Contrary to prevailing trends, it’s not all doom and gloom in the newspaper industry — at least, not for the four papers listed in a new Pew report released on Monday. Titled “Newspapers turning ideas into dollars: Four revenue success stories,” Pew profiled four papers “bucking the trend.” This new report comes after a yearlong effort prompted by “The search for a new business model,” research released by Pew in March of last year.
Pew associate director Mark Jurkowitz said that the four papers profiled were spurred into drastic changes because of the threat of extinction. “Each of these newspapers had suffered severe losses,” Jurkowitz said, “and each had recognized that taking risks was less risky than going down the path they were already on.”
Instead of closing, Florida’s Naples Daily News, California’s Santa Rosa Press Democrat,The Deseret News in Salt Lake City, and The Columbia Daily Herald in Tennessee have all seen revenues improve over the last few years. Each paper generated new revenue in different ways. The Naples Daily News overhauled its sales team to see overall revenue grow in 2011 and 2012. In Santa Rosa, the paper started a media lab to consult with local businesses on marketing strategy, which proved to be lucrative. In Salt Lake City, the company saw a digital revenue growth of 40 percent a year since 2010. And in Tennessee, the publisher tried out multiple new ideas, from paywalls to consulting to new magazines, that grew the digital revenue stream and kept the paper’s annual loss at 2 percent — well below the national average, according to Pew.
While it might be tempting to see these success stories as anomalies at a trying time for the industry, the report identifies several lessons for other papers, too.
“What we distill is that there are central characteristics that can be important for newspapers of all shapes and sizes,” Jurkowitz said. “They are: real leadership, ability to communicate that vision, and commitment to editorial quality. This theory — one that I think will be increasingly debated — is that you’ve got to differentiate yourself. You’ve got to choose what you do, and do it really well.”
The report includes an infographic of the findings and lengthy interviews with the four publishers about strategy and innovation.