Survey: Majority of papers use outside content

June 5, 2012

By Stanley Schwartz
Managing Editor | Publishers’ Auxiliary
The majority of newspapers that answered a recent National Newspaper Association survey, 83 percent, said they use outside content in their publications.
Fifty-seven percent of those who took NNA’s informal survey said that they pay for such content. Of those who do not pay for outside content, only six said they might pay for such items in the future. But that would only happen if they were faced with staff reductions or needed articles in areas they do not currently cover. The quality of reporting would also be a factor as well as the relevance to their communities.
Of those who do use outside content, few said it was necessary for that content to come from a syndicated source—19.5 percent.
All the newspapers that answered the survey said they use photos and stories submitted by people in their communities.
“We cover only local news that is related to our coverage area. We have a different page of the week, too,” said Barbara Hardt with Apex Publishing LLC. “One week it is health and wellness, another it is local area history. We find local like-minded businesses that sponsor these pages and we put their ad in for them in exchange.”
Other publications evaluate the quality and newsworthiness of the submissions and weigh that against the available space on the pages. Some look at how relevant the subject matter is to the community. There are publications that use weekly columns from the highway patrol and local museums. Community events are good places for user-generated content, especially from those most closely involved to what’s happening.
One publication has a weekly commentary slot that it fills with locally-invited writers. Many times, the stories submitted have to be rewritten or supplemented with information provided by the paper. Fact checking on submitted items is extremely important, said several of the respondents.
Few of the respondents, 27 percent, said they offer some type of training to people who submit photos and stories. Of those who do offer training, some provide written guidelines or journalistic rules. One publication has a monthly mentoring luncheon, where handouts are provided and people may ask questions of the editor. Also, one paper has found current employees from its pool of local submitters.
A number of publications that answered the survey have found and utilized free content. Most mentioned Family Features, ARA Content and as sources for this content. Others have found free content from local clubs and agencies, the Rural Blog, state parks and recreation centers, local Boy Scouts and Girl Scout clubs, state transportation departments, community colleges as well as state universities, local churches, 4-H clubs, state legislators, school districts, non-profit organizations, cooperative extension services, etc.
At least half, 50 percent of those who responded to the survey said they have had success tying outside content to revenue building.
The majority of those answering this question said they use themed sections and sell ads around those themes.

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