Community publishers find syndicated content useful
March 4, 2014
By Stanley Schwartz
Managing Editor | Publishers’ Auxiliary
Community newspapers base their strength and longevity in their local coverage. But with many expanding their digital footprint or special print products, some may find a need for syndicated content.
Publishers’ Auxiliary asked its readers what they thought about using non-local content in their publications and online. When asked if they do use syndicated content, more than half, 58.7 percent, said yes. Of those, 34.7 percent use such content in their special sections. In addition, 6.7 percent use syndicated content on their websites.
“We use very little except that provided through art services in special advertorial sections,” said Steve Dzubay with Rivertown Multimedia in River Falls, WI. “For the purpose of the website reference, I’m considering Learfield News Service, a homespun variation of The Associated Press, as ‘syndicated content.’ It’s our only comprehensive, affordable source for Wisconsin news.”
Of all the various types of syndicated content community newspapers use, the most used is crossword puzzles, 54.3 percent. The next highest is content on seniors, 48.6 percent. Following these two were:
• 47.1% Home improvement.
• 42.9% Other puzzles (Sudoku, etc.).
• 41.4% Holiday & Lawn and Garden
• 40% Family.
• 34.3% Health.
• 32.9% Bridal and Comics.
• 27.1% Parenting.
• 22.9% Automotive.
“We use editorial columns and cartoons, a historical column and I-Stock photos. We also use AP copy in special sections in some of the categories listed above, including food, home improvement and bridal,” said Steve Bagwell with the McMinnville (OR) News-Register.
For their online operations, some of those who answered the survey use the following companies: The Associated Press, SEC Video Network, Fox News Video, Sudoku, Learfield Radio News Feed, King Features, ESPN, AccuWeather, AP Newsfinder, StatePoint Media and Metro Editorial Services.
Asked if their syndicated content use has increased in recent years, more than half, 61.3 percent, of those who answered the survey said use has remained about the same. Twenty-two percent said their use has decreased and 16.3 percent have increased their use of syndicated content.
Readers were asked if and how syndicated content has benefitted their newspaper.
“King Features’ Super Crossword is beloved by our readers. They say it is the best puzzle out there, and they scream and holler if we leave it out,” said Gloria Trotter, with The Countrywide News in Techumseh, OK.
“It’s hard to put an exact finger on how syndicated content benefits our products, but there’s no doubt it does. From comics to Dear Abby to puzzles to Metro to Parade to Relish, our readers in print and online see this content as part of their Statesboro Herald reading experience,” said Jim Healy with the Statesboro (GA) Herald.
“Family Features, we feel, does a great job providing advertorial copy that can be tweaked to fit our needs. It’s not blatant advertorial, and the food features, especially, mention items that stores in our community handle,” said Willis Mahannah with the West Point (NE) News.
“We get calls when there’s an inserting error and a subscriber misses American Profile. It probably is a circulation-retention tool,” said Matt Paxton with The News Gazette in Lexington, VA.
Not all the responses were positive toward syndicated content.
“I believe that not using syndicated materials is a big reason our papers have continued to thrive,” said Tom Mullen with Harvest Moon Inc. in Philipsburg, MT.
Readers were also asked what types of syndicated content they found difficult to find or that would be valuable.
Mentioned were liberal columnists, political columns, articles aimed at rural populations, free comics, time specific features, health columns that don’t sell products, fishing, free stock photos, localized opinion columns and coverage of their state legislatures.
When asked what publishers wanted to say directly to vendors of syndicated content, many said it was important to keep costs to community papers low. They thought costs were either too high or the prices continued to jump year after year. Others thought columns were too long or talked too much about specific products. Space in community newspapers is at a premium, and publishers always give local content top priority.
“We pay for a lot of stuff we never use. I’d like to be able to order a more customized package. We also need a wider selection of opinion material, columns and cartoons, to cover liberals, conservatives and in between,” said Kim Ross-Polito with the Crestline (OH) Advocate.
“Try to focus on trends and more specific issues. Some of this stuff looks like it’s been rehashed since the ’80s,” said Katie Rohman with the Enterprise Publishing Co. in Blair, NE.
