Lessons from Tow Center study for college media: Events, engagement, selling media services, community building

I read the new report out from the Tow Center on small-market newspapers (less than 50,000 circulation). These are a few quotes that stood out to me as relevant to college media.

Events and physical contact

[Local newspapers have] “experienced notable resilience thanks in part to exclusive content not offered elsewhere, the dynamics of ultra-local advertising markets, and an ability to leverage a physical closeness to their audience.”

“…Of the new, emerging sources of revenue that newspapers are engaging in, the events space may be one of the most promising. Aside from their potential as a means for story gathering and community engagement, events also offer opportunities for sponsorship, ticket sales, and other income streams.”

Media services

“One clear way that a number of publishers are expanding revenue sources is by creating, or buying, spin-off businesses which capitalize on their editorial and design expertise. Income from these services, which includes building apps and websites for small and medium-sized businesses, can then be poured back into resourcing the core product.”


“On a smaller scale, the humble newsletter is back and in vogue with sales teams and audiences alike.”

Engagement teams

“Lauren Gustus, the former executive editor at the Coloradoan in Fort Collins, Colorado, explained how her small newsroom (thirty to forty people) had been reconfigured to include a dedicated ten-person engagement team. Part of their charge, she explained, was ‘talking with readers across any of the platforms that we operate on and that our readers operate on.’”

“… As Lauren Gustus admitted, titles like the Coloradoan need to ‘demonstrate the value of a local news organization and that it goes beyond the printed product.’ To help achieve this goal, she reconfigured her thirty-person newsroom to create a ten-person engagement team charged with finding opportunities to ‘further our relationship with our readers in a meaningful way.’

“…Events, putting community members on the editorial board, and engaging with readers on and off site across different digital platforms, are just some of the mechanisms the Coloradoan and others have deployed with this goal in mind.”

Building community

“J-Lab’s Jan Schaffer talked about the importance of small-market newspapers needing ‘to figure out how not just to cover community, but to build it as well.’ That, Shaffer suggested, means papers listening to the community and looking to do more than just find a great quote or angle for a story. ‘The engagement that counts,’ Schaffer said, is, ‘wow, we helped our community fix a problem, do something better. And I think that’s still a skill to be learned.’”

“…As a former editor at a major metro and also a small-market newspaper reflected:

“‘I think there is an opportunity for small newspapers more than the larger ones . . . to actually form a relationship with the community still . . . Because you might know your neighbor, who was in the paper yesterday. And the smaller newspapers do a better job of getting more people in the paper than the larger ones as well.

“‘There are those kinds of opportunities in smaller newspapers that aren’t there at larger ones. So, I think that forming that type of relationship with the community is still there in smaller papers. And I think it’s more difficult in the metro markets.’”

Planning for the future

“How can you best focus on original reporting? … By focusing on creating content not provided elsewhere, local newspapers will be best placed to offer a proposition that audiences may be willing to pay for.”

“…We therefore encourage local newspapers to consider which beats they want to own, and which they want to approach differently, if at all.”

“…Newsrooms have access to more data than ever, but sometimes the conclusions from this can make for uncomfortable reading. Understanding which metrics matter, and what they are telling you, is a question that every newsroom needs to be asking more frequently.”

About adviserdavid

Student media director, Georgia Southern University

Posted on November 18, 2017, in Financial sustainability, Leadership, What to cover. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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