Readers should be the number one priority for newspapers.
That was the message I received from unrelated speakers representing two different university journalism schools during a recent conference of press associations executives from across the United States and Canada.
Damon Kiesow, the Knight Chair in Digital Editing and Producing at the Missouri School of Journalism, said national and local journalism are not in the same business.
“While national media can chase ad impressions across the infinite expanse of the Internet, he said. “Success for local media is defined by building community and encouraging engagement at a more human scale.
“It is time for local media to again prioritize local readers and realign the business model with our editorial mission,” Kiesow said.
If you build a good newspaper filled with local journalism, they will come – both readers and advertisers.
Twenty-four hours later, the message from Tim Franklin, senior assistant dean, Northwestern Medill School of Journalism, Edward Malthouse, Erastus Otis Haven Professor at Medill, was very similar
Newspapers should be pivoting from an advertising model to reader revenue, Franklin said, because 78% of digital revenue is being gobbled up by Google and Facebook.
“The reader needs to be the primary customer – not the advertiser,” said Franklin, who formerly served as the top editor at The Indianapolis Star, Orlando Sentinel and The Baltimore Sun.
Rather than focusing on the industry’s negative financial news, newspapers need to talk more about the value of local journalism was another shared message at the Newspaper Association Managers conference.
“We need a coordinated narrative stressing democracy and community,” Franklin said. “We need to tout the value of newspaper as credible, unique and original journalism for its community.”
Franklin also said the public needs to understand the stakes when journalism isn’t supported – news deserts or ghost newspapers.
Kiesow pointed to studies that have shown the results when newspapers fade from a community – local government bond issues become more expensive because they are considered a greater risk, voting patterns get more polarized without a local fact-checking newspaper, and health risks increase without that community voice relaying vital information to a community.
The (newspaper) is the keystone species in the journalism ecosystem. It’s the most trusted,” Kiesow said.
A newspaper has the opportunity to sell itself as trustworthy, engaged in the community, and loyal to the reader, said Kiesow, most recently the director of product for McClatchy in Raleigh, N.C.
“Don’t chase eyeballs (pageviews), focus on community because community drives trust,” he said.
The goal, according to Malthouse, is to increase a reader’s willingness to pay for journalism.
If you capture a community’s loyalty and trust, they’ll pay more for a newspaper than they did when advertising revenue paid the freight and readers only paid a fraction of the cost.
Ad revenue as a percentage of total revenue won’t return to the old level, but the American Opinion Research survey for the HSPA Foundation in 2017 still showed that readers rate newspapers No. 1 for providing useful advertising information and are No. 1 as a source of helpful, local sales and shopping information.
Adapting the line from the movie “Field of Dreams,” If you build a good newspaper filled with local journalism, they will come – both readers and advertisers.