Newspaper management

A magazine guy offers ideas for newspapers

I’m a trade magazine (specialty publications) dude. I’ve been an editor or publisher for over 30 years. And I’ve spent hours sitting in newspaper seminars, listening to weekly and daily publishers. Why?

Well, we both buy paper and ink. We both publish on a regular schedule. We both try to serve our communities. We often feature articles about leaders in our communities.

We both need subscribers and advertisers to stay in business. And we would love to have repeat advertising.

In this little report, I’ll suggest a few things I’ve learned in the magazine trade that might be helpful to you.

Brief background

I feel part of both newspaper and magazine industries. My Dad Bill edited weeklies in three East Texas towns before starting a small magazine company after World War II. (During the war, he edited an Army daily newspaper.)

He felt “serving the reader’s needs” was a mission both industries should embrace. Most of his friends were newspaper people. We subscribed to both Fort Worth papers, and lots of consumer magazines.

I continued my interests in both high school and college, serving on a newspaper and literary magazine. After retirement from magazines, Dad wrote non-fiction books– and articles for national magazines and newspapers — well into his 90s. When he died – at age 102 – he was likely this country’s oldest surviving editor.

And, I am proud to say he was an early member of the Texas Press Association, dating back to the 1930s.

Newspaper and magazine differences

You publish daily or weekly. Many magazines publish only monthly or bi-monthly.

You cover a geographic region. Trade magazines cover a profession or an industry.

You focus on local and national news. Trade publications primarily report on news or products that impact a profession.

You usually deliver a broadsheet or tabloid-sized product. Trades mostly deliver a glossy magazine, or a digest-sized edition.

Magazine content

Trade magazine content is specialized, because we are talking to a group of readers in the same profession. Therefore, we constantly encourage reader feedback.

In addition to industry news, we frequently offer an expert’s column, or a how-to feature about a professional skill. We might offer a “forum” section, where readers interact about an industry problem.

Our letters to the editor are sometimes technical. Our new product section is industry-specific.

Interviews with industry innovators are frequent. And so are biographies of prominent folks in the profession.

Magazine ideas you might try

 In my job, I discovered several ideas that worked well for us. You might test these thoughts at your publication:

  1. PREDICTIONS – We generally scheduled this section for the end of each year. Many industry folks loved to air their projections for the year ahead.
  2. ARCHIVES – In most issues, we looked back five, ten, or 20 years, and ran stories from our files. This was very popular, and got lots of comments.
  3. QUIZZES – We would occasionally offer prizes to readers who could answer the most questions. A sure winner for reader feedback.
  4. QUESTION-ANSWER FEATURES – These have been big in newspapers for years. In our magazines, we might ask guest experts to respond to reader questions.
  5. CONTESTS – There are probably more sponsorship opportunities for newspapers than there are for specialty magazines. You might host contest entries for best Main Street store design, a children’s art contest, or a high school writing contest.
  6. AD POSITIONS – We offered guaranteed ad placement – next to a popular column or feature – to our best advertisers.
  7. INSERTS – We accepted ad pre-prints provided they could be glued-in, or attached to the magazines.
  8. DIRECTORIES – Several times a year, we offered directories of products or services useful to the industry. This offered huge advertising opportunity.
  9. SPECIAL ISSUE THEMES – We ran several of these annually. Special themes might be Upcoming Trade Show; Products of the New Year; Industry Leader Interviews; New Year Predictions: 20th (or 25th, etc.) Anniversary Issues; Repair and Replacement Parts, etc.
  10. SIZE VS. FREQUENCY – One of the most common questions to our ad department: “With my budget, should I run one large ad or several small ones?” Our opinion: Frequency is more important than size.
  11. CIVIC CLUBS – You may already do this. But, offer to speak frequently to local civic, community, or church groups. It’s free publicity, and often helps you get recognition as a local expert. (We spoke at trade and industry events frequently.)
  12. NATIONAL ADVERTISING – You might want to test some per-inquiry ads in your newspaper. You might consider using a service like to do this.
  13. DUAL EVENTS – Have you considered hosting an event in association with local schools, downtown merchants, or a hospital? That might be a health fair, crafts display, back-to-class event, or senior citizens’ gathering. Goal: Public service and public awareness.
  14. COUPONS – I keep hearing that coupons for certain products test well. This decades-old idea may work for you. How about trying it on non-traditional ads? (Example: Bring this coupon to our insurance agency to receive a free report on different insurance types.)
  15. ONLINE EDITIONS – Many of my magazine friends now publish both a print AND an online edition. They have found that each format lends itself to a slightly different audience. Also…some advertisers may choose one format over the other.
  16. ONLINE OPPORTUNITIES – What if you owned your own radio station, and it broadcast only your messages? Pretty good deal, huh?

I record lots of one-minute sound ads for magazine publisher clients. These ads can be offered to advertisers, then placed on both the publication’s and the advertiser’s web sites. In addition, advertisers can attach these small audio files to e-mails, and send them to their clients too.

For more details on this, call me at 817-920-7999, or e-mail [email protected]

MY PERSONAL SECRET – Several years ago, I was told that newspapers were often written at the 9th to 11th grade level. Yet the average adult reading level is reportedly about 7th to 8th grade.

I’m also told that when people read for fun, they like to read about two grades below their skill level.

My strategy? I write at 7th to 8th grade level. I test my work with this readability test tool:

crime reporting

Texas reporter appears on Darlie Routier documentary series

(If you were watching ABC during prime time during June, you may have recognized a Texas reporter, Kathy Cruz of the Hood County News.  Kathy was featured in all four episodes of “The Last Defense.” The story below appears in the July Publisher’s Auxiliary, published by the National Newspaper Association, and is used by permission of Pub Aux.)

