When we put out the call for nominations for our annual 10 News Publishers That Do It Right, it was right in the middle of a global health pandemic. Newsrooms around the world were dealing with difficult challenges—from the loss of advertising revenue to ensuring the health and safety of their staff. Obviously, newsrooms had a lot on their plates, and we were not even certain how many newsrooms would submit to this year’s contest. But we were pleased to receive more than 50 nominations.
Our 10 news publishers (and honorable mentions) had to learn how to navigate a brand-new world. Whether it was pivoting to virtual events to offering creative and innovative advertising packages to address the needs of their communities, they were able to find a silver lining during a very tough season. Yes, we’re still going through this pandemic, but after pulling through 2020, these newsrooms are positive that the best is still yet to come. As you learn about these newsrooms, we hope you feel the same.
Business Publications Corp.
Des Moines, Iowa
In 2020, Business Publications Corp. (BPC) launched five new initiatives that provided value to the community, but also helped generate new revenue streams. Business Publications Corp. is a locally owned publishing company that produces a business journal (Business Record) and an affluent city magazine (dsm).
A Buy One Give One initiative for business partners allowed them to purchase an ad and donate a full-page ad to the nonprofit of their choice in an effort to help ensure nonprofits could get their messages out about key needs in the initial months of the pandemic.
Also, within the first two weeks of the initial shutdown, the first virtual event was launched over Zoom. Called Coping with Covid, the weekly free virtual event series addressed key topics and issues businesses around the state were attempting to navigate.
“The series allowed us to quickly relearn how to position all of our normal in person events, maintain our sponsors, and bring in new sponsors,” said Business Record publisher Chris Conetzkey. “As one of the first organizations in the city to demonstrate to key leaders the capacity of leveraging digital events, we were often consulted and helped other key organizations in town navigate initial hurdles for transitioning in person events to virtual.”
Lifting the Veil came about after discussions with business leaders, according to president and group publisher Suzanna de Baca. Partnering with key health partners in the community, the five-week event series focused on how COVID was affecting mental health.
Another issue that arose from speaking with community leaders was hunger and the increase usage of local food banks. As a result, the company launched Iowa Stops Hunger. By partnering with the Hy-Vee, a large Midwest grocery chain, and more than 40 businesses, BPC launched a year-long initiative aimed at raising awareness and activating the business community to take an action toward ending hunger in the state. To do so, BPC launched a combination of three informational events, a special edition of the Business Record, a special publication distributed in dsm Magazine highlighting key issues, a monthly e-newsletter, a dedicated website at iowastopshunger.com, and provided ongoing coverage across all of their publications.
An Executive Vision series focused on racial equity was created as a result of having conversations with community partners who wanted to help educate and move other businesses toward making real meaningful long-term change. The five-week program provided space for leadership teams from organizations to focus on learning about the complex racial issues affecting their community and their employees, while also moving them toward a path of being able to build a strategic plan. In addition, their enrollment allowed them to donate an ad to the small business or nonprofit of their choice, with an emphasis on aiding Black-owned businesses in the community.
Conetzkey shared that they saw impressive attendance numbers from these virtual events, and de Baca said the new initiatives added more than 7 percent incremental revenue, much of it from new sponsors and advertisers.—NY
Cleveland Jewish Publication Co.
Two years ago, the Cleveland Jewish Publication Co. launched the biweekly newspaper, Columbus Jewish News, in August 2018. That same year, it also introduced 12 Under 36: Members of the Tribe, an event recognizing members of the Cleveland Jewish community working in the area or enacting positive change through a local organization or association. In 2019, more than 800 people attended a high-priced event to see actor Henry Winkler at a Cleveland Jewish News sponsored community event at a local synagogue.
Then, the pandemic hit.
Local businesses were significantly impacted, and like many other publications in the industry, the Cleveland Jewish News had to make some tough decisions. One of them was a reduced print schedule in an effort to offset significant advertising losses. But the community took notice.
