Newspapers can make money
It’s not news that newspapers have had difficulties for some time now getting readers, and the deficit of readers has made it difficult for many advertisers to justify buying space for their ads in the paper. Decreasing revenues, in turn, makes it difficult for publishers to find the money to pay reporters, reducing even further the value of the paper to readers. It’s a vicious circle.
The primary purpose of the overwatch we’ve looked at in the past few installments is to provide a reason for everyone in the community your paper serves to read your paper regularly and turn to it for the best information on the things that matter most to them. If you do this well, your circulation should reach levels you have not even dared to dream of.
If you’re just a bit clever about it, you can also achieve revenue levels from advertising to allow you to grow — and pay your staff respectable salaries for the valuable work they do. But you need to anticipate making changes in how your organize your newsroom and structure your print format.
It’s essential that your coverage extend to everything of importance to your community, but you already know how utterly important it is that you assemble, package and print the news in ways that deliver it regularly and reliably to people. That means you need to make sure you are delivering content on each major subject area quite regularly — whether daily or on a rotating basis on specific days of the week. People need to know what that schedule is so they have something to look forward to and expectation that you can meet.
To do this you will almost certainly need to step back from the conventional newspaper format — front section, world and national news, second section, local news, business and sports, third section, food and entertainment, and so on. You need to look at organizing stories by subject area, so people know where to look for information about whatever concerns or interests th,mem. If there is something that everyone needs to know about, that certainly can go on the front page regardless of the subject because of its importance, but that should be the exception, not the rule. If stories are just thrown in haphazardly by how important an editor thinks it is, then readers have no idea what you’re covering — or what you’re missing or ignoring.
It should not be difficult for your reporters to find something to write about on any of the broad subjects you’re watching. There is bound to be something new going on, changes, developments, implications, problems, things to investigate, to evaluate, to analyze, unmet needs, satisfactory progress, competing agendas, the list of potential stories is endless.
Making sure there is some story in every major subject area — conforming, of course, to the standards of thorough, meaningful, useful and accruate coverage — nearly everyone in the community will have a reason to read the paper and go to one or more specific subject area that concern them. You can anticipate that your coverage of each subject will attract the attention of most of the people in the community who have an active interest in some aspect of that subject.
That means the eyes scanning a particular page are likely to be attached to people who are actively engaged in the subject covered on that page — making that page valuable space for anyone trying to sell something to people who are interested in that subject.
So, if you’re an advertiser, not only can you expect many more people looking over the page your material is on, you have a pretty good idea that many of the people who are likely to be interested in what you’re selling are actually paying attention to the page your ad is on.
Compare this with the established conventions, where you have only a small fraction of the community bothering to buy the paper at all, of them, most are just skimming through to find whether there is anything worth reading on a particular page. How many of them actually even look at your ad? How of them are even in the market for what you’re trying to sell? Your actual market is probably many, many times larger — how much is it worth to use this means to reach this number of people?
So, as an advertiser, the idea that your ad is going to be placed on a page where you have a very good idea of who will be looking, what they will be looking for, what they have on their minds, this has to be a much better value proposition. The numbers are much more favorable that you’ll see a nice return on the money you place in these ads, right?
Going back to the perspective of the newspaper publisher, you make your space much more valuable by providing good value to your community, keeping them informed on all the things of greatest importance to them, in a way that is thorough, accurate, meaningful and useful, presented in an way that is organized for easy access and understanding and kept current.
This is not limited to print editions, by the way. You should be able to market slots in digital ads on exactly the same basis, selling space in or along side articles based on the subject covered. Again, the accepted convention of ads being placed by some kind of algorithm, perhaps determined by some third party taking a chunk of what the advertiser is paying, is not the only way to do business, and it’s not all that friendly to you or to your advertisers.
If you take control of your ditigal advertising space, you can craft your pricing and policies to suit your market, providing the best value to advertisers to support the best service to your community while optimising cash flow to yourself.
Selling papers has long involved selling copies at newsstands in stores and by subscription for home delivery, things familiar to Americans for generations. How much should you rely on sales and subscriptions to generate cash flow for your newspaper in the modern world?
In order to generate the greatest level of support from your community, you need to make a lot of your reporting available digitally at no cost. People need to know you’re there for them, when they need you, and not just scratching for a buck or two at a pop for a paper. The income you get from advertising should most certainly allow you to pass along key information freely without a second thought — in no small part because the value of your paper to advertisers depends on how many people actually read it. Getting the most people to read your reporting regularly is what makes your paper valuable.
At the same time, there may be variations on just how much you post on your web site for free and how much additional information you may decide to charge for. If you split content between free and paid, you need to make sure that what you provide for free actually meets the standards: thorough, accurate, meaningful and useful. If you make the content only a teaser to make people sorry they’re not paying for it, they’ll treat you with the same level of respect — which is to say, leave you in the dark talking to yourself.
If you want to split content, you can write articles to make sure you always present the important take-aways right at the beginning, what we call “bottom line up front” in the Army, or the “bluf.” Anyone looking at the article will appreciate the “bluf,” since it allows them to quickly see what’s important and then decide whether they want to read through the details. If you’re an editor and splitting content between free and paid, the “bluf” provides an easy and logical point to insert the split.
This style of presentation can work just as well with your overwatch summary of the community’s situation as with your daily reporting. If done well, you will win a great deal of support from the entire community, providing everyone with all the information they need to know, in a way they can access quickly and easily, and showing you respect their time and their intelligence.
One would hope!
Last Installment: Overwatch: the key to success
Next installment: (To be published…)