Papers Tailor Online Content to Increase Audience, Ad Sales

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With classified revenue dwindling, the news industry must get better at tailoring articles and display advertising to online readers, several newspaper executives said Tuesday.

Papers must more aggressively “slice and dice” content to readers’ particular interests, Leon Levitt, vice president of digital media for Cox Newspapers Inc., said during a panel discussion at the annual conference of the Newspaper Association of America.

“We’re at the early stages of doing that,” said Levitt, whose company, a unit of privately held Cox Enterprises Inc., owns 17 daily and 26 non-daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Palm Beach Post in Florida and the Austin American-Statesman in Texas.

Newspapers faced with dwindling print advertising are turning more to the Internet to make up for lost revenue. Overall newspaper advertising revenue last year fell 7.9 percent, including a 9.4 percent dip in print advertising that was offset partially by an 18.8 percent hike in online advertising, according to the newspaper association.

Levitt said newspapers are leaning most heavily on online display advertising, which is growing at a faster clip than classified advertising.

Other newspaper executives on the panel said the industry must first become more familiar with readers’ online behavior before they can deliver personalized content and advertising.

Several executives said they’re developing multiple Web sites, blogs and other products to reach distinctive audiences.

Vivian Schiller, senior vice president and general manager of NYTimes.com, said The New York Times is a “strong believer” in creating multiple brands.

She said DealBook blog, which provides financial news, started as an e-mail newsletter service in 2001 and then also became a Web site two years ago. The company also has a Great Homes and Destinations Web site that provides information about the luxury real estate sector.

She said despite the housing market’s current situation, there is “still an appetite for it,” she said.

Eleanor Cippel, director of innovation for Cincinnati-based E.W. Scripps, said her company started a $1.5 million “entrepreneurial fund,” similar to a venture capital fund, more than a year ago to bankroll business ideas mainly from their employees.

In that time, the company has reviewed about 175 ideas and funded about 15 mostly Web-related products, she said. Examples are RedBlueAmerica.com, which caters to readers who want to know about opinions from different sides of an issue, and Rootclip, another Web site that invites users to submit short videos.

The idea, she said, is to grow loyalty within such audiences.

Scripps, which owns daily and community newspapers in 16 markets, 10 broadcast TV stations, and other media properties, plans this year to split into two companies by June 30.

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