“Prominent community and individual leaders connected with us and began and continue to support us financially because they told us the community could not be without our print publications at a time of isolation,” said publisher Kevin Adelstein. “We answered that with a commitment to continue publishing each week and even created new daily e-newsletters in each of our communities…While others have cut back, we’ve expanded our staff, products and definition of news catered to our core audience.”
In 2020, the company launched an online-only digital lifestyle magazine during the pandemic and introduced an additional weekday e-newsletter in Cleveland and its weekday first e-newsletter in Columbus as ways to fill the void for additional daily news and generate significant revenue. Adelstein said they will also launch a brand-new quarterly community magazine in 2021. Even with this new digital strategy, the company averaged 64 pages per week in 2020, with many weeks of their newspapers filling 80-plus pages.
Cleveland Jewish News was also one of the first companies in the city to offer free advertising space and free advertorial space. In addition, the company allowed every restaurant to be included in a free weekly listing, with information about carry-out service.
As in-person events were put on hold, the company produced three virtual events (one in Columbus and two in Cleveland). An in-person event with New York Times reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, who broke the Harvey Weinstein case, was delayed until later this year, but out of the 250 tickets sold before the pandemic, only two have been refunded. Adelstein said very few sponsors pulled out, even with the changes.
Despite a challenging season, the company also continues to break hard hitting news. They include a story in which the administrator and two nursing supervisors of a prominent local Jewish nursing home were terminated for allegedly falsifying COVID tests of nursing home residents; and covering allegations and an investigation of inappropriate behaviors of the mayor of the largest Jewish community in Cleveland.
Adelstein credited the company’s entrepreneurial spirit for their successes.
“We’ve really tried to instill a desire to become a world-class organization in all we do, and every member of our team subscribes to that same mentality and exhibit the necessary behavior to get us that outcome,” he said.—NY
Thinking innovatively is a priority for the Daily Gazette, a 126-year-old family-owned newspaper in upstate New York.
“The goal is to stay around for another 100 years,” said board chair Betsie Lind, who owns the paper with her husband, Henry, and her brother, Bill Hume. To do that, the owners looked outside the family for the first time when it came to hiring their next publisher.
John DeAugustine joined the paper eight years ago, and since then, he has charted a path toward revenue diversification that goes beyond their printed products.
According to editorial page editor Mark Mahoney, one of DeAugustine’s earliest goals was taking a new asset in the printing press in 2013 and putting it to use more hours during the day. The result was a lucrative commercial printing business, which now generates more than $1.5 million a year in revenue. Before DeAugustine’s arrival, that revenue was zero.
In July 2019, the company launched an Image360 sign franchise. Although it operates separately from the newspaper, DeAugustine serves as president, and it is operated out of the Daily Gazette building. Image360 creates graphic displays that range from wall displays and street signs to truck panel signs and real estate sales materials. According to DeAugustine, the sign company was a good fit due to their printing and advertising experience. Gary LaBelle, the former Daily Gazette advertising executive, is also general manager of Image360.
Right before the pandemic hit, the Daily Gazette launched a new business in January 2020: Daily Gazette Logistics, which allows them to run FedEx delivery routes east of Schenectady. The company currently employs about 33 drivers. When advertising revenues were down this year, the Fed-Ex delivery revenue helped offset those advertising losses. DeAugustine estimates this new venture has brought in nearly $3 million.
In addition, the Daily Gazette also rents out additional office space in their building (there are nine tenants total including the paper). Mahoney said this initiative helps them generate an additional $200,000.
Aside from these diverse revenue streams, the Daily Gazette is still investing in newspapers. In January 2020, they acquired three other New York publications: The Recorder in Amsterdam, the Courier-Standard-Enterprise in Canajoharie and The Fulton County Express.
“We’re a mission-driven business,” said DeAugustine. “Our newspapers make money, but if we want to continue to fund doing community journalism—which is our core mission—then we need additional streams too.”—NY
Heading into 2020, Newsday had big plans, which included hosting 52 in-person events and building a state-of-the-art television studio. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic halted both projects. However, it prompted the organization to launch Newsday LIVE, a series of virtual events, proving that even during a tumultuous time, Newsday can still deliver vital information to their audience.
