New Pew report spotlights innovative efforts at four US dailies

On Monday, the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism released a report titled “Newspapers Turning Ideas into Dollars,” which spotlights four US daily newspapers that are finding success through actively rethinking and reworking their business models.

by Brian Veseling | February 13, 2013

The publishers in the four case studies are taking different approaches and the report emphasises the importance of tailoring efforts to match the audience: “Customizing the business model for the community, these newspaper executives say, is a key component of success,” it states.

The report also notes that “the leaders at these papers are risk takers who concluded that the biggest risk was not rethinking their business models.”

Written by Pew’s Mark Jurkowitz, the four in-depth case studies featured in the report are:

– The Naples (Florida) Daily News, which revamped its sales force to have staff focus on business categories that allow them to better relate to their clients and potential clients: “any media organization needs to be customized for the market, the local community. … The retooling of our advertising is seventy percent of our success,” says Publisher Dave Neillin the report.

– The Santa Rosa (California) Press Democrat, which developed a “Media Lab,” a digital agency offering a wide variety of online marketing services to local businesses. Rick Edmonds of Poynter notes in an article about the report: “In my observation, this has fast become one of the industry’s most promising new revenue opportunities. Companies know they need to build out social media capacity and drive traffic to their sites with search engine optimization. They need help, and the local news organization can provide it.”

– The (Salt Lake City, Utah) Deseret News, where former Harvard Business School Professor Clark Gilbert has redeveloped “the entire company, including the newspaper, for a new kind of existence in the digital era.” He views digital and print as separate businesses that need to be managed separately. The report states that Gilbert sees print as a “crocodile, a prehistoric create that survives today, albeit as a smaller animal. … Deseret Digital Media is the mammal, the new life form designed to dominate the future. … He argues that the path ahead does not involve merging the crocodile and mammal cultures, but maintaining them separately.”

– The Columbia (Tennessee) Daily Herald, which has a newsroom staff of just 13, has created a culture of ongoing innovation always on the lookout for “winners” (new revenue streams). Last year, the report says the Daily Herald launched, among others, “a digital subscription program (a metered paywall); a digital agency that provides online marketing services to local merchants; a daily coupon program; an online ticket selling service; a program that puts advertisers on five different print and digital platforms; and a new male-oriented lifestyle magazine. At the same time, the company is working on plans to roll out a real estate publication, develop improved video technology, introduce an e-commerce retail mall on the website and unveil a database marketing project to identify new customers for its advertisers.”

All of these papers have daily circulations below 100,000 and the Daily Herald’s is just under 13,000, and many publishers around the world should be able to relate to their circumstances.

While championing the efforts being made and the results thus far, Jurkowitz is also careful to note that it’s not yet time for anyone to declare victory and clear the field: “these innovations are works in progress and these papers remain vulnerable to the economic disruption that has wreaked havoc on the industry in the past half dozen years and that industry-wide, continues to worsen.”

Commenting on the report on the American Journalism Review websiteRem Rieder concludes: “none of the strategies outlined in the Pew report should be looked at as a blueprint for survival. Solutions, if they are to be found will vary from paper to paper, place to place. But what is valuable is the reminder that there is an alternative to managing in a defensive crouch. If newspapers are to survive in the digital age, they’ll need a bold, innovative, proactive approach.”

If you are a news publisher who is finding successful strategies in adapting to the changing media landscape, we would be interested in hearing more about what you are doing and possibly feature you in one of our upcoming reports, such as Trends in Newsrooms. Feel free to contact either my colleague Emma Goodman or me by email at or

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