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News / Clark County News

From the Newsroom: Journalism ideas make sense

By Craig Brown, Columbian Editor
Published: October 7, 2023, 6:03am

I don’t know about other lines of work, but in journalism, there are a lot of trade publications. These trade publications are always full of ideas about how to pivot from printed newspapers to online journalism, the choice of younger consumers.

As an editor, I get that. But as a baby boomer, I still like to read printed newspapers. There are still lots of readers like me.

We are going to be in this hybrid digital/print world for several more years. So the question is how do we serve all our audiences — in other words, how do we meet our customers where they want to find us?

That leads us back to the trade publications. I was struck this week by an article from a group called the Lenfest Institute, a Philadelphia-based foundation that, in its words, “provides grant funding, runs training programs, and synthesizes best practices to develop and disseminate sustainable solutions to the business challenges facing local news providers.”

This week Lenfest distributed an article summarizing its recent “Beyond Print” meeting of 20 news organizations, co-sponsored by the American Press Institute, another trade group. Participants met in Detroit to “share practices for shifting from print to digital revenue models while growing their customer bases.”

Although I work in the newsroom, not in the advertising or circulation departments, I was interested in the top four tips that came out of the meeting and thought you would be, too. I can see some of those ideas already in play at The Columbian.

The first tip is to provide 1-on-1 customer service to print readers making the transition to digital. This is often triggered by newspapers that do away with delivery of printed newspapers, or drop most print days. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution sent people to subscribers’ homes to teach them how to read the news on their own digital devices, or, in some cases, even loaned them an electronic tablet. The Salt Lake Tribune opened a call center to help new digital readers.

At The Columbian, we aren’t loaning electronics or sending representatives to customers’ homes, but our circulation customer service representatives are trained and able to help customers set up their digital accounts and walk them through how to use them to get the news. If you have questions, call us!

Lenfest’s second tip is to develop new brands and products to engage existing audiences and attract new subscribers. In Atlanta, the AJC developed an entertainment and lifestyle brand for younger audiences, and created a free newsletter serving the Black community.

We’ve done some things, too. Our sports team works very hard to shoot video and post it online. We offer a weekly prep sports podcast during the school year. Our newsroom offers seven free newsletters, which have attracted tens of thousands of subscribers. We’ve added some community events, and are actively working on a couple of new products I am eager to tell you about when the time comes.

The third tip from the Lenfest conference is to look at delivering newspapers via the U.S. Mail. This has been an increasingly important strategy for us over the last couple of years. The local labor market is very tight. It’s been impossible to find enough reliable carriers. So we’ve moved many paper routes to mail delivery — so many that we decided to publish our biggest paper on Saturdays. That way postal customers can get it on the weekend.

The final tip is to try to be transparent about changes and communicate with customers. I think this is very important, and that’s why I write this column. The world of local journalism has changed more in the last 20 years than it did in the entire 20th century.

We are living in a digital world, and that isn’t changing. It’s up to journalism to change. But we need to do it with respect for the print audience that has sustained us all of these years.