In Gatesville, Texas, Darlie Lynn Routier spends every day pretty much as she has for last 21 years in her women’s death row cell awaiting her execution by lethal injection.

In the small newsroom of the Hood County News in Granbury, 87 miles away, reporter Kathy Cruz often finds her mind wandering back to her two-year-long re-investigation of the murder case that sent Routier to death row.

Kathy couldn’t dismiss her lingering doubts about Routier’s conviction for murdering her two sons. So she spent her days off and many nights and weekends following the story – talking with lawyers and investigators and forensic experts, trying to determine for herself if justice had been done.

Her  book, “Dateline Purgatory: Examining the Case that Sentenced Darlie Routier to Death,” (TCU Press, 2015) explores that murder investigation and trial and shows why she thinks an innocent Texas mom has spent more than two decades on death row.

And now, a new ABC documentary series co-produced by Oscar-winning actress Viola Davis has taken up Kathy’s crusade in a seven-part prime time docu-series that explores Routier’s case and that of Julius Jones, who is awaiting execution in Oklahoma.

The parts of the series “The Last Defense” that examine Routier’s conviction borrow heavily from the investigative work done by Cruz.

Investigating a 22-year-old murder while holding down a full-time job as city and county government reporter at the Hood County News was a daunting task even for Kathy, who’s a self-confessed workaholic.

Kathy’s investigation began when she was working on another writing project and the Routier case – which she remembered from years before – popped into her mind.  Kathy stopped writing and began to Google the murders of Routier’s two children. Like many before her, Kathy couldn’t get the gruesome crime scene out of her mind.

Several days later she emailed Routier on death row and asked for an interview – still with no specific project in mind.  To her surprise, Darlie Routier agreed to see her.  The result was a two-hour prison interview – the first one Routier had granted in four years — that only further piqued Kathy’s curiosity.

“I had no idea where I was headed with this,” Kathy said. “I just knew that this case dealt with many of the Texas criminal justice issues that I had dealt with before, and I wanted to know more.”

Kathy talked to her publisher, Jerry Tidwell, who was intrigued with her investigation and encouraged her to pursue the story.

And so began her year-long investigation into the Routier case, a project pursued at night and on weekends and during vacation time dedicated to her research. She approached the story as a journalist would, poring over police and court records and talking with people who believed Darlie was innocent and others who defended the jury’s verdict.

Kathy was determined to take readers along on her investigation – she wrote it in reporter’s notebook style, sharing the circumstances of her interviews and investigations.  As she looked into the murders, she became increasingly convinced that Texas had sentenced an innocent woman to death.

“I still can’t imagine being convicted of something you did not do and having your life taken away from you,” Kathy said.

During her year of book research, she continue to cover city and county government in Hood County.  And when her beat stories were filed and the twice-weekly Hood County News went to bed, Kathy turned to her work on the Routier investigation.

“The Darlie book came out three years ago and I’m still exhausted from it,” Kathy said.

Despite the book deadlines, Kathy continued to turn out award-winning news, features and investigative pieces for the News.  She has won a wall-full of state and national reporting awards and has several times been selected Journalist of the Year by regional press associations.

Kathy isn’t the only writer who has re-examined the Routier case.  More than a dozen books have been written about the murders, some arguing for her innocence and others for her guilt.  One author who wrote a book defending the jury’s guilty verdict has since recanted her position and now believes Routier is innocent.

The case itself has a made-for-TV plotline. The brutal murders of young Devon and Damon Routier in the early morning hours of June 6, 1996, put their mother at the heart of one of the most notorious murder cases in modern Texas history — despite her own throat having been slashed to within 2 millimeters of her carotid artery.

Routier claimed that she and her children were attacked by an unknown intruder as they lay sleeping downstairs, where they had fallen asleep watching television.

Routier’s husband, Darin, and their 8-month-old baby were asleep upstairs and were unharmed. Darin Routier said he woke up when he heard a crashing noise and his wife’s screams.

Darlie Routier called 911 at 2:30 a.m. and told police that her home had been broken into and an intruder had stabbed her children and her. Police said that one of her boys had been stabbed with such force that the knife nicked the concrete slab beneath the carpet.

Blood soaked the light-colored carpet and there was a trail of blood through the kitchen. Darlie Routier’s white Victoria’s Secret nightshirt was saturated in blood.   She said it was only when she caught a glimpse of herself in a mirror while on the phone with 911 that she realized the blood was her own and that her throat had been slashed.

Dallas County prosecutors rejected her story about the intruder, believing that she had staged the whole thing, including her own injuries.

The documentary series casts doubt on the conviction, drawing heavily from Kathy’s book and interviews she did with the documentary team.

Aida Leisenring, a New York attorney who helped to develop and executive produced “The Last Defense,” said Kathy’s book “made significant contributions” to the documentary’s research on Routier.

“[Kathy] is featured quite a lot in ‘The Last Defense,’” Leisenring said.  “She has the ability to understand legal issues and translate them for laypeople.”

Leisenring said Kathy was able to “address the intricate mechanics of legal issues while also seeing the bigger picture.”

“We used her a lot throughout the series – and it was all too easy because her quotes were phenomenal,” Leisenring said. “Her knowledge was exceptional.”

“The Last Defense” has been airing on ABC stations since June 12.

Six women have been executed in Texas since the state resumed the death penalty in 1976 and five other women besides Routier are currently on death row awaiting execution.