More Conent Survey Answers Below:
Do you use syndicated content? If so, please check all that apply.
|In our paper||
|In our special sections||
|on our website||
|We also use it in our paper and on our webiste, but it's not allowing me to check those.|
|We use very little except that provided through art services in special advertorial sections.For the purpose of the web site reference, I'm considering Learfield News Service, a homespun variation of the
AP, as "syndicated content". It's our only comprehensive, affordable source for Wisconsin news.
|paper, special sections|
|On our website.|
|All of the above|
|In paper and special sections; would not allow me to click both above|
|on our website and sometimes in the regular paper -your survey wouldn't let me check both.|
|We don't use any except for perhaps a special section of truly unique material once or twice a year.|
|In our paper at times....|
|No not use|
Do you pay for syndicated content?
If not, why not?
|We only use syndicated content on occasion and explain up front we cannot pay for it; therefore, we ask for one-time permission for free.|
|We don't use syndicated content|
|It's not in our budget and there is plenty of free available.|
|We have a small budget to work with. The cost of syndicated work for the small amount that we use in a year does not equate.|
|Depends on the use, with some provided free (health care, food, travel) and others at a small cost.|
|Don't need to.|
|No budget for it|
|We are all local - I was trained that's why people subscribe to community newspapers - we're the only ones who care about the community and we care about nothing else.|
|I can find basic things I need for free.|
|We use free material|
|Beyond Learfield, some of the editorial content offered by MultiAd for special advertising sections is about all we utilize for our community newspapers.|
|Some people contribute for the audience--patent attorney supplies patents weekly|
|We pay for some and access items that are free|
|AP Newsfinder. Also considering adding King Features for editorial page content.|
|some is free of charge|
|King Features, yes. Everything else no. Too much free stuff out there now to pay especially since it is used on a limited basis.|
|We have a very large staff and produce 80 pages or more of our own copy every week.|
|Only indirectly through Metro|
|I do not normally have the budget for such things.|
|free content is acceptable for current needs|
|We have plenty without paying for it|
|I only pay sometimes, i really have to like the articles and it needs to fit in with what we are doing|
|Mostly no... We have paid for some content. We find the advertorial content is often better than the stories we could afford to pay for|
Please check the types of syndicated information you have used in the past year.
|Lawn and Garden||
|Other puzzles (Sudoku, e.g.)||
|General news pertaining to Nebraska and South Daktoa|
|advertising graphics, content|
|humorous column- It's the Pitts and Humor Hotel|
|Political commentary, current news|
|Editorial Cartoon -- Doodles (Barry McWilliams)
Advertising Ideas -- Newspaper Toolbox
|3 political columns, 1 editorial cartoon, 1 outdoor sports column (hunting, fishing etc), 1 religious col.,|
|laws, suduko, legal news, court cases etc
|Veterans affairs. Hobbies, such as collecting. Editorial cartoons. Opinion columns. Trivia column. Filler.|
|Editorial cartoon and columns|
|We use a limited amount of non-staff prepared materials for our Car Care and Home Improvement promotions and Tax Guide.|
|We use editorial columns and cartoons, a historical column and I-Stock photos. We also use AP copy in special sections in some of the categories listed above, including food, home improvement and bridal.|
|I consider inserting American Profile, Athlon Sports and Spry magazines to be syndicated content.|
|Nebraska AP news and Washington news|
Which syndicated content providers have you used?
|Athlon Media Group||
|Content that Works||
|Electronic Color (ECE)||0.0%|
|Farago & Associates||0.0%|
|Green Shoot Media||
|King Weekly Features||
|Metro Editorial Services/Metro Creative Graphics||
|Universal Press Syndicate 10.8%|
Please list others you have used.
|Washington Post Writers Group|
|individual within Georgia|
|News services AP, The New York Times|
|not sure, but I think I checked the correct ones we have used over the years|
|California Focus, Thomas E. Elias, columnist.|
|Most are self-syndicated|
|Serials from Missouri Press|
|Learfield Data, Madison, Wis.|
|Christian Science Monitor|
Tribune Content Agency
Washington Post Company
|Iowa State University Extension Information Service|
|syndicated editorial cartoonists|
|Jim Powell Cartoons|
|Cagle cartoons and columnists
Tribune Media Services columnists
|Unknown which ones we have used|
What online syndicated content have you used?
