Circulation Community Journalism

Survey says: Readers love their community newspapers

So now the readers of NNA’s latest survey know what any community journalists have always known: Our readers think we’re doing a good job and almost three-quarters of them read us regularly.

What other industry can make such claims? Three-quarters of the people who live in towns served by community papers don’t shop regularly at Wal Mart or watch the same TV show or listen to the same music. But the latest Community Newspaper Readership Study by the National Newspaper Association and The Reynolds Journalism Institute indicates that a whopping 73 percent of residents in small towns and cities read local newspapers from one day to seven days a week. And more than two-thirds (78 percent) read most to all of the contents.
And there was even more good news in the survey: 80 percent consider local newspapers their primary news source; they prefer their community paper because it focuses on local news; and three-quarters say they look forward to reading their local newspaper.

What about other media? Eat your heart out, television – 50 percent chose newspapers for local news as opposed to 16.3 percent for TV and 6.7 percent for radio.

You can read a digest of the survey at the website of the Reynolds Journalism Institute (first link), or, if you’re a member of the National Newspaper Association, you can access the complete report that the NNA website (second link).


Online video makes money – but not the way we’ve been doing it

When will local newspaper websites and hyper local blogs start making money with video? Short answer: When they start sharing their video equipment with the sales department.

For now, the big money in online video is in promotion, demonstration and advertorial-based video content — not in editorial and news content. Watch short clip to the left to see how some production companies like TurnHere and AOL’s StudioNow are taking advantage of this fact.

It’s insane that newspapers and independent websites aren’t paying more attention to this trend. Instead, newspaper is still primarily focused on editorial and news video where journalists mimic the old-school techniques of TV reporters. Investment in digital video cameras for the staff, Final Cut Pro editing software and training are good things. But who decided these smart investments were for newsrooms only?

Producing video-based editorial or enhancing text-based stories with video is powerful and compelling. Unfortunately, it’s been a money pit.

TV-like video ‘packages’ might work in a linear 30-minute newscast, but they usually fall flat when online. A well-produced 3.5 minute report on the 11 p.m. news looks sweet with footage of a fire, quick sound bites and an attractive field reporter. Place that same clip online and on-demand — and it usually gets limited viewership. I’ve seen it first hand in my work with TV. Even if you could get a $50 cpm, the limited video views will make it difficult to adequately monetize.

TIP: If you MUST find a way to sell your editorial-based video, offer advertisers a share of voice (SOV) in the pre-roll position. Bundle it with banners and other digital sponsorships for now.

“My newspaper tried to make money with video, but it didn’t work.” Boy, do we hear that a lot. But the truth is, online video DOES make money…..just not in the way local news sites have been doing it.

Lately, we’re seeing more anecdotal evidence that the enthusiasm for online news video is waning. Not from the video journalists, but from high-level newsrooms and sales execs. These bottom-line focused executives echo a common refrain in their weekly meetings: even the best production value and subject matter doesn’t always translate into journalistic and revenue success.

Some culprits that contribute to this issue

Does the video on left bring anything of value to the piece? While the journalist is comfortable in front of a camera, this is just placing a camera in front of a radio talk show. It’s not helpful to the viewer at all, and advertisers wonder why they want to be associated with this content. While the basic production quality is solid, it cries out for still image overlays or video b-roll of the hockey game being discussed.

Sound like too much work? Then don’t do this type of video. Especially if you can’t attract viewers and a sponsor.

When to Consider Editorial Video?

We recommend that video should only be used if the story can be made better by sound and motion, otherwise it’s just ‘shooting video for video sake’.

Editorial video can be done in three basic ways

  1. Story Teller: A TV-like, fully produced ‘package’ that includes editing, stand-up reporter, graphics and narration. Typically 3.5 minutes in length.
  2. Story Extender: Raw footage that works as a complement and provides greater understanding to a text-based story. Footage can be embedded within or adjacent to the body of the online text story.
  3. Have to See It, to Believe It :Example: by monitoring police/fire scanners, you may be able to capture some exciting fire footage, a 20 car pile-up, or a perp walk, etc. This type of video could go viral.

Examples of online video for sales:

See how Yellow Pages created a video profile for a Fort Worth Dentist here.
See how Patch does it for a restaurant in the Philadelphia area here.


Selling with intelligence: The competitive edge of master salespeople

Knowledge is power.

This is true for anyone, but especially for salespeople. To be successful, salespeople have to be very knowledgeable about their products and expert at asking good questions that uncover their customer’s business needs. While these are basic requirements for selling advertising, master salespeople take the time to educate themselves fully about their market, their competition and industry trends.