These virtual events cover a variety of topics such as health, education, business, entertainment and more. The events are arranged under Newsday Live Conversations, Newsday Live Author Series and Newsday Live Music Series. They are streamed and archived on Newsday’s website (newsday.com/newsday-live.)
The series launched in March 2020 and, initially, the events were 45-minute programs where a reporter interviewed the guest, followed by a 15-minute Q&A. According to Kim Como, communications manager, Newsday recently moved to 30-minute programs where audience questions are strictly answered.
Publisher Debby Krenek told E&P that Newsday LIVE is a place where people can get answers from experts that they otherwise couldn’t get themselves, and the television studio is an extension of that service.
Studio construction was halted when the pandemic hit, but after being declared an essential business, Newsday was able to resume the work. The studio was completed in October and debuted on Election Night. Currently, select Newsday LIVE events are produced in the studio, but the goal is to produce more events there, said Bobby Cassidy, executive director of multimedia.
From March to December, Newsday LIVE hosted 120 events, which more than 200,000 people attended, according to Patrick Tornabene, chief officer of consumer revenue and strategy. Guests have included Dr. Anthony Fauci and Sen. Charles Schumer.
“We are very much focused on growing audience,” Krenek said. “One of our key goals is to cover all communities on Long Island and be the glue—what brings Long Island together—so, the TV studio and Newsday LIVE are different ways to get at audience.”
Ultimately, this success stems from the top, editor-in-chief Debbie Henley explained. “It’s really important to have leadership that is willing to take a chance on an idea and to be supportive of that and to let it grow. (When) we started, there were rough spots in what we did, but it was successful. We saw that and we built on that, but you have to be willing to take that risk.”—EM
The killing of George Floyd, a Minnesotan Black man who died while in police custody last year, sparked a nationwide movement as well as innovative initiatives among news organizations and journalists covering the social unrest. The News-Gazette was one newsroom with a modest idea that went a long way: let people tell their own story.
On June 7, about two weeks after Floyd’s death, readers of the News-Gazette were introduced to a new series called “Being Black in America,” which featured first-person essays about what it was like to be Black in 2020 in Champaign.
“The goal was to educate people—me included,” editor Jeff D’Alessio told E&P.
The essays were written by traditional community leaders like reverends, judges, and university professors as well as community residents. D’Alessio said he gave them an average word count of 600 to 800 words, and there were no specific requirements they had to meet. While many leaders wrote a narrative piece, some got creative and delivered a poem. About 75 percent of the essays ran on A-1 and all of them were published online.
In one essay, Ronda Holliman, a mother and a judge, recounted the first time she was called “the N word.” Ervin Williams, a local reverend, described how one night in the 1960s, he and his family awoke to a cross burning in front of their home, and it troubled them so much they armed themselves for protection.
In a time when many people are rebuffing media, D’Alessio said the uplifting feedback he has heard from the series has made it all worthwhile. Additionally, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Chancellor Robert Jones’ essay—where he shares his encounters with racism growing up in Georgia—was one of the News-Gazette’s website’s most read stories of 2020, with 18,000 pageviews.
Currently, the newspaper has published a total of 42 essays. D’Alessio said if the newspaper receives more submissions, he will continue to publish them under the series.
“We have the ability and the credibility to make a difference just with what we publish, even if it’s not our own words,” D’Alessio said. “I say throw out the old journalism rulebook and display the most compelling content in a way that is going to reach the masses and potentially have the biggest impact.”
For now, the News-Gazette is looking forward to working with a newly created informal advisory panel, which was inspired by “Being Black in America.” The panel includes those who contributed essays and other prominent community members. —EM
Like other newsrooms around the country, when the pandemic hit in March 2020, the Record-Journal had to suddenly think of new ways to conduct business differently, but it also forced them to think innovatively. To help them navigate this unfamiliar territory, the publication turned to the Local Media Association, where they are a member. Publisher and executive vice president Liz White said they were made aware of a COVID-19 local news fund and learned ways for media companies to accept donations from the public. As a result, the Record-Journal raised $21,000 from donations in a two-month period.
