Are Community Newspapers Missing The Digital Boat?


There are so many clear, lucrative opportunities for community newspapers to take advantage of in the digital space, and as studies have proven, the smaller the town, the more likely they are to find successful streams of revenue to tap into. Numerous case studies have proven that the smaller the paper, the larger streams of revenue are brought in with local advertisers through carefully planned digital strategies.

Yet many smaller papers that are focused on keeping their print version alive are neglecting to spend both the time and resources to expand in the digital space. And while they are putting off looking into their digital options they are missing a plethora of opportunities to capitalize on, including using digital editions to drive more readers to their print editions.

So what is causing their hesitation?

Penelope Muse Abernathy explains in her new book, Saving Community Journalism, that community newspapers have been affected by the digital age in three different ways: disruption in costs, customer base and revenues. Abernathy, who is Knight Chair in Journalism and Digital Media Economics at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, has noticed that most newspaper publishers have convinced themselves that they can adapt to the internet’s disruption by making small adjustments. This, she believes, is what is keeping them in a viscous downward spiral as they try to keep their print version at the top of the fray and miss the fact that the digital age is here to stay.

Abernathy believes the best approach for newspapers to take for an effective digital market transition includes a tri-level approach that includes the following actions:

  1. Shedding legacy costs
  2. Building a multi-platform community with audiences
  3. Aggressively pursuing new revenue

Yet the most common response community newspapers across the U.S. are having to entering the digital space is to cut basic costs, and hope that will help them stay afloat with their print editions alone. Laying off employees and reducing content in their print paper leaves a large gap between their print edition and the digital market. Since they are not reinvesting the funds they save into building their audience and community for their digital edition, a process Abernathy refers to as creating a “virtuous cycle,” they are leaving themselves to fall victim to lost advertising and readership content, which result in the loss of hugely large revenue-building opportunities.

It is extremely important that publishers don’t cut off their most important asset with cost-cutting: their loyal readers. This is where the majority of publishers are missing their opportunity to bridge that gap through a dynamic online presence. The internet as a whole is an extremely interactive medium. Taking a print version and simply putting it online does nothing to boost the content or the reader’s experience. But when they develop content that speaks to readers’ passions and interests in a geographic region, they can reposition themselves as a multi-platform medium, which then connects them to other communities. Abernathy contends that this is precisely how newspapers can help local advertisers increase their reach and effectiveness by combining ad placements across media types.

Most every community newspaper has done an exceptional job of building community via their print editions through special sections that speak to their readers. By not re-adapting that same concept to their online experience, they leave their readers feeling that there is nothing of particular value to them online. This can be easily adjusted with a few simple, strategic placements built into an online edition, including special sections, contests and special features and offers that are developed exclusively for the online space.

So how can local newspapers avoid missing the digital boat entirely? The first step they can take is to look at they opportunities they have to aggressively pursue new streams of revenue with their online edition. If their are cutting costs by 6% each year, they should be looking at how they can increase new revenue by 6% each year, says Abernathy. This begins with choosing a flexible, dynamic online platform that allows them to adapt and evolve with the times.

To test a flexible platform and ways in which to make your paper interactive and dynamic, click here to upload your issues completely free of charge.

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