This “intelligence” gives them an edge over their competition and enhances their ability to help their customers. Here are a few ways you can increase your store of knowledge and sell with more “intelligence.”

Market intelligence

Athorough knowledge of the territory allows a salesperson to maximize current opportunities and anticipate upcoming ones. Salespeople should make a point of reading the business section of the local paper and any other local business publications to keep abreast of changes in their territory. You should pay particular attention to announcements of new businesses coming into the market.

Doing this allows you to contact the new business before the competition, often before they even break ground. Perhaps even more importantly, this information can be used to open a discussion with your current advertisers and prospects.

For example: If you hear a major chain is opening a new pharmacy in your area, you should ask the local drug store owner: “How do you think the new chain store will affect your business?

What steps do you plan to take to protect your customer base?” Remind your clients the best way to protect their business is to start advertising aggressively long before the national chain launches their marketing for the new location.

Other important points to discuss with your clients include new housing developments, highway construction, retail developments in adjoining communities and population shifts. Any kind of change, especially something that potentially affects their business, can be used to disturb advertisers’ complacency and get them thinking about advertising. If you are the first one to approach the advertiser with the news, or at least the first one to get them thinking about the challenges/opportunities presented by the changes, the client will begin to think of you as a resource for their business and as a consultant.

The web can be a good source of market intelligence. The U.S. Census Bureau and a number of other organizations collect a great deal of information on communities. A good source of information is the free lookup section of, which gives information such as the population demographics, or IRS adjusted income for every ZIP code in the U.S. If you are calling on a retirement community, they are more likely to listen to you, if you start the conversation with “Did you know more than 12,000 people over the age of 55 live in the area served by my publication?”

Market intelligence can also be gained by attending local business association and Chamber of Commerce meetings. Identify and cultivate a relationship with community leaders who can provide you with valuable information. These relationships will not only give you invaluable knowledge but also can be a source of introductions to potential clients. As always, your best source of information is asking good questions. When you notice something new in the market, make it your business to ask everyone you meet about it. Just asking questions will get the clients (and you) thinking about how it will affect their business.

Competitive intelligence

Themore you know about your competition, the more effectively you can compete. Read competitive publications; listen to local radio and watch/record local TV and cable stations. Pay attention to who is advertising, and the copy in their ads. Keep copies of the ads run by prospects and record the date the ads appeared. This will allow you to track trends and patterns in the prospects advertising.

If an advertiser runs the same ad for a long time, he or she may be open to someone who offers a new concept. Advertisers who stop advertising may be dissatisfied with the competitor and looking for an alternative. Keep a tickler file for seasonal advertisers — an advertiser’s funds may be already committed by the time you see their ads this summer, but your file will remind you to call on them the following spring.

Whenever possible, collect copies of your competitor’s media kit and collateral material. If your competitor has a website, bookmark it and look at it frequently. This material will tell you how competitors position their firm and what they see as competitive strengths.

This information will be very helpful in developing your plan to overcome the competition. One of the best sources of competitive intelligence is your current advertisers; ask them to save any competitive literature for you. Be sure to share the information you collect with other sales people within your company and ask them to do the same.

Recently I approached a prospect that advertised in a local coupon magazine. From talking to other advertisers I knew this magazine was very flexible with their rates, charging a wide range of prices for similar ads (From $100 to $1,000). When the advertiser said he liked the competitor, I agreed with him and said as someone who had been in advertising for years, I didn’t know how they can produce that type of ad for a $100. When the customer looked surprised and challenged my statement, I suggested he not “take my word for it” but just call some of the other advertisers and compare notes. He doubted me, but did as I suggested and is now an advertiser in our publication. My knowledge of the competitor’s practices allowed me to turn this account around.

Industry intelligence

Knowing something about a prospect’s or advertiser’s industry is an excellent way to differentiate yourself from the run of the mill advertising sales person. Most industries have association websites that can be a wealth of information about trends and issues of interest to your clients. Google their business and look for facts that you can use. Once while waiting for a chiropractor to see me, I picked up an industry magazine in his waiting room. The cover article was about new techniques used to adjust the spinal columns of infants. When I got in to see the client, I asked him about this trend. He was very interested in this subject and gave me an impassioned description of this aspect of his practice. I asked him if most people were aware of this subject and when he agreed they were not, it was a simple matter to sell him on a series of ads “educating” the public about his profession.

One of the best sources of information on industries is other advertising. Look at what national advertisers are promoting, look at what other local firms have in their ads and use these as conversation starters. Use your conversations with advertisers/prospects as opportunities to collect information that you can share on future calls.

Taking the time to research a client’s industry makes engaging them in conversation much easier. It shows the client that you are willing to go the extra mile to understand his/her business and to help their business.


