We See the Problem; What Are the Solutions?

By: Steve Outing

In my last column, I cited the lack of in-print promotion of newspapers' Web sites as a serious problem and a major missed opportunity. That column generated a lot of letters -- more so than any other column I've written to date -- and seems to have struck a nerve. I heard mostly from newspaper new media folks who echoed the problem, and from a few who pointed out that their papers do a decent job of promoting the Web in the print edition. (I will excerpt a few comments later in this column.)

In the initial column I merely scoped out the problem. Today, I'll offer some solutions. Here, for any print newspaper publisher willing to listen, are suggestions on how to effectively promote your Web site using your print edition. Frequent print promotion may do more than anything else you do to make your Web operation a success, give you a chance to compete against Microsoft and a host of smart cyber competitors, and turn a profit.

Treat Web site as print extension
Too many print editions throw in a few scattered Web site mentions and think that's enough. Overall, for a newspaper Web site to succeed, newspaper readers must know it's there. So sprinkle your paper liberally with mentions of the site and repeat the site's URL often.

Put site's URL in every masthead
Every day the print edition is delivered will bring additional visits to the Web site if the URL is listed in every single masthead -- including (especially) the front page. Page 1 can include the main URL; the Sports section masthead can contain the URL for the sports area on the Web; etc. Also, make sure the URL is included in the editorial page masthead. Newspapers that have done this have documented rather large jumps in traffic when they list their URL prominently in print.

Put URL in every page header
Every single page of your paper offers an opportunity to drive into the reader's brain the fact that you have a Web site, and the URL. Page headers can contain page, date and, yes, the Web address.

Bring the non-wired online
A concern I hear is that by placing too many URLs in the newspaper, non-wired readers will feel left out. Good! Every reference to a Web site will go toward getting non-users to take the step and try out the Internet. Particularly if your paper is operating as (or in partnership with) an Internet service provider, you'll be creating new customers. Newspaper advertisements frequently include URLs, yet newspapers themselves are stingey in publishing them. It's quite curious.

Run a front-page Web blurb
At the least, devote a small area on every front page to promoting the existence of the Web site. Some papers run a thin color bar at the top or bottom of every front page, including the URL and possibly a number to call to get newspaper-sponsored Internet access. Much better than a standard blurb -- which if repetitive will be ignored by print readers -- is to devote a small box each day to some feature of the Web site (which might be a new feature added, an online celebrity chat scheduled, or expanded coverage of a top news story available only online, for example).

'Enterprise' reporting should have a Web component
Newspapers' showcase reporting -- features and investigative pieces -- should all have at least one online component. This might be a discussion forum lead by the reporter, where readers are invited to engage in a post-article dialog about the issue raised. It might be a Web page offering links to resources on the Web about the issue. Or online access to databases that the reporter used for the story, allowing readers to see first-hand what is being reported on. When a newspaper expends so much effort on a major enterprise piece, it's a shame not to bring the reporting to the online medium, where life can be added to the story. This is an excellent opportunity to drive more traffic to the Web.

Give every major story a Web link
Top stories -- where some readers are likely to want more information than can fit in the print edition -- should have a "refer" to additional content on the paper's Web site. This can be included as a pullout within columns of type, or a blurb at the end of the article. Go one step further and include at the end of any appropriate story a reference to additional information available on the Web. You'll constantly reinforce the existence and value to the reader of your Web site.

Promote an online feature in every section front
Require section editors to include a promotion or reference to an appropriate online feature every single day. This might be a "refer" within a story; a standalone promotional blurb; a blurb set in the section masthead promoting a Web feature; etc.

Print URLs to specific content
When referring to content available on the Web, when possible print a specific URL that links directly to the content, rather than a generic home page URL that will require the reader to navigate the site to find the referred information.

Publish columnists', reporters' e-mail addresses
I encourage publishers to put a reporter's e-mail address at the end of every bylined story, to facilitate reader feedback. Columnists can publish their addresses and encourage letters. If you're fearful of your staff getting inundated with e-mail from the public, then direct the mail to a department clerk who can screen e-mail and send only important mail on to the journalist, who has a private as well as a public e-mail address.

Accept e-mail letters to the editor
It seems obvious, yet many newspapers require that letters be sent by postal mail or fax. If you don't even allow e-mail letters to the editor, your newspaper truly gives the impression of "not getting it."

Solicit reader comments via e-mail
In the print edition of my local paper yesterday was a front page blurb encouraging readers to call the paper's audiotex service and leave a voice comment about a local school board controversy. There was not an option to send in comments by e-mail. These days, that's silly.

Put e-mail addresses, URLs on staff business cards
Here's a simple way to promote your Web site to every person that you or your staff come into contact with.

Mandate online mentions in house ads
Newspaper "house ads" are a great promotional tool, but we all know how hard it is to get them devoted to online projects when so many other newspaper departments are competing for that promotional space. But a publisher can mandate that at least half of all house ads must promote the Web site in some way. Web sites should be allotted a good portion of available house ad space -- enough for continual promotion of the site.

Keep house ads fresh
Don't repeat the same house ad day after day. Use them wisely, by promoting new content, features and services on the site.

Wire the staff
Allot every member of your staff one hour per week to familiarize themselves with online technology. Make sure that everyone has an e-mail account and knows how to use your Web site. Encourage them to offer feedback to the Web staff by offering small cash awards for online ideas that end up getting implemented. The newspaper staff will evangelize the Web site as they go about their daily business.

Attend print side meetings
Online staffers' presence at print meetings will go a long way to ensuring that the printed newspaper contains many references to the paper's Web site.