“That really opened our eyes to the different types of support out there,” White said.
So, when the opportunity came for them to apply for COVID-19 relief grant from Facebook, they quickly jumped on it. According to White, the grant was geared toward independently owned companies for COVID-19 relief to help them innovate and adapt through COVID. The money was to be used in the most impactful ways in the community and contribute to long term sustainability.
In May, the Record-Journal received a $99,501 COVID-19 relief grant from Facebook and put it to use immediately. White said there were three major ways these funds were used.
First, it was in the newsroom to restore furloughed employees and bring back reduced hours. Although the Record-Journal was able to avoid layoffs, the ultimate goal was to bring back the employees who were furloughed, which they did. With a fully staffed newsroom, reporting also increased, focused on topics such as the positive work being done by nonprofits along with their pandemic relief efforts.
Second, the company was able to use the funds to invest in technology. A drone was purchased to take photos in a safe manner, and they bought video equipment to assist with virtual calls, such as Facebook Live community conversations. The Record-Journal was also able to purchase Hearken, a listening and engagement platform, that will transform the way they report their stories by inviting their audience to submit questions.
The funds also helped the company provide free marketing for nonprofits, such as United Way, the Boys and Girls Club and food pantries. In addition, the Record-Journal shot 27 videos profiling the nonprofits for a #RJSupportLocalLiveWeekofGiving Facebook Live campaign, which created huge engagement.
“All of these things were made possible due to the Facebook grant,” said White. “And it helped generate results to support the community, drive donations and volunteers and support for nonprofits, and positioned us as a great community partner.”—NY
A year ago, the COVID-19 pandemic sent shockwaves through the Star Tribune. The first two weeks of March 2020, the paper posted 12 percent year over year growth in advertising revenue, but by mid-month, it was down by 44 percent, according to chief revenue officer Paul Kasbohm. At the same time, people were turning to the Star Tribune’s coverage in record numbers. As a result, the sales and marketing team worked with the newsroom to implement new initiatives that were not originally planned for 2020 as well as reimagined others.
The Star Tribune published a 16-page broadsheet and digital special section called Class of 2020, which celebrated Minnesota’s graduating seniors who missed out on the traditional high school graduation. The section featured more than 600 high school students across the state, featuring a photograph of each student along with their future plans, high school memories and how they celebrated graduation during quarantine.
Another new initiative for the newspaper was the Heroes of the Pandemic series, which was divided into five sections: health care workers, grocery and retail, delivery and Minnesota makers, first responders, and everyday heroes. Each section highlighted the stories of those respective leaders in the community.
A multi-department team at the Star Tribune also collaborated to tackle the reimagination of the Minnesota State Fair and turn it into a 12-day event held virtually. It included a variety of experiences such as an amateur talent contest, mini grandstand concerts, a virtual beer garden and more.
Not only did readers love these new initiatives, so did advertisers.
Director of marketing Tim Ikeman said advertisers that weren’t traditionally print advertisers with them signed-up for these special sections. For example, General Mills sponsored Heroes of the Pandemic, and some of those advertisers have continued beyond these special sections. Additionally, both of the special sections drove six figures of revenue. The paper also reported the virtual state fair contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars of revenue.
The sales and marketing team also launched two additional initiatives to serve Minnesota businesses: a series of 18 e-newsletters, and 11 webinars to help their partners better navigate and find success during the pandemic.
The team also launched the Star Tribune Connect program, which aims to help accelerate the growth of underrepresented and minority-owned businesses through advertising and marketing collaboration. The program will provide four businesses a total of $200,000 in credits that can be applied toward advertising and marketing campaigns that leverage Star Tribune media properties to be used this year.
