Nothing Like A Crisis To Shift Your Newspaper Strategies

One of the treats of The Relevance Project is reading NAM-member newsletters that tell success stories.

They inspire me to get out an underliner and notebook to capture the embedded strategies that won the day.

A good recent example is the story of a weekly newspaper in South Dakota that used the pandemic to speed up its digital transformation. The article appeared in the May newsletter of The International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors.

Jeremy Waltner, and his father, Tim Waltner, of the Freeman Courier described how the immediate need for vital health-care information caused them to quickly become a daily news provider.

They had been moving in that direction over a couple of decades, they added. But then BAM, COVID-19 hit and the Waltners went all in.

“As a weekly publication, the speed of reactions and responses from the health care and business community that followed — as well as the schools in our community — far exceeded our Thursday publication schedule,” they wrote.

Rather then stick with the routine, the Waltners met the challenge and changed.

“A once a week print product would have been reflective rather than dynamic,” they wrote. “No other news organization provides this comprehensive information to our community.”

The paper’s web site and its social-media channels formed an update machine, embracing the impact of COVID-19 as “increasingly local.”

The strategy:

Online: Offer immediate updates, daily.

Social: “Enhance that component of our role as an information portal for our community.”

The Freeman Courier’s daily COVID-19 report zeroed in on local impact — number of cases, health-care insights, announcements from schools and organizations, events status and other details.

It was translating the state and county information into local terms that hooked print readers into following the daily updates online.

“Readers could get that information on their own, but they are relying on us to deliver it to them,” the Waltners wrote.
I would add it’s because the community trusted the newspaper, even if it was a new experience for some readers to keep going online for the updates.

The Waltners also were mindful of not abandoning print. They made sure it shifted its strategy as well.

Print’s role was “broader coverage of both the impact of the pandemic on community life as well as information from our health-care community.”

I’m sure strategic shifts are occurring throughout NAM-land during the 2020 shutdown. But let’s tip our thinking caps to the Waltners for telling a great story.

NAM members, please keep sharing success stories. Can’t get enough of them. Better than aspirin.

—TAS

Published by Editor

The Mississippi Press Association is the trade group for 110 member newspapers and affiliated digital media.

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