By Emily Bayci
AWSM 2011 Intern, University of Illinois
Ben Brigandi, John Bednarowski, Courtney Linehan and Eric Olson
Photo by Steph Langan
CHICAGO — In an age where print media is struggling, smaller papers must find ways to stay ahead of the curve and produce unique content to keep readers satisfied.
“It’s important to have projects unique to a paper that keep people coming back for it,” Courtney Linehan, sports editor of The Times of Northwest Indiana said Wednesday at APSE’s “Branding Your Local Coverage” workshop.
Linehan leads a paper that has multiple zone coverage, meaning different issues of the paper cater to the population’s local interests.
The trademark of the Times is, “giving readers prep coverage they cannot receive in Chicago,” Linehan said.
“Readers can get the Tribune, or the Sun-Times online,” Linehan said. “They can pick up and read a copy of the Red Eye. But they can’t get this in-depth prep information.”
The different issues of The Times have varying covers and stories about hyper local teams. They have profiles and features of local athletes and then teasers to online content about the other areas.
“Then if someone has a cousin in another area they can read about them online,” Linehan said.
She said the zone method allows for multiple deadlines meaning there is more time to edit and additional opportunities for writers to change leads and stories to emphasize local teams.
The Northwest Herald in Crystal Lake, Ill. takes efforts to emphasize local teams, but its coverage is based online. The paper’s main hub for prep sports is McHenry Country Sports.com, where 18 high schools are featured. There is a weekly sports show, along with online rosters, power rankings, a blog and other exclusive-for-online features.
“The internet opens up possibilities for things we can’t do as print journalists,” said Eric Olson, sports editor at the Northwest Herald.
The paper uses video content to its advantage, bringing it in for different money-making techniques, like special season recap videos after the football season which are promoted as Christmas presents.
John Bednarowski, sports editor of the Marietta Daily Journal, turned football coverage into Cobb Football Friday, a high school football entity that consists of web and print features.
The print edition comes out every Friday during football season and the entity as a whole produces a revenue stream that pays for one-and-a-half staff members for the year.
“Football is king here,” Bednarowski said. “We take high school football to the extreme here.”
Some papers, like the The Williamsport Sun-Gazette focus mainly on special publications and features to push its sports revenue. Its publication for the Little League World Series runs annually and gives the paper a 10 percent circulation boost, said Ben Brigandi sports editor for the Willamsport Sun-Gazette. The publication has long features about athletes along with special sections which show facts such as the farthest hits in the park. They also have a fall football preview which analyzes the upcoming season. This year the preview will have a “Hunger Games” theme, following off the popular book and movie, and include special ads in the section and a 16-part serial of posters. A new portion of the poster will appear in each day’s paper. Later, readers will be encouraged to complete the poster, take pictures with the poster and send it to the paper for publication.
It’s special catches like this that help with advertising, Brigandi said.
“I think it’s important for mock-ups to get advertising on board,” Brigandi said.
Brigandi said these special features are what keeps a newspaper running, that it’s important to have something to engage readers, that they can’t find anywhere else.