By: Ed Henninger
Some time back, I was asked to give a quick after-lunch talk to a group of publishers at a statewide newspaper convention.
It was short notice. I only had a half-hour to put together some thoughts. I decided I’d seize the opportunity and give them my “Top Ten” list of ideas for community newspapers.
Here they are:
1. PRINT IS NOT DEAD. More new community newspapers are starting up. Advertisers believe in the value of print. Readers still want print. So, please, let’s stop with the “newspapers are dying” garbage! It’s just not true.
2. LOCAL, LOCAL, LOCAL. We all know the mantra. Metro and regional newspapers have tried time and again to go “local.” They can’t. They don’t have (or won’t commit to) the resources it takes—in people, energy and time—to do community journalism. But we can. And we prove that in every issue. We are focused on local people, places and events. It’s what we do…and we do it very well.
3. SPORTS IS BIG. We often struggle to find ways to get younger readers. To my mind, the answer here is simple—and most of you are already doing a good job with it: Sports. Your sports coverage is about kids. It’s about them, their friends, their classmates. Boost your sports coverage and you’ll boost your number of younger readers. Yes, there are other events, like scouting, classroom achievement, choir, band and the like. But sports is big. Give it big coverage.
4. IT’S OK TO BE A BOOSTER. Nothing disappoints me (and readers, too, I think) more than to see a newspaper in a town where a team has just won a district or state championship and the story and photos are…splashed all over the sports front. It’s disappointing because those stories and those photos should be on the front page. Most of your readers will be happy to see a page 1 poster of the winning basket or the winning touchdown. Sports is about striving and achievement and dedication and teamwork. What’s wrong with celebrating those qualities. And, yes, on your front page when the achievement is big.
5. BUILD REVENUE. The metros think they have the answer to satisfying their corporate owners and stockholders: cut costs. They’re into hubs and outsourcing and layoffs. At community newspapers, we’re already thin. But we’re also aggressive when it comes to generating new revenue. Let’s keep searching for new approaches, like selling ad position and selling our photos online and creating more options for advertisers. This takes some rethinking on our part but that’s what got us here.
6. INVEST IN YOUR PEOPLE. If your editor and/or writers need some training, look for ways to get that for them. Your state press association is always a good resource. If you’ve just invested in some new software, give those who will use it some training so they can make the best use of it. If your ad staff has won some awards in the annual press association contest, reward them by sending them to the state convention so they’ll know how much you appreciate their work.
7. INVEST IN YOUR PRODUCT. You don’t need to be the first to buy that new Mac, but don’t be the last. You don’t need to be the first to upgrade your system software, but keep it at least reasonably up to date. Your newspaper is your business. It’s just sound business practice to make sure you have the tools you need to get the job done.
8. DESIGN MATTERS. What’s the first thing your readers and advertisers see when they look at your newspaper? Right: its design. If your design is outdated, if your text makes your paper difficult to read, if your content placement is inconsistent…your newspaper is less than it can be. And readers and advertisers will find it wanting. Some may choose not to read, some may choose not to advertise…until you fix those problems.
9. BE THE BEST at who you are. You’re not a metro or a regional newspaper. Most of you don’t carry wire, but you do carry those obits and events listings and city and county council meetings that are important to your readers. Most get only limited national advertising, but you are the only source of advertising for that shoe shop down the street. Don’t try to be what you’re not—but do everything you can to be the best at what you do. Your newspaper is part of the lifeblood of your community. Keeping that in mind will drive you to do your best.
10. REMEMBER who the boss is. Sorry…you may be the publisher, but you’re not in charge here. Your readers and advertisers are the real boss. It’s your obligation as a publisher to bring them your best—in every issue. You’re the chief support person for your folks who do the writing, editing, designing and selling of your product. You’re all working toward giving readers and advertisers a newspaper they’re proud to call “my paper.” It is theirs, you know…they’re only letting you run it for them while they go about the important business of living their lives and contributing to the success and welfare of your community.
IF THIS COLUMN has been helpful, you may be interested in Ed’s books: Henninger on Design and 101 Henninger Helpful Hints. With the help of Ed’s books, you’ll immediately have a better idea how to design for your readers. Find out more about Henninger on Design and 101 Henninger Helpful Hints by visiting Ed’s web site: www.henningerconsulting.com