Community newspapers: An important part of Thanksgiving table-talk

At many Thanksgiving tables, family members take turns sharing what they are most thankful for.

The items listed are pretty typical, from the wise guy’s “I’m thankful I’m not the turkey” to appreciation directed at everyone from God to teachers to those in the armed services.

But nobody ever says they are thankful for the electric company or the gas company or the water and sewer department.  Those utilities are important – indeed, necessary to the Thanksgiving experience – but their service is so integral to our lives that they go unnoticed.

Newspapers are a lot like that.

No one will say they’re thankful for the local newspaper on Thursday (unless, maybe, they are employed by that paper). And that’s because we have made ourselves essential to the functioning of our communities.

  • We bought Thanksgiving dinner after scanning the local grocery ads for the best buys.
  • We schedule dinner around parades and football because we saw the starting time in the paper.
  • Our table-talk is informed by the news and sports and features we read in the paper.
  • Hanging on the refrigerator is a picture from a school play or a high school football game, clipped from the newspaper.
  • We talk about the black Friday or brown Thursday sales we plan to hit, and somebody asks when the stores open.  The reply:  “Let’s check the paper after lunch.”
  • Two brothers-in-law get into an argument about an upcoming liquor election before grandma admonishes them not to argue at the table.  Both were basing their positions on stories they read in last week’s paper.
  • Someone mentions that the neighbors have something to be thankful for – they found their lost dog when someone responded to their classified ad in the paper.
  • The hostess brings out the desserts and the hands-down crowd favorite is the pumpkin pie cobbler. Of course.  She got the recipe from last week’s newspaper.

The community newspaper has become as much a part of life as the electric company — so woven into the fabric of our week that people are unaware of the source of much of the information that powers their lives.

But there’s one significant difference between newspapers and utilities – the utilities don’t speak truth to power and hold public officials accountable and analyze budgets and ask hard questions.

Newspapers do.  Week after week.

So do newspapers resent being left out of the round of thankful-fors at the dinner table?  Not at all. We know our role is to support the life of the community by providing news, information and entertainment.

We think we do that well.  And we’re thankful for the opportunity.


Facebook offers a great opportunity to grab new readers

For busy newspaper people, information about social media is like information about Obamacare – there’s so much, and it’s so complex, that it’s easy to ignore all of it.

Social media didn’t begin as primarily media for news – they were ways for people to connect and share what was going on in their lives. Like sharing over the back fence, a lot of the information was trivial, and Facebook and Twitter got a bad rap (“If I see one more picture of someone’s meal at a restaurant….” or “Who wants to look at that many cute cat videos?”)

So it’s understandable if some publishers and editors don’t realize that social media have become genuine news platforms – of the 64 percent of adults who use Facebook, for instance, 47 percent get at least some of their news there.

That’s way too many potential news consumers to ignore.

So who’s on Facebook, surfing their news feed and just waiting to connect with your newspaper?

  • 83 percent of people between 18 and 29
  • 77 percent of people between 30 and 49
  • 52 percent of people between 50 and 64
  • 32 percent of people over 65

Or looking at the big picture, 67 percent of all Internet users are also on a social networking site such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram or Tumblr.

We need to be there for the same reason you’d like to sell your newspaper at Walmart – that’s where the people are.

Some of the recent research into news and social networks reminds us of important points that all newspapers need to consider:

On Facebook, people are drawn to the news and pictures, not to your newspaper.  People won’t look at something just because an editor said it was important. If the picture is engaging, if the news looks interesting, they’ll read it.  If it’s another meeting story illustrated by a photo of a bunch of balding, middle-aged white guys sitting in a council chamber, forget it.  They won’t read it just because your paper says it’s important. A recent study asked Facebook users why they clicked on news story links – 20 percent said it was because the story was published by a news organization they trusted, but 70 percent said it was because the story looked interesting.

This is news judgment on steroids.  We already know that dull procedural stories that don’t relate to real people tend not to be read in print.  And if that’s true for your print product, where you can still reach your news junkies, it’s doubly true online.

Your news headline is important in luring readers.  On Facebook, which would draw traffic?  “Council votes to purchase new fire equipment”? Or “New fire truck will cut response times to local fires”? And should the photo be of the council members talking or the firefighters climbing onto the new truck?

We need to work hard for Facebook “Likes.”  Make your page more interactive.  Ask questions.  Promote involvement.  Use lots of local-interest photos – they are more likely to get shared by your followers and thus help you pick up new followers. Run contests and offer prizes. 

Remember, Facebook is not your newspaper presented in another medium.  It’s a different approach to news, characterized by much more interactivity.  When people like an article in your newspaper, they may tell someone.  And rarely, they might even give a copy of your newspaper to a friend and suggest they read the article. 

But on Facebook, someone with 500 friends can share that article with all 500.  If you run a photo of the cheerleaders at this Friday’s game, and one of the cheermoms is on Facebook (chances are, all of them are) and shares your photo on her news feed, it could end up with an audience of thousands more than your newspaper could ever reach. We need to think in terms of news and photos and videos that people will want to pass on – in effect, to become our co-publishers.

For those editors and publishers who are still social media newbies, the best recommendation is to get onto Facebook yourself. You’ll never reach that audience until you are familiar with it.  Just lurk, if you want to, or actively participate.  Also, check out some newspapers who do it well.  Here’s a list of some of the best facebook pages for newspapers.