Assign a newsroom-Web site liaison
This is probably the most important recommendation listed. Without an individual who is in charge of making sure that the print side includes appropriate references and promotions of the Web site, it's not likely to get done. This person should be assigned to attend editorial story meetings of various departments, as well as marketing meetings. The logical person to do this may be the Web site director, but an alternative is to assign Web editors who are responsible for specific sections to attend their respective print editions' planning meetings.

Use Web to promote print
Finally, remember that this goes both ways. Web site staffs can help drive online users to pick up the print edition. Ideas include running headline summaries the night before of print edition exclusives, or prominently placing print subscription order forms on the Web site.

Implementing these suggestions won't be easy, of course -- unless you are the newspaper's publisher or top editor. Those individuals will make these decisions -- which could ultimately mean life or death for the newspapers' Web efforts. Not interested in having your paper's Web site succeed? Then don't follow any of this advice. Maybe the Web and Bill Gates will just go away.

Readers write

Following are a few comments that I received following my initial column about the lack of print promotion of newspaper Web sites.

Paul deGroot, managing editor at Southam New Media Centre (Canada), wrote:
"I consider the failure of newspapers to promote their sites a tragedy for this industry. Consider this: what competitor on the Web has a way to get their URL in front of one-third of the population of the city (fairly typical penetration for a metro daily)? If any Canadian Web site had the opportunity to put their URL in front of 4-6 million readers a day (the readership of our group of newspapers) they would think they had died and gone to heaven. But, even though we can do it for free, we don't do it. Major, major loss of opportunity.

"In the current state of affairs I think newspapers will ruefully look back a few years from now and realize that they had the opportunity to really dominate their niche on the Web, and to build large, rich sites which they could very cheaply promote to a huge audience; in short, to be major players on the net. Instead, they slept in and let competitors get a toehold. Instead of moving into the market when they could take 80 percent of their niche easily, they responded only when the best they could hope for was 40 percent, and that was an uphill struggle. Dumb, dumb, dumb."

Wrote Steve Yelvington, editor of Star Tribune Online (Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota):
"It's a huge wasted opportunity. And not just for business reasons. We can provide significant services to our readers on the Web, services that go far beyond what a print product can provide. If we don't connect our print readers with those services in an effective way, then we're not doing the right thing as journalists for our readers."

Jane Hadley of Seattle, Washington, wrote:
"Your discovery that newspapers' print editions are not promoting their own Web sites just reinforces my impression that most newspapers are online for purely defensive reasons. In the end, this defensive posture will hurt their chances of success."

Evan Davies of New Century Network wrote:
"I was at MTV Networks for nearly eight years, and cross-promotion is a key part of their online efforts (as anyone who has watched MTV knows). This in spite of the fact that there is a lot of concern that Web-surfing is having an adverse effect on TV viewership in general. However, MTV wants to be the source for music-related entertainment and information whether that information is delivered via TV or via the net. ... Ultimately, it's all about reinforcing the brand and about making sure your (readers/viewers) know how to find you. Any site that is affiliated with an existing media outlet should already have a big advantage -- but that advantage is lost if the existing outlet doesn't tell anyone about it."

Gerry Barker of StarText (Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Texas) wrote:
"Having started in the newsroom, I see both sides of the equation. While we who toil on the Net side enjoy the luxury of an 'unlimited newshole,' our print counterparts do not. There will always be a turf war over the precious, and expensive, real estate they manage. And while there's need to be more promotion, linking and usage of the marvelous Internet resources we've developed, realistically, it won't come until our revenue streams start to make the bean counters sit up and take notice. That will happen, too. But we're not there yet. ... By the way, I can say today the Star-Telegram is a model for how to showcase and utilize the Internet in our print editions, with the newsroom and Newspapers in Education leading the way."

Some who are doing it right

I also received letters from other newspaper Web site managers who feel that their print editions are effectively promoting their online services. The Boston Globe was cited as a model; it promotes the site on Page 1, runs frequent house ads (including full page), and regularly refers people to the site for additional information.

Fred Mann, director of Philadelphia Online (Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News Web site), wrote:
"While I battle everyday to get more help from our promotions department, I must say that we have come miles from where we started 20 months ago. You can't open an Inquirer or a Daily News without seeing a raft of house ads about Philadelphia Online. And the online mentions in special boxes attached to news stories are more often than not included regularly these days. Our biggest problem is trying to promote so many different online pieces (our sports coverage, our entertainment guide, our Yellow Pages, Internet access, etc.). We need a creative umbrella ad campaign that brings all the house ads together and tells the reader that they are all a part of the same online service. Compared to the papers you cited, we are doing well."

In my Monday column, I mentioned the lack of promotions in the Detroit News-Free Press Sunday edition. Free Press director of new media Laurie Bennett wrote:
"It's probably not fair to assess what kind of job we're doing by looking at the combined Sunday edition, when we don't have the News or Sports sections. Every other day of the week, we incorporate our Web address in every section flag (the standing header on section fronts). Our 1A masthead reads: 'Detroit Free Press, On Guard for 166 Years, www.freep.com.' We run a 2-column promotion on page 2A Monday through Saturday and include Web refers from stories when there is more information on the Web than in print. We also run house ads regularly throughout the paper. All that said, I'm grateful for your pointing out the problem, because it is a problem."

Finally, Miami Herald online services director Rich Gordon says that although I didn't find an e-mail address for letters to the editor in a Sunday edition of the Herald print edition, there is one and it is typically published daily.


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This column is written by Steve Outing exclusively for Editor & Publisher Interactive three days a week. News, tips, and other communications may be sent to Mr. Outing at steve@planetarynews.com

The views expressed in the above column do not necessarily represent the views of the Editor & Publisher company


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