Engagement Newspaper management

Great ideas for engaging with your community

In explaining my work, I sometimes say that there are thousands of really good journalists in rural America, but all too often they are the only person in their newsroom that fits that description. They suffer from the isolation of rurality, with fewer opportunities than urbanites to rub shoulders and exchange ideas with their professional peers.

That observation applies to independent rural publishers, too. They may attend state newspaper meetings, but there’s nothing like the National Newspaper Association convention, where editors and publishers from New England, the North Woods, the Great Plains, the Corn Belt, the Deep South, the Intermountain West, the Pacific Coast and other regions exchange ideas. That’s especially important for the approximately one-third of weekly newspapers not owned by groups, which can be sources of ideas (and instruction). Get them together, and the love to help each other.

This was on display at the Great Ideas Exchange at the National Newspaper Association’s annual convention in Milwaukee Oct. 3. There were too many ideas to share in this limited space, but here are some themes and standouts:

Engagement with the audience is a key task these days, and some circulation ideas at the session were good examples. The Lancaster News in South Carolina delivers to funeral homes 10 copies of the paper for distribution to families and friends who want a copy of an obituary. With a sponsor, the copies count as paid circulation.

The paper also gives all its yearly subscribers a page of coupons (usually $5 each) worth a total of $25, and is trying to get to $50, the price of a one-year-subscription, Publisher Susan Rowell said. The promotion has converted a lot of sox-month subscribers, and “You do something for your loyal customers just to keep ‘em,” she said.

Effective engagement means taking every opportunity to build loyalty, and that includes people in the newsroom.

The North Scott Press of Eldridge, Iowa, asks subjects of its stories, “Where do you read the paper?” That indirect approach is better than asking if they subscribe or buy it regularly. If their answer indicates that they don’t, the next question is “Would you like to receive it at home?” and offer a three-month free trial, Publisher Bill Tubbs says. The staffer making the contact gets $3 for a free trial and $7 for a paid subscription.

Many newspapers have made magazines and directories good revenue sources. The Echo Press in Alexandria, Minnesota, produces a Churches of Douglas County magazine every other year, charges $50 for a listing and gives each church 10 copies. Some papers provide membership lists that the paper uses to solicit sponsorships, Publisher Jody Hanson said. “It’s a really good reference guide,” she said, adding that some churches initially declined to participate, but now say “Don’t ever do it without us.”

The Echo Press also hires a Santa Claus for three hours after school, asks parents to bring a food item to donate to the needy, takes photos of Santa with the kids, provides a link to the pictures and prints them in a holiday-greetings section with kids’ letters to Santa.

Hanson also had a good idea for the typical “progress edition” many papers publish in winter when ads are slow: Along with features on businesses, list building permits and related reports from local governments, which are documentary evidence of community development.

Lettie Lister of the Black Hills Pioneer in Spearfish, South Dakota, said she was told

told that “progress sections were dead,” but theirs attracts many non-regular advertisers. It’s not called a progress edition, but “Our Towns,” which sounds like something that people will keep a long time, adding to its ad value.

The Pioneer marked its 140th anniversary by mining its historic archives in the last quarter of the 19th century, starting with reports of the battle at Little Big Horn. The paper did a feature every Saturday, then a compilation without ads but a $10 price tag.

A newspaper’s big anniversaries can be celebrated with a section that also celebrates lesser anniversaries of other businesses, said Peggy Scott of the Leader in Festus, Missouri. It marked its 20th and 25th anniversaries and chose the most compelling stories of other businesses, with no repeats between the two.

Don’t run a bunch of extra photos without considering opportunities for a sponsored page, spread or even a section, said Mary Huber of the Archbold (Ohio) Buckeye. Local schools have many events that lend themselves to this: athletics, theatrical presentations, science fairs and so on.

Local festivals are natural opportunities for special sections, but the Grant County Herald in Minnesota takes up a few notches with a $100 treasure hunt for a hidden “newsbox” with a coin, promoted with a spread of ads with clues to its location. Almost every advertiser participates. The last clue is posted at the Herald office during the festival, and dozens of people line up to get it.

Bill Ostendorf of Creative Circle Media Solutions urged publishers to do a total-market-circulation edition once or twice a year: “Advertising more than pays for it, and it’s a really god promotional thing” for circulation.