SEC Video Network
Fox News Video
|only free content provided by our website host|
|comics, puzzles package|
|Learfield's radio news feeds|
|None. But we do upload King Features online.|
|Columns in the past. Only cartoons anymore.|
|Home Improvement, Car Care and Tax Services|
|Metro Editorial Services|
In recent years has your use of syndicated content ...
|Stayed about the same||
|Can't afford to do much, and actually don't need any more.|
|More diversity in our content|
|We have certain times of the year and special editions that lend themselves to syndicated content that we then use and customize to make fit for our needs.|
|trying to hold the line on costs. Have considered cutting the use to save money on several occasions, but it often provides the extra news percentage to meet the USPS regulations, while giving our readers something extra.|
|smaller news hole|
|We do more special sections.|
|use varies by edition, balance|
Need more local content
|To provide one more viewpoint on issues of the day.|
|See #2 above.|
|We assume our very mobile readers can access most any content they like via the web. We only use syndicated stuff when we can add value by localizing it.|
|The content has changed, but volume is about the same - minimal. We strive for local news coverage, knowing our readers enjoy puzzles.|
|We're a small weekly with limited space. Typically we have plenty of local news.|
|We have a large editorial staff and they produce all of our content both for the newspapers and the special sections. We purchase only one syndicated column - Click and Clack - and our puzzles and TV listings- from syndicates|
|We went from a twice a week to a once a week paper.|
|Better designed space in newspaper|
|Usually the same number of special sections each year. We first try for advertiser supplied content in the special sections but fill in with syndicated content.|
|Cost-benefit ratio, need to cut costs. We have reduced out outlay for syndicated copy substantially. We eliminated TV listings entirely, and cut back in other areas pretty sharply.|
|# of pages has decreased||.|
|We partnered with BENN for our website and they include some syndicated content as part of the deal.|
|Only room for so much content. Like to make as local as possible before going to state news.|
|Our newpaper sections that utilize them have not changed much.|
|Fewer pages, local news emphasis|
|We are satisfied with what we use.|
|Strive to have mostly local content.|
|We try to use only local news/content and only resort to syndicated content (with the exception of puzzles/comics) when we have to go up pages or run totally out of copy, which is not often.|
|Again going from none to none is "the same"|
|We do not have the budget for such things.|
|To help sell special sections . . . I lay 'm out before and the ad reps take sections out with ad spots open to sell.|
|We've "never" used it but found that for special sections we could use small items from Metro.|
|More localized content produced in-house|
|We concentrate on local news and events, leaving little room for syndicated content|
|MORE SPECIAL PUBS|
|Budget cuts means one less reporter on an already thin weekly staff|
Do you have any success stories you can share about how using syndicated content either free or paid has benefited your paper?
|King Features' Super Crossword is beloved by our readers. They say it is the best puzzle out there, and they scream and holler if we leave it out.|
|I know our readers enjoy Baxter Black and Dave Ramsey, along with advice columns.|
|No, hardly any feedback|
|It's hard to put an exact finger on how syndicated content benfits our products, but there's no doubt it does. From comics to Dear Abby to puzzles to Metro to Parade to Relish, our readers in print and online see this content as part of their Statesboro Herald reading experience.|
|Yes fills papges of special sections and saves us time and $$- our reporters cannot write enough local stories to fill 8-12 page sections every month- we usually do 2 local features for each section.|
|reader feedback positive|
|I can't pinpoint it, but certain clumnists have their loyal readers. We pulled one column but returned it after people protested.|
|Yes. I believe that NOT using syndicated materials is a big reason our papers have continued to thrive.|
|Our particular geographic location in Wisconsin is 30miles from metropolitan Minneapolis-St.Paul and 250 from Madison -- our capitol city that plays a large role in setting the state's news agenda. Learfield's offerings allow us to show web readers a snapshot of Wisconsin daily that they could only otherwise obtain by subscribing to an online newspaper from downstate.|
|It is a great backup and content you can trust|
|It allows us access to in depth news on national topics such as healthcare. This, in addition to local coverage, helps our readers be more informed.|
|We know that the crossword puzzle is very popular and that there are still a few folks who use a print TV guide (hard to believe isn't it?) If we mess them up - wrong answers, wrong listings - we hear about it IMMEDIATELY|
|We've had a lot of success with some of our columns, and I think editorial cartoons are valued.|
|It especially helps us with special sections.|
|We get calls when there's an inserting error and a subscriber misses American Profile. It probably is a circulation-retention tool.|
|We get comments that our addition of AP content helps people stay informed about state news.|
|They have helped us fill space on many an occasion.|
|Most readers do not know that it is not original content, even though we do source it, so we benefit from the "look" of a larger staff. We have gotten calls to complement us on our coverage.|
|I had a reader request a KenKen puzzle, which I'd never heard of. It turned out that KenKen is a trademark, but I got that kind of puzzle under another name free of charge from the guy who runs the website calcudoku.org. The reader was impressed.
