Newspapers find creative ways to engage readers, advertisers during coronavirus pandemic


Ruth Witmer
Hoosier State Press Association

Readers are working from home. Events are canceled and businesses are closed. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the day-to-day landscape for the time being — including the media landscape.

Newspapers throughout the state have been working to respond to the needs of their readers and of advertisers who have no events to promote and curtailed services.

The initiatives are as varied as the papers across Indiana: The News and Tribune (Jeffersonville) launched a Good Deeds are Noticed plan where advertisers who assisted community members were offered a free 1/2-page ad. The Indianapolis Business Journal is producing a weekly podcast discussing coronavirus issues. Editors and publishers have been sharing their ideas here.

“We’re here to help you get through this. We’re in the same boat you are. Let’s work on this together.”

— Don Hurd, founder & CEO of Hometown Media, Inc. & Hoosier Media Group

Interaction with readers and advertisers is always a relationship that needs to be developed. But the shutdown resulting from Gov. Eric Holcomb’s stay-at-home order has taken that challenge to a new level.

“I’ve been doing this for about 32 years and this is a new one for me,” said Michael Johnson, regional editor of Kankakee Valley Publishing. “I’ve never experienced anything quite like this.”

Johnson’s paper, the Herald Journal (Monticello), is sponsoring an e-learning photo contest where students and parents can share images from their home schooling experiences for a chance to win cash prizes.

Sports and marching bands are big in Johnson’s community and he and his sports editor are commemorating high school seniors whose experiences have been cut short by the pandemic. The paper has plenty of file photos and are asking students to share their memories for publication.

Cassie Roth-Garrett, content and newsroom team leader at Whitewater Publications said her staff’s first goal was to establish that they were there for the community — readers and advertisers.

As schools closed and events were canceled, Roth-Garrett said her staff re-committed to filling pages with relevant coverage.

“One of the things I’m most proud of is there was never an option of less.”

On a kids page, for instance, teachers wrote notes to children they weren’t in direct contact with, the next week grandparents did the same.

“We’re going to make sure that our community isn’t being cheated because of this, ” Roth-Garrett said.

Her staff is working on a sponsorship project with local tourism and the chamber of commerce called “One Community” where large corporate sponsors can buy space in the paper for local businesses.

Roth-Garrett said she and her staff have drawn and built on relationships with readers and advertisers. This experience, she said, has illustrated how important community newspapers are.

Don Hurd, founder and CEO of Hometown Media, Inc. and Hoosier Media Group has shared what he calls “a buffet” of ideas. “I like to try a lot of different angles and I like to be proactive.” Hurd said.

Since the,start of the pandemic, Hurd’s papers have provided thank-you promos, a coronavirus special section, daily inspirational quotes and more.

His next engagement promotion is “Couch Potato Trivia.” The Facebook Live event from the flagship paper in Wabash County will feature prizes including restaurant gift cards and 15-second advertising spots.

“You just have to use all the mediums, all the platforms available to you to continue to build your brand as being the information leaders in the communities that we serve,” Hurd said.

Hurd said he wants the people in the community to know they’re not alone. “We’re here to help you get through this. We’re in the same boat you are. Let’s work on this together,” he said.

For samples of what newspapers across the state are doing, click here. Have an idea your paper is trying? Email it to Steve Key,