Conventional wisdom says that print newspapers are dying and it’s the Internet’s fault. However, there are a couple of things wrong with that statement. For one thing, some newspapers are finding their legs in the digital age and even thriving. For another, the successful newspapers are the ones that use the Internet to their advantage.
They may use monetization strategies that include ecommerce, sponsorships, and job boards, and the way they succeed with these monetization strategies are mostly down to audience engagement. Audience engagement has really paid off for certain types of newspapers, and particularly for small community newspapers. These newspapers offer the hyper-local news and information community members crave, and they tailor their content to their audience. Here are four ways community newspapers get audience engagement right.
1. They Learn About Their Audiences
Newspaper circulation started declining well before Internet saturation. Starting in the 1980s, households changed. No longer did families consist of a stay-at-home mother, 2.2 children, and a father who came home from work at the same time every day. Readers were much more on-the-go, and their attention spans were increasingly diverted by other things like television and the second jobs that were increasingly necessary to maintain a middle class lifestyle. Successful newspapers of any size today have to understand their audiences, including demographic characteristics, interests, and the technology they use every day, like phones and tablets. The arrival of widespread Internet access amplified the importance of identifying an audience and delivering content to them when they want it, through the medium they choose.
2. They Focus Narrowly
The top two reasons why people subscribe to local newspapers are local news and coupons. They may spend a little time scanning national and international news, but when they sit down with their local paper, readers want to know what’s going on right around them, from Little League scores to the construction of the new restaurant in midtown. Local newspapers naturally have more feet on the ground than regional papers, and when they give local audiences the information they want, they can succeed. This is true not only in the United States, by the way, but in many places throughout the world. Some of the local papers in Sweden, for example, have thrived by offering coverage of hyper-local events from school dances to car shows.
3. They Dig Deep
Regional papers don’t often have the resources necessary to dig into stories that communities are keenly interested in. For example, a major criminal trial that may only claim a couple of column inches in a regional paper may be covered in depth by a local community paper, giving community members information they wouldn’t likely find elsewhere. When a prominent community figure dies, an obituary in a regional or big city paper may not provide the depth of coverage that a local paper with strong local ties can provide. In short, local papers succeed when they take the time to thoroughly cover events that resonate with their audience-events that receive little coverage elsewhere.
4. They Diversify Revenue Streams With their Audience in Mind
Everyone knows that advertising works differently on the web than it does in traditional media, and the unfortunate fact is that advertisers don’t need traditional journalism the way they used to. The digital shift and total upheaval in the advertising industry that came along with it happened at a time when newspaper circulations were dropping anyway, making things even more difficult for newspapers. So far there isn’t a clear, locked down online journalism business model, but one thing that is clear is the need to pursue audience engagement and diversify revenue streams by hosting events, developing sponsored products, putting white label local job boards on their sites, and developing appealing online subscription and premium content strategies.
Although the newspaper industry has suffered some very harsh blows over the past three decades, community newspapers are actually growing in many places, largely because they succeed with audience engagement by producing local and hyper-local content. Advertising in smaller, community newspapers now exceeds $1 billion per year. Local community newspapers are proving to be one of the bright spots in an overall newspaper industry that’s still struggling against demographic changes and online competition, and they show that audience engagement, focus and depth, along with a solid revenue development plan, can equal journalistic success.
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