Gathering intelligence takes some forethought and can be time-consuming, but it pays big dividends in sales results. One of the benefits of a career in sales is the opportunity we get to learn and grow as individuals. The commissions and salaries we earn from our jobs are soon spent on the necessities of life, but the knowledge we gain is ours to keep forever. Another thing we get to keep is the sense of accomplishment that comes from being a knowledgeable professional.

Story ideas

Tips for reporting on Texas weather

May could be a bad weather month in Texas, and if so you’ll need the resources of the Weather Channel in your reporting. The Weather Channel has all types of information that will give you perspective on local weather emergencies — including this interactive map that will allow you to monitor weather radar for your city and county. SPJ’s Journalist’s Toolbox also has good weather reporting sources.


Free photos for businesses may be better than a cold call

Mel Taylor shares a smart strategy Google is now using, one that could easily be adapted by Texas community newspaper. Instead of cold-calling, Google offering local business a chance to schedule free photo shoot.

Google sends a professional photographer to take shots of business, then uploads them into Google Places and Google Maps. Mel notes: “GREAT way to start relationship with small business operator (then upsell them later).” Sounds like a good way to start a relationship with businesses that haven’t advertised before.


Lake Country Sun’s Facebook page is reliable source of news for fire victims

Mark Engebretson, editor of the Lake Country Sun, was in Fort Worth last weekend at a meeting of the North and East Texas Press Association. While he was there, he started getting calls about the fire that was now threatening Palo Pinto County and his Possum Kingdom Lake community.

Engebretson’s paper is published on Friday, but he didn’t wait for publication day to get ahead of the story. His Facebook page has been one of the go-new news sources for the Possum Kingdom area.

When Engebretson left for Fort Worth and NETPA, his Lake Country Sun’s Facebook page had 1,161 fans. At this writing five days later, he has 5,400 – and growing daily.

“The Web allows a weekly to become a daily,” Mark said. “Facebook takes you beyond a daily. It’s instantaneous communication.”

“This makes all the long hours worth it,” he said. “People tell me that they are really relying on us for up-to-the-minute news on the fire.”

The Sun is literally a one-man operation these days. The roads into Possum Kingdom are closed and Mark’s other staff just happened to be gone when the fire encircled the area. Now, he is doing it all himself – news, photography, advertising, design … everything.

The Sun’s offices seem relatively safe for the time-being, but Mark said that at one point the fire was across the street from him – “right up to the asphalt.”

And to make matters worse, the fire knocked out a wireless tower and the Sun’s office doesn’t have Internet service. Luckily, though, he can still make it back to his house, where he has a DSL line.

The West Texas fires are a great example of what social media can mean to community newspapers. People are not going to wait until “the paper comes out” to get their news, and the source that many are turning to now is Facebook. That medium is interactive, which means that readers can share information, ask questions, post pictures and video, check out rumors and talk back and forth in real time about their concerns.

“I have a whole new understanding and appreciation of Facebook,” Mark said. “Our readers have flat taken over our fan page.”

And that’s a good thing. PK readers see the Sun as the place to go for the latest news, a place to ask their questions and share their concerns. That respect for the newspaper as more than ink on paper but also as the community’s news source should pay off as those readers and advertisers look to the printed product for the expanded information and detail they can’t get on Facebook.

Story ideas

Story idea: the impact of high gas prices

You think high gas prices are hurting your bottom line? What if you had to fill up a school bus? And what if that school bus made pick-ups in rural areas and drove many miles every day? Here’s a math problem for your fifth grader: Suppose a school bus gets 8 miles per gallon and drives 50 miles a day. The gas tank holds around 60 gallons and gas costs $3.81. How much more will the district spend on that bus per week than it did when gas cost $2.50 a gallon? It’s a great word problem for a fifth grader and a great story idea for any community newspaper in a rural area where school buses drive long distances. The link shows you what a Michigan TV station did with this idea.

Newspaper websites Online news Website traffic

WaPo decides to speak English when it comes to understanding Web traffic

Aren’t you tired of webspeak?  Can you remember the days when we talked about readers, not uniques or pageviews?  The Washington Post has decided to try a new language in its reports to the staff on readership of the  English.  Pageviews have become “pages read”; unique visitors have become (drumroll here….) “readers.” As Ken Doctor, the newsonomics guru, notes in this post:  “The idea: demystify foreign terms and turn them into what they are — stats any self-respecting journalist has to care about.” And results of these analytics are that the Post knows more about its readers – for instance, that 10 percent of its audience accounts for more than a third of its traffic, and that Facebook referrals are up 238 percent. If you want to read more about measuring traffic to your site, read this blog from Associate Director Andrew Chavez.