I added that my institute encourages newspapers to include a health and wellness section in its TMC editions; our research shows that people need and want health information, and are more likely to subscribe to the newspaper if they know it regularly has such information. Also, most health-care providers have a budget for advertising, and newspapers are leaving a lot of that money on the table.

One of the session’s more interesting ideas came from Dick Seibel of the Silver City (New Mexico) Daily Press and Independent. In New Mexico, each county has a lobbying day during legislative sessions, and his Grant County has long had one of the more ostentatious. The paper does a special section about the county’s attractions and its legislative priorities, printing 3,000 extra copies that are distributed to legislators and other officials and around the capital of Santa Fe. Seibel said the project reinforces the importance of the newspaper to movers and shakers. And that’s what makes this idea worth mentioning. Wish we could have included them all!

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:

Branding Newspaper management

Newspaper mottoes and slogans: Helping to brand your editorial product

Does your newspaper have a motto? Or a slogan? Do you know the difference?

Mottoes, slogans and marketing pitches were common in the days when most big newspapers had competition, as they tried to give themselves a distinguishing character. As the big newspaper markets became monopolized, there was less need for them, but now, when every information source competes for audience with every other source, even in small towns, slogans and mottoes are worth reviving, and some papers are doing it.

The Washington Post’s nameplate got an underline on Feb.: the slogan “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” That’s the most prominent example of newspapers adding a promotional explanation of what they do or what they stand for. Two papers from Warren Buffett’s BH Media Group have similar slogans: The Bristol Herald Courier says it offers “Truth. Accuracy. Fairness” and the Omaha World-Herald says it is “Real. Fair. Accurate.”

Such slogans or mottoes are needed at a time when the very idea of independent, professional journalism is under attack from the highest levels of government and partisan media. Print circulation is down, but newspapers still have broad audiences and provide most of the accountability journalism that the writers of the First Amendment had in mind. Slogans and mottoes can not only remind the public of newspapers’ importance, but remind newspaper staff of ideals and principles they should follow.

Executive Editor Marty Baron’s “first principle” for the Post staff is “Tell the truth as nearly as it may be ascertained.” He said the paper started working on a slogan before the last election, “trying to come up with some words that would capture the essence of our mission in a way that you might even put it on a T-shirt. We had a lot of ideas and it was all over the place.” The choice was made by new owner Jeff Bezos; Baron told me he thought the line was “a little dark.” Yes, but it displays nicely in the reverse type the Post uses on its mobile site. The line had been used by Bob Woodward, the Post associate editor who as a reporter with Carl Bernstein broke open the Watergate scandal.

What’s the difference?  The Post’s slogan brought to mind other newspaper mottoes or slogans, many at rural or community newspapers, and I wrote about it on The Rural Blog recently. The blog post is at It linked to an explanation of the difference between a motto and a slogan; here’s a capsule version:

A motto contains a belief or an ideal that can serve as a guiding principle and the identity of a newspaper. The Amarillo Globe-News still uses a saying coined by publisher Gene Howe, who died in 1952: “A newspaper may be forgiven for lack of wisdom, but never for lack of courage.”

Slogans can serve the same purpose, but tend to be simpler and catchier, and used more as marketing tools. The best are those that serve not only as a slogan for the public, but a motto, perhaps implicit, for the staff. One of my favorites is used by The Blackshear Times, a Georgia weekly: “Liked by many, cussed by some, read by them all.”

Some slogans or mottoes are implicit, as in the simple warning of hard-nosed editorial policy at the Aspen (Colo.) Daily News: “If you don’t want it printed, don’t let it happen.”

Whether you call it a motto or a slogan matters less than having a line that accurately describes your newspaper. The most common slogans for rural papers are like the one used by the Mason Valley News in Nevada: “The only newspaper in the world that gives a damn about Yerington.” It’s a natural; most newspapers’ reason for existence is to publish news of their locality, and in most cases they own that franchise. The Greene County Democrat in Alabama, which competes with the Greene County Independent, puts it more subtly: “Serving Greene County Like No Other Newspaper.”