“The need to be nimble, to be adaptive, to be responsive, to pivot was on full display during the crisis and I think we embodied all of those things,” said Kasbohm. “(These times) highlighted that success is going to be largely intertwined with the ability to adapt as we move forward.”—EM
In an unprecedented year, newsrooms were slammed with covering the COVID-19 pandemic, social and racial justice, and the presidential election. In Nashville, Tenn., residents and newsrooms alike felt even more unsteadiness when tornadoes hit the area in the spring and a bomb ravaged downtown Nashville on Christmas Day. To deliver clever, in-depth reporting across multiple platforms, the Tennessean implemented a newsroom structure that allows them to punch above its weight and compete with even the largest newsrooms in the country.
Vice president and editor Michael A. Anastasi said the structure includes two teams that work with the newsroom. One is the digital optimization team, a group of 16 individuals that are experts in various fields such as social media, audio or video journalism, and data. The second team is the planning team, which has 12 individuals that are information seekers, problem solvers and team oriented. Additionally, they have demonstrated that they are highly organized, processes strong news judgement and can multitask well. Their job is to “ensure the right content is delivered to the right audience in the right way, on the right platforms at the right time,” Anastasi said.
He described their work like a classical music score, where the planning team is the conductor, and the digital optimization team is the musician.
Using this structure helped the Tennessean deliver two of their biggest stories last year.
In March, the newspaper published “Inside the Storm,” an in-depth explanatory follow-up to the tornadoes that swept through the city. This report described a mile-by-mile account of how the tornadoes destroyed homes and featured audio, video, photo, infographics and an interactive map. The newspaper also wrote several pieces regarding the Nashville bombing on Dec. 25, including an enterprise story on securing vulnerable communications infrastructure and a long-form reconstruction of the bombing timeline. The bombing coverage garnered about 47 million pageviews, and in 2020, the newspaper saw a 13 percent increase in digital subscriptions. Anastasi also shared that two years ago, the newspaper had practically no followers on Instagram, and now currently has nearly 100,000 followers.
“Our goal is, of course, growth, but just as important is retention,” Anastasi said. “The formula for retention is simply that members of this community have to find the Tennessean to be indispensable to their lives.” —EM
At the Times-Tribune, the goal is to be closely linked to their community and commemorate an important aspect of their lives—families. Therefore, every year the Times-Tribune publishes two special sections: Mother’s Day and Year in Remembrance.
According to executive editor Larry Holeva, the Times-Tribune first published their Mother’s Day section on May 12, 1991 and has published it every Mother’s Day for the last 30 years. It is a pictorial section that is teased with a feature story of one local mother in Life & Times, a feature section published in The Sunday Times, the Sunday product of Times-Tribune. That mother is also featured on the cover of the special section and treated to a “day of pampering,” which includes services that local advertisers contribute such as a spa treatment or hair appointment. Every submission to the section is entered in a lottery and given the opportunity to win the feature cover spot and a day of pampering.
In 2008, the newspaper published their largest Mother’s Day section to date, with 2,204 images of mothers and their families. Although most professional photographers were not accepting clients last year due to COVID, the newspaper still received 825 photos of mothers and their families. The section was a 56-broadsheet section that generated more than $100,000 in revenue from paid photos to sponsorships and ads.
A relatively newer section, Year in Remembrance, was first produced in 2018. The section publishes every January and includes a photograph and date of death of everyone in the area that had an obituary published in the newspaper from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31 the previous year. There is a $25 upcharge on top of the obituary costs to have someone included in this section. This year’s section was published on Jan. 17 and included 3,336 photos and 64 pages, amounting in almost $90,000 in revenue.
While the Mother’s Day section is something Times-Tribune readers look forward to every year, they did not know how to initially react to Year in Remembrance, Holeva said. However, as Americans sought to celebrate the lives of their loved ones lost to COVID-19, the section was embraced by the community.
“People look at these photographs that we’ve published on an annual basis as a collection, as an archive of memoriam, and not as the newspaper dredging up difficult moments,” he said.
