How do you give small news businesses and their brands the edge? Simple, you become essential as the "champion of your community", rather than just its watchdog.
This was Jason Jedlinski's answer to a question posed to four speakers during a a session at the World News Media Conference in Glasgow. Senior vice-president and head of consumer products of Gannett's USA Today Network, which he said was not only the country's largest local media group, but also the largest reseller of Google AdWords.
There were three other speakers in the session introduced by president of the USA's Local Media Association Nancy Lane, and while all had a different take on the best way to build readership and reach, they agreed that an innovative "content access strategy" and boosting UX or reader experience was the secret to success.
Jedlinski described how the more than 100 newspapers in his group trialled a range of models to boost digital subscribers, concluding that "not all readers are the same" and that quite small tweaks - such as moving high school sport behind a paywall, or boosting the size of the 'subscribe-here' icon - made a major difference in boosting subscriptions.
Editor in chief and director of content for of Canadian regional group the Brunswick News - and a former Glasgow resident - Wendy Metcalfe has ten daily and weekly newspapers to trial new ideas but is fully in favour of the hard paywall which has been in place for years - long enough for her readers to have never known free news from the publication - and aims to differentiate with the quality of journalism and training of her team.
She quotes that there is 'no sense in being the general at the front with no army behind' of a role which also includes overseeing marketing and customer service. "For a long time, editors trusted their guts in making the choice on what news to run; today the new data available confirms that gut feeling," she said.
In a panel discussion, the two UK-based speakers told Lane that while they agreed on the old saying that necessity was "the mother of invention", the method of reaching the bigger readership numbers goal, and therefore the edge, could be very different.
Founder and director of campaigning site The Ferret, Rachel Hamada described how she had sampled members the previous day to get the latest update on what they wanted and valued as subscribers. "We always get a subscriber spike after we release a transparency report, and we encourage as much feedback as possible via texts and the occasional focus group."
Alison Gow, digital editor-in-chief of Reach (formerly Trinity Mirror Group) describes her role as working on audience targets" around regionals. "We have no paywalls across the group, our sites are free to read online and are supported by advertising sales, which is very challenging today.
"We are about to recruit Facebook (funded) reporters across the group and one of our strengths with our community news brands is that our reporters care as much about bins and rail services as our readers do."
Reach is busy launching additional local platforms in Glasgow, Belfast, Lancashire called Live and the following week would see a new Business Live platform, all designed to "enable us to sell more to advertisers and readers".
Hamada and Gow agreed with Lane that readers of the Spotify generation had a much shorter attention-span and were time-poor - "if they read to the end of a story, we love them," says Gow - and this was a vital factor in planning innovations.
Pictured (top): Jason Jedlinski and Wendy Metcalfe;
Below: Nancy Lane, Rachel Hamada and Alison Gow
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