Some mottoes are blunt and simple, like that of The Star in Johannesburg, South Africa: “Tell it like it is.” Another conveys the same principle, but in more friendly, flowery fashion. It was written by British poet and politician Lord Byron (1788-1824): “Without or with offense to friends or foes, we sketch your world exactly as it goes.” Andrew Jackson Norfleet adopted it when he founded The Times Journal in Russell Springs, Ky., in 1949. The weekly still posts it on its editorial page.

Another idea: Speaking of editorial pages, that’s where newspapers can best explain who they are, even if they don’t have regular editorials.

If I were a newspaper editor again, my paper’s home page would have a button called “How We Work,” taking readers to a policy statement on the editorial page, explaining our editorial philosophy, policies such as correcting errors and separating news from opinion, a call for readers to let us know when we fall short, and a link to The Elements of Journalism by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel, with a few examples, such as:

Our first obligation is to the truth, not in an absolute, philosophical or scientific sense, but “the truths by which we can operate on a day-to-day basis;” and the essence of journalism is a discipline of verification, using an objective method. The authors explain: “Being impartial or neutral is not a core principle of journalism. Because the journalist must make decisions, he or she is not and cannot be objective. But journalistic methods are objective.” I doubt most readers understand those important distinctions, so we need to explain them at every opportunity. They need to know we’re on their side, and how we work.

Newspaper management

The importance of an editorial calendar

It’s standard procedure at newspapers to chronicle the year. Headlines typically include the passing of noteworthy individuals; the success, or maybe failure, of a civic project; milestones in sports achievements, election results or key community benchmarks.

Convene a brainstorming session with your newsroom – better yet, with a cross-section of employees from your entire “newspaper family” – and you’ll quickly have a list of noteworthy headlines. You may well be surprised at the scope of stories.

That prompts the question: Are you ready for 2017? All newsrooms should prepare an editorial calendar and review it regularly. Many of the things you cover are the same year in and year out. Use the opportunity to explore new approaches for coverage.

Think across the spectrum of your community. Here are three areas.

Public affairs always demands attention. There are the regular meetings of city councils, county boards and school boards plus the numerous commissions and task forces. Do you preview the important agenda items? Do you go beyond the votes and report the impact of the actions in real and understandable terms? Think beyond the meetings as you examine how to broaden your coverage. The mayor presents a state of the city speech. Government bodies spend weeks, even months, reviewing and adopting budgets. Capital improvement projects are previewed.

Also, brainstorm stories that may warrant special coverage. Has a longtime elected official announced that this will be his or her last term of service? Are single issues dominating a government body? Did the election produce new voting blocs?

Sports present a regular staple of stories: the preview, the rigors of the regular season, the playoffs. Team performance can present challenges and opportunities. How do you keep readers interested if a team suffers through a losing season, possibly not even winning a game? In contrast, what kinds of stories can be pursued if a team is headed for a championship season, maybe even going undefeated?

Also, brainstorm stories that may warrant special coverage. Is an athlete on the verge of achieving a scoring milestone? Might a coach notch a noteworthy victory? Is this the last season for a school in a sports conference due to league realignment?

Civic clubs are the fabric of communities. The number of groups and their range of contributions mean editors are routinely approached with requests for coverage. The “asks” range from the Lions Club annual brat feed fund-raiser to volunteer of the year recognition to a candidate forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters. It’s impossible to produce a story and photo for each event. Communicate with organizations early and discuss the two elements of publicity – promotion and actual coverage. An even better idea is to produce a simple set of guidelines that can be distributed to publicity chairs.

Also, brainstorm stories that may warrant special coverage. Is a club celebrating a significant anniversary? Is a local club officer rising through the ranks in the affiliated state or national organization? Is there a special fund-raiser or other project planned that has extra significance to the community?

Planning a calendar can be overwhelming. These are but three areas in your entire range of news. So take a slow approach. Explore and outline your editorial calendar for the tried and true elements of news.

Then identify one new area where you’d like to bolster coverage. Announce it in a column, and set up a process for soliciting feedback from your community. Lay out a plan of action and present it to readers.

Every newsroom is stretched for time and resources as you strive to produce stories that people like to read and stories that people should read. Any additional time you give to planning your calendar is a win-win-win scenario for your newspaper, your readers and your community.