 1960s, when McHenry County was considered to be out in the boonies of northern Illinois, dailies from Chicago, Wheaton, and Arlington Heights were already sending circulation trucks on the long drive to what were then quaint villages along the Fox River Valley.

By 1983, a population boom of professionals was replacing farms with housing developments, and Robert A. Shaw, whose Shaw Newspapers’ flagship was the semiweekly Crystal Lake Herald, decided that McHenry County deserved its own fine daily paper. Shaw bought the old Free Press weeklies, combined them with its collection of community
papers — and shut them all down to create the daily Northwest Herald. “It was a vision inspired by The Orange County [Calif.] Register, which did something similar in the late 1960s and ’70s, right under the nose of the Los Angeles Times,” recalls Shaw, who retired as publisher in March at age 50.

The Northwest Herald has proven remarkably adept at defending its ever-more-prosperous market against repeated incursions by the Chicago Tribune and the Daily Herald of Arlington Heights, as well as occasional forays by nearby dailies. Its 35,806 circulation (which was up 3.3% in the latest ABC FAS-FAX) is about double the local sales of either paper. Pursuing a strategy of growing deep rather than wide, the Northwest Herald‘s household penetration is just shy of 40%, far higher than its metro competitors.

Editor Mark M. Sweetwood attributes much of the success to its heavy editorial zoning of a relatively small market and a complete news product that ranges from international news to a weekly section that publishes just about anything readers submit. Its newsroom staff of 54 editorial full-time equivalents far exceeds the one-per- 1,000-circulation rule. Still, thwarted though they may be now, the competition is likely to keep running at the Northwest Herald‘s market. — Mark Fitzgerald

Quad-City Times, Davenport, Iowa
The Quad-City Times is one of those good, smaller regional newspapers whose emphasis can be described as local, local — and local. So what were a reporter and photographer for the Q-C Times doing in Kenya for 12 days not long ago? A local story, of course.

It seems that, each year, the Times sponsors a distance-running event, the Bix 7, named after one of Davenport’s most renowned natives, the early jazz trumpeter Bix Beiderbecke. The race attracts around 20,000 runners, and since it’s become a regular leg on the worldwide circuit, Kenya’s world-class racers started competing and, invariably, winning. After a few years of that, “the community was disconnecting,” says the Times‘ 39-year-old editor, John Humenik. “They wondered, ‘Who are these people?’ There was some animosity.”

So the paper sent a reporter and photographer to Kenya, meeting and staying with the runners and their families, visiting their schools and training camps. “We felt it was significant, since what we do is make connections in the community,” Humenik says. That year, when a Kenyan won the Bix 7, the runner was greeted with wild cheers.

That may be one reason weekday circulation jumped nearly 3,000 copies over the year-earlier period, to 52,642, in the latest ABC report, with the Sunday number declining slightly.

The Q-C Times doesn’t always travel so far to understand its community. Reporters were asked to draw up lists of people who were not their usual sources on key local beats such as health care, government, education, agriculture, and the Mississippi River (which splits Davenport and Bettendorf, Iowa, from the other Quad cities, Rock Island and Moline, Ill.). These new sources were invited to the newsroom, and in discussions reporters asked them to relate “stories that are significant in [their] field,” Humenik says. “We’re not assuming we know, so we look to new sources.”

The Times‘ newsroom staff of 54 will go wherever their community goes. “The Davenport Army Reserve unit went down to Guant?namo … so a woman who was selling cars at Lujacks is now guarding Taliban prisoners,” Humenik says. “We have to bring that story home — that this is a small world, that Davenport people play influential roles in that world. We try to live that message every day.” — Wayne Robins

The Record, Hackensack, N.J.
At The Record, the magic words for the past year or so have been, “Think young.” In just 12 months, the North Jersey Media Group Inc. flagship has taken this to heart in both news coverage and marketing, resulting in strong circulation gains and a growing readership below age 30.

“We wanted to start attracting the younger reader,” says Editor Frank S. Scandale, who joined the paper in January of last year after more than a decade at The Denver Post. Scandale and other editors quickly did that by acting on the results of a reader survey taken in 2000 that showed younger readers wanted more information about things to do. The fruits of their labor: a new Thursday tab section called “Get Set” that highlights weekend recreation activities, and “Go,” a revamped Friday entertainment tab that focuses on hip nightlife spots and clubs for 20-somethings. Last fall, The Record also launched a telemarketing approach focused on former subscribers and younger readers, featuring a 30% Friday-Sunday subscription-rate cut.

“We’ve also emphasized the quality of the product in the marketing,” says Jonathan H. Markey, president of North Jersey Media, “pounding away on the themes of awards and excellence.” The paper will begin this year to use a new data-warehousing computer system that has been collecting marketing information.

All these efforts have resulted in a slight daily-circulation boost, to 187,247 in March from 186,736 a year earlier. Sunday circ is on a similar upswing, to 230,889 from 229,809.

Among other improvements in the newsroom, Scandale points to the removal last year of stock and mutual-fund listings, replaced by more business and local news; the addition of two more reporters on Saturday local news, bringing the total to six; and the appointment of a permanent Saturday editor to replace the former rotation system.

Other additions included the creation of a new projects-editor position and the hiring of a new investigative reporter. Editors credit both with helping the paper break major stories on motor-vehicle-registration fraud and on abuse of the drug Ecstasy — which may give The Record more to crow about in the future. — Joe Strupp

Statesman Journal, Salem, Ore.
When the Statesman Journal took home 10 first-place prizes — the most for any daily paper — in the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association’s Better Newspaper Contest last year, it didn’t surprise Editor Steven A. Smith. During the past two years, the Gannett Co. Inc. publication has been doing everything it can to get better, from beefing up local coverage to increasing training.

