Arianna Huffington, president and editor of Huffington Post, has a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn’t online.
She recently gave a lecture in Switzerland addressing changes news organizations have dealt with in recent years. Her take on the topic reflects what the industry has learned, sometimes the hard way: ”We don’t just consume [news], we share it. We pass it on… and this is really the big distinction between all the new media. Although increasingly all the media are doing more and more to incorporate engagement and participation in what they are doing.”
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Fortunately, 2013 has seen newspapers find success despite what the ”Newspapers Are Dying” chorus has said for years. Papers have succeeded in different ways, but success rests on a foundation of high quality content, new revenue models, and giving readers content they want to share socially. Here are four inspiring newspaper success stories from 2013.
The Sarasota Observer won a Local Media Association 2013 Newspaper of the Year First Prize for non-dailies with circulation from 22,501 to 37,500. Published by the Observer Media Group, judges praised the paper’s ”strong mix of news, public service and features.” High quality writing, plus a large amount of what judges refer to as ”refrigerator news” – the kind that’s clipped and affixed to home refrigerators (or, increasingly, shared online) was also noted.
In addition to its high quality, sharable content, how the Observer presents that content is also noteworthy. A strong hierarchy of classic typefaces makes the product easy to read, and teases and indexes are also well-executed. The color palette for local advertising is chosen with care, and use of borders to editorial content are used consistently. Judges were very enthusiastic about the all-around excellence of this newspaper, saying there was ”Much to read and savor here. Everything about this publication is well-thought-out.”
The Lawrence, Kansas Lawrence Journal-World was another Local Media Association 2013 First Prize winner, for dailies with circulations under 30,000. Published by The World Company, the Lawrence Journal-World impressed judges with ”some great enterprise/watchdog pieces” including one feature about University of Kansas athletes majoring in ”lightweight” subjects – perceived as a particularly brave topic in the Jayhawks’ proud hometown. Other things judges liked include:
- Excellent local history coverage
- Good local man-in-the-street Q&A features
- Excellent sports coverage with particular excellence covering KU basketball
Judges also appreciated the Lawrence Journal-World‘s design, singling out the paper’s decision to resist shrinking its text type ”to unreadable levels as web widths have shrunk.” Ads, too are well-designed, and special sections have been particularly well-executed.
On a completely different scale in terms of reach and budget, the London-based Financial Times (or FT), has outperformed most competitors and has done better than most in the shift from print to digital. Parent company Pearson Plc announced in November that the paper ”has achieved profitability this year for the first time ever,” with steadily increasing revenues. Digital subscriptions grew by 24%, and when print and digital subscriptions are aggregated, circulation was up 5% year-over-year, to a record 629,000.
More changes are planned for 2014, with editor Lionel Barber announcing a single, global edition to replace the current five editions (US, UK, Europe, Middle East, and Asia). Furthermore, news production itself will change, with production journalists publishing stories to meet peak web viewing times rather than old print deadlines. FT plans to shift further away from ”reactive news gathering to value-added ‘news in context,”’ according to Barber. The publication certainly has some momentum from its subscription and revenue growth this year.
Columbia Daily Herald
The Columbia Daily Herald serves a small Tennessee city south of Nashville and has a circulation of under 13,000. Hit hard by the recession, the paper has rallied and succeeded in ways that might be surprising for a 164-year-old small town daily. Publisher Mark Palmer believes the biggest problem facing newspapers is complacency: ”If there’s any business in the world that is built around the excuse that ‘it’s always been done this way,’ it is the newspaper.”
The paper’s innovation efforts have included:
- A digital agency program that helps local merchants build websites and use social media
- An online ticket sales portal
- Several highly successful online reader contests, which generated $124,000 from November 2011 to November 2012
- New advertising packages for local businesses
The lessons the Herald has learned include the value of experimentation, involvement of newsroom workers in generating revenue ideas, pursuing niche editorial products (like a successful monthly health magazine), and never forgetting about editorial quality.
Gloomy predictions about newspapers still abound, but there’s good news too, and papers are learning the nuts and bolts of thriving in a digital world. These four papers offer encouragement in a challenging time for newspapers, and there are starting to be more success stories as the digital transition continues.
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Photo Credits: David Castillo Dominici / freedigitalphotos.net, Ambro / freedigitalphotos.net