Also, I get editorial cartoons via Cagle from The Times-Tribune of Scranton about Pennsylvania. The Scranton paper is far enough away that we aren't competitors, but since many of the cartoons are about state government and politics, they're of interest around here.
|Kids page helps with NIE effort.
When we put in the wrong crossword puzzle, we had a rash of complaints, so we photocopied correct ones for readers to take home.
|Quite the opposite. The more local content we have the better read the piece is.|
|My editorial staff is happy I am not bothering them as much, and we have been able to get a few grand extra a month in advertising using free content.|
|NOT OUR NEWSPAPER, BUT THE FOOD STORIES WITH RECIPES IN OUR SPECIALS ARE VERY POPULAR|
|Family Features, we feel, does a great job providing advertorial copy that can be tweaked to fit our needs. It's not blatant advertorial, and the food features, especially, mention items that stores in our community handle.|
|Recipes especially popular around the holidays.|
What types of syndicated content do you find difficult to find that would be valuable to you?
|Articles aimed at a rural population|
|more home décor, more pet, more Chrsitmas|
|Time specific features|
|Crosswords, editorial cartoons|
|I haven't really looked, but a health column that isn't trying to sell goods would be good, like Dr. Oz.|
|More in-depth Wisconsin statehouse coverage.|
|cartoons--tried one of the people at NNA meeting--he never followed through|
|Free stock photos of high quality.|
|It's not difficult to find. It's just difficult to afford.|
|Opinion columns for my editorial page.|
|Coverage of N.C. General Assembly|
|Localized coverage of state capitol, U.S. capital representatives. Most is general, and we cannot compete with AP and the dailies.|
|We need photos that are in public domain more than anything. We can't pay copyright fees and trying to obtain the photographer's permission on deadline is insane.|
|Home improvement, lawn and garden and bridal|
|Content about filing taxes would be useful. Wedding content, but more specific — not generalized stuff. Focus on trends.|
|Highland (local) news|
|MOTHER'S DAY, VALENTINE'S DAY, EARTH DAY|
|Agriculture related stories that fit our area|
|Quality stories that are not disguised advertorials.|
What would you like to say to vendors about syndicated content?
|They have to make it affordable to small weeklies, and if it's free, it has be "clean" of product promotion.|
|Most of the opinion columns we receive are way too long. They're going to need 100 - 300 words edited out to fit space.|
|print delivery expense on line item charges are a joke. everything is web downloaded, those prices need to disappear or be cut to next to nothing.|
|more home décor, more pet, more Chrsitmas without too much advertorial content.|
|most are over priced for our market|
|Keep prices low.|
|Don't keep jacking up the prices. Maybe you would sell more columns to more subscribers if the prices didn't continue to rise.|
|We are looking for quality written content that we can localize with a few quotes and a custom introduction. When the content gets too vague or is poorly written we have a hard time utilizing the information.|
|If its good, up to date, and on a topic that is current it can be very useful|
|We pay for a lot of stuff we never use. I'd like to be able to order a more customized package. Also need wider selection of opinion material, columns and cartoons, to cover liberals, conservatives and in between.|
|It must be non-commercial.|
|We generally use content that has no featured brand-name products unless the product is featured in an ad that a local merchant has placed. For example, a Home Improvement section might have a local dealer featuring GE refrigerators so if we have an article about appliances, we might use syndicated copy with some local quotes thrown in.|
|Quit raising rates.|
|Sorry, but our budget is extremely limited and there is no sign of relief on the horizon.|
|Avoid content that is more advertorial than informational (some specify brands)|
|Write your stories well and as tight as possbile. Provide more variety in photos for the stories.|
|Syndicated content with brand name products mentioned will not be used.|
|Needs to be cost effective. That's why we're looking at King.|
|Thank you for your contributons|
|Make it more affordable. Small weeklies have limited budgets and would be more amenable to using content if it was indeed affordable. $25 a week is $100 a month, and that's a lot of money when you have none to spare.|
|Get much more specific - Super Bowl section material or presidential election material. New car package.|
|You've got a tough sell.|
|think of the reader as much or more than the customer they are trying to promote . . . readers see thru advertorials.|
|Try to focus on trends and more specific issues. Some of this stuff looks like it's been rehashed since the '80s.|
|Keep it short, to th point and provide photos or art|
|COVER ALL THE HOLIDAYS, NOT JUST THE BIG ONES|
|A lot of papers are small, community papers and shy away from mention of big box stores in the copy. Our advertisers aren't associated with big companies, so we like to keep it local rather than drive customers out of town|
|Keep content fresh, interesting and up-to-date.|