‘Charlotte Observer’ Sells Newsroom Art Online

By: Carl Sullivan

With its broad black-and-white diagonal stripes, the Cape Hatteras lighthouse is an important icon for North Carolinians. So when the National Park Service moved the now-131-year-old structure 2,900 feet to save it from the encroaching Atlantic Ocean in 1999, the job was big news for The Charlotte Observer.

After the Observer published a two-page graphic explaining the monumental rescue effort, many readers wanted a more permanent version of the artful display than newsprint could provide. A local printer produced several thousand copies, the Observer ran house ads — and the poster sold out within a few months.

Today the Observer sells more than a dozen posters that originated in the newspaper’s art department on a dedicated Web site, NewsArtStore.com. The site expects revenue in excess of $100,000 this year, said Peter Vandevanter, vice president for new ventures. “We see this as something that might have broader value for Knight Ridder,” he said. Already, Knight Ridder’s South Carolina papers — The State in Columbia and The Sun News in Myrtle Beach — are selling the Observer‘s posters. “There’s a niche for newspaper art, which is essentially educational art.”

Tom Tozer, deputy managing editor for presentation, said consumers are drawn by the quality of the award-winning work and subject matter of strong local interest — posters have featured NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt, Carolina songbirds, and the recently raised Confederate submarine, the H.L. Hunley. “From a newsroom perspective,” Tozer explained, “it’s great because we get the Observer name on the posters in offices, schools, and homes.”

Both Tozer and Vandevanter are involved with the Observer‘s Incubator Inc., an initiative to inspire entrepreneurialism. The program offers cash rewards to employees who suggest new business ideas. Representing all newspaper divisions, the Incubator team meets once a week. “Our hope is that, over time, we’ll have a different kind of culture at the company,” Tozer said.

After NewsArtStore was launched, someone in the production department pointed out the pressroom was discarding the cardboard tubes in the center of newsprint rolls, which are very similar to mailing tubes. Those newsprint tubes are now being recycled as poster mailers. “Newspapers have a reputation of being a very traditional culture,” Vandevanter said, “but there is a way to get them thinking differently.”

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