I suppose any time is the right time to look over your newspaper operation and search for ways to make improvements, but the beginning of the year seems especially appropriate for such a task.
As I sat at my trusted keyboard to begin, I sent a note out to newspaper friends throughout North America to ask for their suggestions. Let me share a few of those first:
Tom in Mississippi wrote: "Do what you do best the most. Fulfill your purpose to your community."
Tom makes a great point. In study after study, we've learned it's all about community. Successful community papers remain focused on local stories.
Look over your newspaper with the rest of your staff. How did you do in 2017? How can you be even more involved in your community in 2018?
Karen from Tennessee writes, "Why not try something new this coming year or replace an outdated tradition?"
Tradition is a good thing. Sociologists tell us it's an important factor in binding families and groups together.
Author Frank Sonnenberg wrote, "Tradition contributes a sense of comfort and belonging. It brings families together and enables people to reconnect with friends."
When I speak on the topic of "Getting People to Pick Up Your Paper," I remind listeners of the importance of building trust in our communities. One of the ways we build trust is by creating traditions in our newspapers.
However, Karen is right. The new year is the perfect time to look over our papers and ask ourselves which traditions build trust with our communities and which ones would be best left behind.
My son and I have taken an annual "Walk across Knoxville" each year on Labor Day. As he has grown into a young adult, it's become obvious the tradition doesn't fit neatly into his schedule due to changing obligations, as well as a greater number of options available to a young adult. So this year, I let it go. He went to DragonCon, dressed as the Joker, and had the time of his life.
We'll walk across the city again, but it doesn't have to be on Labor Day. Much like a newspaper, we'll adjust to better fit our current lifestyles.
Gary in Missouri added the new year is a good time to take a look at your online presence. Find ways, we wrote, "to turn your website into a revenue stream rather than a revenue drain."
When's the last time you took a good look at your website? Does it represent your newspaper in a positive way? I would suggest your gather a group together once a year, and the start of the year is as good a time as any, and look over your digital presence.
Mark from South Carolina wrote the beginning of the year is a good time to go through old newspapers and find great stories to reprint. "Great stories are still great stories!" Mark added.
From Amanda from Tennessee, "My dad always suggested we go through papers from the previous year and pick out certain events that are reoccurring and mark them on calendar. We tend to get so busy sometimes that we miss things."
That's a great checklist item, Amanda. Go through your pages from 2017. What are some events you want to be sure and cover in 2018? Put those down on a calendar.
Did you cover any stories that would make good follow-up stories in 2018? Put those on the calendar. Who are advertisers that were running in early 2017 that aren't in your most recent issues? Make a point to give them a call. We can garner a wealth of information by looking through pages from the past year.
Christina from Missouri advises, "Delete files. I do that at the beginning of every year. I often go back and find files five or more years old I don't need anymore."
That's a great idea, Christina. Bulky hard drives really slowly down a computer's performance. Let's take it a step further, though. In addition to outdated files, go through your computer and uninstall applications you no longer use. I did this on my desktop last week and found more than 20 applications to throw away. They add up quickly.
Okay, now for my list
My friends made my job easy, leaving just a little space for my checklist of to-do items as we kick off 2018 at our newspapers:
• Create focus groups by inviting readers and non-readers to look over your newspaper as a group and make suggestions.
• Strategise staff training. Everyone needs training from time to time to improve skills and provide motivation. The first of the year is a good time to look through your newspaper staff and see what types of training would be most beneficial.
• Go through your list of advertisers. Who hasn't run an ad in six months? Studies indicate it's 20 times as easy to bring back an old customer than to recruit a new one.
• Go through your list of subscribers. Your efforts may be more fruitful if you focus on getting former readers to return before gaining new subscribers.
• Do an equipment inventory. Do you have computers, software or other equipment that is slowing down your production process? Now is a good time to begin planning to replace outdated equipment.
It's a short list, but if you accomplish just one or two of these checklist items you'll be well on your way to improving your newspaper's outlook for 2018 and beyond.
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