You only get back as much as you give

May 1, 2015

Building circulationwith better content

By Peter W.Wagner
Publisher | N’West Iowa REVIEW, Sheldon, IA

I admit it! I still believe there is a profitable future and great need for locally printed community newspapers. So much so, our family corporation purchased another N’West Iowa newspaper this past month.

Those of us in the industry regularly hear about amazing new electronic formats and platforms that promise to rule the future. But before they have the opportunity to get established, more than a few are outdated by improved formats.

It isn’t the platform that’s important. Electronic or print, the building and maintaining of circulation is dependent on quality content. News providers, especially printed newspapers, must offer subscribers a good variety of fresh, credible, unique, well-crafted, worthwhile local information to succeed.

Circulation growth depends on being the community’s most dependable source when residents ask the questions “who, what, where, when, why and how?” Newspapers provide the breaking news and the story behind the story, too.

Who is running for city council, for example, and what experience does he or she bring to the mix? Who caught the winning, last-minute pass that saved the homecoming game? When is the town’s new factory going to open, and how many employees are they hiring?

Community newspapers are the first writers of history. They are the most respected and referred source when researchers are checking family, community and local school history.

Great local newspapers inform, entertain, guide, cheerlead and educate their subscribers. They are the powerful creators of community consensus when it is time to vote on a bond issue or select a new mayor.

Chuck Palahniuk, author of “Fight Club” shared “The best advice for writers is: Have your adventures, make your mistakes and choose your friends poorly. All these make for great stories.”

But if they want to hold onto current subscribers—and gain new ones—community newspapers must overcome six perceived disadvantages:

1. That printed newspapers are only valued by older readers. The fact is a growing number of millennials are turning to their local newspaper for “news they can use” while on dates or gathering around the water cooler.

2. That most newspaper articles are boring. Good writers and reporters need to have a passion for their profession, providing readers a direct, narrative approach to reporting.

3. That reporting is unbalanced when most articles are fair and balanced and personal commentary is usually identified as an editorial or column.

4. That newspapers are inconvenient to hold and read. But unlike the Internet, newspapers are pre-organized by department, and the most worthy stories are emphasized by location on the page and the size of the headline.

5. That newspapers cost money while websites are free. True, but I remember when my family could subscribe to cable TV for $14.95 a month. Eventually, everything connected to a cord costs more dollars. Even Facebook is looking for ways to charge businesses and users to post information and read the updates.

6. That the increased overhead needed to produce printed newspapers—larger staff, big buildings, presses, newsprint, etc.—is smartly balanced by the leadership and fact-checking newspapers provide.

Still, providing quality content requires commitment and dedication. Here are a few of the better content suggestions shared in my newest convention and group conference program, “Minding Your p’s and q’s”:

It’s good to remember that in news stories, shorter is better. Just because a reporter spends two or three hours at a council meeting doesn’t mean the paper has to run a 32-inch story. Remember, details can often be better reported in a creative graphic.

For greater community involvement, establish a reader board. Invite and then rotate a group of subscribers and non-subscribers to regularly evaluate your newspaper by reviewing content, identifying potential stories and pointing out gaps in coverage.

Remember, good photos often help tell the story and draw readers into the page. Run the best ones big and in color when possible. Photos are visual, emotional and connect the reader with the story.

Finally, don’t be afraid to cover upcoming major events before they happen. Doing so will build reader interest in the event and put you ahead of the competition. Feature historic and file photos and creative informative graphics to give the story life.

Merchants know they can’t sell from an empty store. Editors and publishers must understand they can’t sell circulation with an “empty” paper. © Peter W. Wagner 2015


Peter W. Wagner is publisher of the award winning N’West Iowa REVIEW and 14 other publications. He’s often called “Print Advertising’s Idea Man” and is a regular presenter at state press association and publishing group conventions and seminars. You can contact him regarding “Watch your p’s and q’s”, “100 Ideas for Fun and Profit”, “Selling Print Advertising the Wagner Way” and other programs at or by calling his cell, 712-348-3550 anytime.

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