The newspaper still publishes birth announcements every day. They cover dance recitals and high school sports, and the obituary section is their most widely read section.
“We cover everything from the womb to the tomb,” Holeva said. “These two special sections fit who we are and how we fit into our community.”—EM
Los Angeles, Calif.
Before COVID-19, Variety produced 60 events a year. The entertainment trade magazine usually hosts in-person events from breakfasts with industry leaders to the annual Power of Women luncheon, which has honored celebrities like Jennifer Aniston and Mariah Carey.
But when lockdowns forced Variety to pause in-person events, publisher Michelle Sobrino-Stearns said there were several questions they had to consider, such as how to evolve the brand and keep the events team employed. The result was an aggressive approach to pivot their already-scheduled in-person events to video calls.
“We came out ahead,” Sobrino-Stearns said. “And we were able to keep jobs and make money.”
Since April, Variety went from producing 60 events a year to 90 events, thanks to their new virtual strategy. In addition, this year’s Power of Women celebrated frontline heroes. The event was broadcast on Lifetime and on a Facebook livestream. Variety also launched streaming rooms early on in April that featured virtual gatherings of top industry leaders, filmmakers, and actors and actresses from readers’ favorite television shows and movies.
Sobrino-Stearns also shared Variety experienced no layoffs and were able to hire 11 new people post-COVID. The only significant change they encountered was switching from a Tuesday publication day to Wednesdays to accommodate staffing at its printer.
And even though the pandemic delayed film and television productions across the industry and disrupted the release of many anticipated movies that were set to premiere in 2020, content didn’t dry up for the publication. In-depth cover stories centered on the pandemic and safety protocols and the Black Lives Matters movement, giving “readers Variety’s keen entertainment business perspective on these game-changing breaking events,” said senior editor Terry Flores.
Consumption also increased online. Flores reported that Variety’s website saw huge growth over the last year. In 2020, Variety.com had more than 280 million uniques and more than 600 million pageviews. According to Flores, that meant a growth of 26 percent in uniques and 11 percent in pageviews over 2019. Specifically, film content pageviews grew 9 percent, music content 19 percent, TV content 33 percent, digital content 36 percent and global content a 295 percent over 2019 totals.
William Earl, Variety.com editor, said even during the pandemic, their pace has not slowed down. They currently publish about 115 pieces a day online, showing that readers are engaging heavily with their content as awards season arrives and film and television production returns.—NY
The E&P staff thanks everyone who sent in a submission this year for 10 News Publishers That Do It Right. When we look back at 2020, it’s hard to not want to give this award to every news publisher who made it out in one piece. Although these news organizations didn’t quite make the final cut this time, we still want to recognize and applaud their successes and accomplishments.
Columbia Basin Herald
Moses Lake, Wash.
After conducting a reader survey, the Columbia Basin Herald focused on reinventing itself. First, by redesigning their newspaper pages, then providing more local content to its readers. When COVID-19 hit, the paper lowered its paywall and gave the community full access to information. Then, it reached out to community partners to rally together to fund a Shop Small, Shop Local initiative where they showcased more than 100 local businesses at no cost to them. They also offered an ongoing ad campaign that promoted shop local while also promoting masks, social distancing, etc. to save jobs and save their businesses which not only helped the businesses in terms of marketing but got the community to support health district initiatives to help keep their businesses open. When COVID-19 also cancelled the annual tree lighting ceremony, the paper led an initiative called “Light Up Moses Lake,” a People’s Choice contest featuring three categories: residences, businesses, and agricultural parade floats (that would have typically been in a parade that was canceled) and had them enter a decorating contest. Some of the funds raised went to benefit the Habitat for Humanity, the local food bank, and a local foster care organization.