“And we did it in a climate of staff reductions,” says Smith, who lost eight editorial positions through attrition last year. “We have done everything with a smaller staff.”

What the Statesman Journal has done is focus more on local readership, including a growing Spanish-speaking audience. That closer coverage started two years ago when Smith reassigned three reporters from other news beats, while adding one page of local news to each day’s paper. The area’s Hispanic population, which increased by about 20% over the past decade, has seen a growing number of stories published in Spanish each month, including a new weekly entertainment column devoted to cultural events. “It is an interim step that may lead to a Spanish edition someday,” says Smith, an Oregon native who joined the paper two years ago.

The editor also credits the paper’s improvements to an increased emphasis on good writing and reporting, which he says began with the hiring of five new editors shortly after his arrival at the paper. Weekly training sessions, which began in January of last year, also are responsible for a better product, Smith boasts.

“We have designed our newsroom to take a young staff and make it professionally stronger,” Smith says. “We have a great group of editors, and we think that means a lot.” — Joe Strupp

Times Union, Albany, N.Y.
It’s an indication of the quality of the Times Union that Editor Jeff Cohen has been plucked by parent Hearst Corp. to lead the newsroom of its biggest daily, the Houston Chronicle, starting next month. And putting out a good paper hasn’t been bad for business in New York’s capital, either. “We really know what our master narrative is, and that is New York state government — and the environment, especially dealing with the Hudson [River] and Adirondacks,” Cohen says.

The death of Times Union reporter Mike Hurewitz this year in the aftermath of his living-donor liver transplant propelled the paper into leading the charge on hospital reform and transplant aftercare. Last fall, the paper devoted much of a Sunday issue to the problem of alcohol abuse on campus after a drinking driver on the Colgate University campus crashed and killed four of his classmates. The package included a special supplement aimed at teens, with multimedia on the Times Union‘s always ahead-of-the-curve Web site. (Online Editor Patti Hart is a member of the senior management of the newsroom.) “All of us,” Cohen explains, “gasped when we saw the photo of the tree [the driver] hit, and collectively felt we had to use our latitude as journalists to prevent this from happening again.”

While 2001 was not the paper’s best year on the business side, it wasn’t “anything like what happened during the last year around the country,” Publisher David P. White says. The stability of employment in state government and the region’s colleges helped the paper hold onto circulation (steady at about 101,000 daily and 147,000 Sunday), while increasing its market share.

A coup de gr?ce: The editorial page ran a five-day series, supervised by its editor, Howard T. Healy, investigating inadequate monitoring and disciplining of state judges. “They weren’t content writing from the ivory tower — they got out and researched the judicial problems and wrote a series compelling enough to get the attention of the power structure,” Cohen says. “Our goal is to have the legislators and opinion makers reading their papers in their underwear on the sidewalk [in front of their homes] each morning.” — Wayne Robins

Wisconsin State Journal, Madison
Civic journalism earned its decidedly mixed reputation because it too often seems to involve timorous reporting followed by community meetings led by editors acting so earnestly you fear that any minute they will take out a guitar and lead everybody in a chorus of “Kumbaya.”

That’s not how the Wisconsin State Journal practices civic journalism. “A lot of critics of civic journalism say it’s soft and compromises your ability to do ‘real’ reporting,” says Editor Frank Denton. “Well, when we find corruption, we’re all over it. We do a lot of tough reporting and a lot of hell-raising.”

Just ask Wisconsin politicians. For a year now, Statehouse leaders have been reeling from the aftershocks of State Journal revelations that legislative employees in the supposedly squeaky-clean Dairy State were pocketing taxpayer dollars and spending their office hours working on political campaigns. The paper’s pit-bull reporting of cover-up attempts has won it a fistful of awards, including the Society of Professional Journalists’ top prize for investigative reporting for papers its size.

(The latest Audit Bureau of Circulations [ABC] FAS-FAX recorded a weekday
circulation jump of 2,866 copies over the year-ago period, to 90,063.)

The State Journal, jointly owned by Lee Enterprises Inc. and the Capital Times Co. and run by Lee, does even traditional civic journalism a little different. Its “Schools of Hope” project emerged five years ago from tough reporting that showed how the public schools in Madison, a bastion of progressive liberalism, were failing black and Latino students. “It took a good deal of courage just to bring the problem to light,” Publisher James Hopson says.

Do something, the paper demanded of civic leaders — and then it stepped aside. But its call to action was so powerful that when it published an article about a program of volunteer tutoring, 550 people signed up in the first week. Five years later, 800 tutors are in the program — and minority standardized-test scores are up significantly.

“We see the newspaper as something that must play an everyday role in the lives of our readers,” Editor Denton says. “We believe in the importance of doing ‘Big Journalism’ on top of the everyday things a paper must do.” — Mark Fitzgerald

Past Winners
2001
The Capital, Annapolis, Md.
The Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch
The Free Lance-Star, Fredericksburg, Va.
Newsday, Melville, N.Y.
New York Post
The News & Observer, Raleigh, N.C.
Saint Paul (Minn.) Pioneer Press
Daily Southtown, Tinsley Park, Ill.
Portsmouth (N.H.) Herald
The Press-Enterprise, Riverside, Calif.

2000
The Star-Ledger, Newark, N.J.
The Oregonian, Portland
The Sacramento (Calif.) Bee
Daily Herald, Arlington Heights, Ill.
Star Tribune, Minneapolis
Tribune-Review, Greensburg, Pa.
The Times, Munster, Ind.
Akron (Ohio) Beacon Journal
El Nuevo Herald, Miami
Portland (Maine) Press Herald

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