The Daily News underwent significant leadership change in the spring/summer of 2020, with a new general manager replacing the previous publisher and a new editor. In addition to these leadership changes, the newsroom was also dealing with the pandemic. A number of highly engaging community-wide promotions were launched, resulting in high reader engagement and participation from sponsors/advertisers (which helped replace lost legacy revenue from COVID). A Frontline Heroes program solicited nominations from the public of the essential workers in our community that had gone above and beyond. In addition to these promotions, the Daily News helped dozens of locally owned businesses with the Local Business Grant and Small Business Stimulus programs, from the onset of the pandemic through current day. These matching grants extended each businesses investment across the entire portfolio of solutions that include print and digital marketing services.
At 125 years old, the Indianapolis Recorder is the fourth-oldest Black-owned newspaper in the country. The COVID-19 pandemic allowed the paper to reach its audience in new ways and expand at the same time. The Recorder held its very first Facebook Live town hall on March 17, just as the pandemic took hold and the state was put under a shelter-in-place order. Guests, who were socially distanced, included representatives from Workforce Development, nonprofit organizations, the city of Indianapolis and Dr. Virginia Caine, executive director of Marion County Health Department. In addition, the company partnered with a public TV station for town halls as well as a five-week, one-hour panel discussion. In addition, as protests sprang up in Indianapolis, the Recorder was on the scene. On one night, its Facebook Live audience skyrocketed to almost 9,000 people watching—the most views they ever had on one event. Views on their town halls also continue to grow, with more than 100,000 views.
This year, Inside Sacramento is celebrating 25 years of local publishing. As a 100 percent, local advertiser supported publication, the company boasts a print of circulation of 83,000 monthly.
Even with the COVID-19 shutdowns, the company maintained profitability in 2020 and avoided layoffs. In 2021, the company also aims to help local restaurants recover by offering scholarship paid advertising plans funded by a COVID city creative grant it received.
In 2018, The Wilson Times purchased the weekly Spring Hope Enterprise which led to the acquisition of three other titles and the formation of Restoration NewsMedia. The company continues to grow its consulting and design work, bringing in crucial revenue to offset advertising shortfalls resulting from the pandemic’s public health orders and their impact on local businesses. Although COVID-19 required the Times to reduce the frequency of its print editions, the newspapers are supplemented with daily online coverage, email newsletters for local news, obituaries and sports distributed six days a week, and regularly scheduled virtual events. The company also launched a series of Community Conversations videoconferences that brought local experts in health care, education, law enforcement and business together to discuss the pandemic and its impact on public life. During the 2020 general election campaign, the paper also hosted virtual candidate forums for congressional, state legislative and school board races. In December 2020, Restoration NewsMedia completed a full relaunch of its five newspaper websites on an in-house platform that was built from scratch.
O’Rourke Media Group bought the Sheboygan Sun in June 2020, and on Oct. 1, launched a news website making the product way more than a Shopper, but a destination for people seeking local news and information. Since then, the publication has seen 114,000 page views and more than 13,000 users in December; more than 1,200 Facebook followers; average open rates of 68 percent for its daily newsletter; and in December, the average visitor consumed five pages per session. The success is attributed to three key areas: content mix; answering the questions asked by the audience; and focusing on boosting audience on social media.
When the spring’s lockdowns temporarily eliminated the Spokesman-Review’s need for sports coverage, the newsroom redeployed the news hole into expanded business coverage, adding two new features. The first was Water Cooler, giving readers an expanded array of puzzles each day to help with cabin fever, along with recipes, tips for maintaining fitness and mental health, and books to read and shows to stream. The page was so popular it was kept in the sports section when it returned. The other added feature was the expanded Further Review from graphic journalist Charles Apple. When the pandemic hit, the paper made the feature a regular element of the paper five days a week. These full-page infographics cover topics from pop culture and history to science and current events, and have been wildly popular with readers. The pandemic also meant the temporary end to the paper’s popular Northwest Passages Book Club. But like many other organizations that host events, it went virtual. Along with the shift to online, the paper expanded the scope of offerings that included book authors, comics, illustrators, college presidents, political candidates running for office, and athletes. In 2020, the Spokesman-Review also secured local community funding for a race-relations reporter who will work in collaboration with the local Black-owned monthly newspaper, The Black Lens.