This year, we revamped our annual list of 10 Newspapers That Do It Right to 10 News Publishers That Do It Right. Our nomination form stated: "As our news industry grows and expands beyond paper, we want to profile not just newspapers, but all news publishers that are doing exciting things at their companies." So, for the first time, we invited news publishers--across all platforms--to send in a nomination. We heard back from 70 news outlets around the world, and we're proud to introduce the 10 news publishers (along with our honorable mentions) that made the list this year. As you read about each of them, we hope you're inspired and encouraged about the bright and creative ideas taking place around our industry.
Caption: Reporter Richard Ruelas (right), who led the reporting on the Don Bolles project, confers with former reporter Chuck Kelly about a file in a stash of Bolles' records.
Caption: The filing cabinets contained a combination of notes, published papers and audio recordings from Bolles' era.
Arizona Republic Phoenix, Ariz.
As more newspapers incorporate new media into their storytelling, the Arizona Republic took a slightly different approach.
"Think about new media first rather than as an addition," said Josh Susong, director of investigations and enterprise.
Although the mentality isn't new in the Republic newsroom (it won a Pulitzer Prize in 2018 for "The Wall," a multimedia report about President Trump's proposed border wall told through a collection of stories, documentary videos, a podcast series, and even virtual reality), the same strategy was used for two recent projects.
In November 2019, the Republic released a six-part podcast called "Rediscovering Don Bolles: A Murdered Journalist." Bolles was an investigative reporter for the Republic in the 1960s and 1970s, who was killed in a car bomb in 1976 because of his reporting on the Mafia and corruption in Arizona.
What made this podcast unique was that listeners could actually hear Bolles' own voice tell his story (43 years after his death), thanks to a discovery of old filing cabinets that contained audiocassettes belonging to Bolles and filled with many hours of his notes and reporting. Narrated by Republic reporter Richard Ruelas, the series follows the investigative work of Bolles, what led up to his murder, and the aftermath.
"When we found the tapes, we knew it was imperative we gave Don Bolles a chance to tell his story," executive editor Greg Burton said. "Podcasts didn't exist when he was a reporter ... and even 10 years ago, (podcasts) were not there, so this was a way to present this story in a new, interactive way."
In addition to podcasting, the Republic continued to produce documentary films. Their third longform film took two years to make. Titled "They Have Names," the film followed five families though the child welfare system. According to Susong, the first showing last November sold out at a 250-seat venue and continued to draw in 200-300 people at future viewings.
"It was rewarding to be in the room and see hundreds of people reacting to it," Susong said. "When you get to watch people's reaction--the laughs, the claps, the gasps--it's unlike anything else in journalism."
Burton said the Republic is always experimenting, but underneath all the visuals and technology, "the story is the core."
"Whether it's in print or digital, if you put the great work out there, you will find the audience," he said.--NY
Caption: After the "They Have Names" movie premiere, a panel discussion includes investigative editor Michael Squires, reporter and co-director Mary Jo Pitzl, movie subjects Marguerite McCray and Autumn Wilson, and videographer and co-director David Wallace.
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Little Rock, Ark.
In 2018, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette was faced with the reality that the newspaper was going to have its first unprofitable year in two decades. But instead of cutting content, resources or staff, publisher Walter E. Hussman Jr. sought to do something big and bold to keep the newspaper afloat.
Hussman realized that out of their 100,000 home delivery subscribers, about 4,000 of them were using the digital replica. By utilizing this feature, Hussman hoped the Democrat-Gazette could remain a statewide newspaper.
However, it took some work to find the right formula to make this idea work. The Democrat-Gazette had tried a couple of approaches that didn't pan out, such as knocking on doors and asking subscribers to read the digital edition on their own devices. Just when they were ready to move on from the idea, Hussman decided to try one more time in the community of Blytheville, Ark., home to 200 Democrat-Gazette subscribers.
The Democrat-Gazette would give those subscribers an $800,13-inch iPad if they kept subscribing (should a reader end their subscription the iPad would need to be returned). In addition, the Democrat-Gazette showered subscribers with customer service-going as far as to make house calls to show them how to set up their new iPad. Out of the 200 subscribers, 140 took them up on the offer.
Using a projected income statement, the Democrat-Gazette found a subscription price of $34/month would be successful throughout the state. With this information, the Democrat-Gazette moved from town to town, pitching the idea. However, at $800 an iPad, costs eventually began to soar, and a new plan was needed. Ultimately, the Democrat-Gazette switched to a $350 iPad, which cut the capital cost by 50 percent. In addition, a combined deal of the digital edition and Sunday print edition was also introduced.
The iPad experiment was distributed in 63 counties with 79 percent of subscribers converting to this plan. Other subscribers either opted in for only the Sunday print edition or opted out of the free iPad in favor of their own device. All subscribers still just pay $34/month.
But how does their iPad project differ from other media companies that have tried giving out tablets to readers?
"Some things have changed," Hussman said. "Number one, a lot more people in America have high-speed internet today than they did nine years ago (and) the iPad is a much more accepted and familiar product. Here's the other thing, nine years ago people didn't think, 'Oh, if I don't go to this (digital) replica the newspaper is going to go out of business.'"
Following the Democrat-Gazette's success with the iPad, the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette will also be converting to the same digital with Sunday print model. Hussman hopes to have all 12 counties in that area converted by this summer.--EM
Caption: Walter E. Hussman Jr., publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, speaks to the Mountain Home Rotary Club about the digital replica.
Caption: The Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette customer service team holds an iPad training session in Clarksville, Ark.
Chicago Sun-Times Chicago. III.
Although the story of the Chicago Sun-Times begins in 1948, a new chapter began at the newspaper in 2017 when Tribune Publishing (then known as Tronc) had plans to acquire the Sun-Times, but were outbid by a coalition of labor unions and philanthropists.
Since then, the Sun-Times has been working on revamping its newsroom through several initiatives and projects, specifically when it comes to digital. Recently, the newsroom rebranded both their print and digital offerings to make them feel more polished and cohesive as well as launched digital subscriptions.
The Sun-Times also wanted to find a new CMS. They chose Vox Media's Chorus platform in May 2019 becoming the first newspaper to move its website to the platform. Sun-Times chief digital strategist Matt Watson explained it was an opportunity to regroup existing sections and add sub-navigation menus on specific sections. Additionally, years of content was restored online after being removed due to several CMS migrations in the previous decade. Watson said the overall website experience is significantly faster and more stable now.
Video and podcasting are also booming enterprises for the Sun-Times. In 2019, the company saw nearly 900,000 podcast downloads, and as of January this year, there is a 109 percent increase in video views, 167 percent increase in YouTube subscribers, and 137 percent increase in watch time.
As for podcasting, "The Ben Joravsky Show," which launched in February 2019, is the product of a partnership between the Sun-Times and the alt-weekly Chicago Reader, and takes a deep dive into Chicago and Illinois news. The Sun-Times also launched several other popular podcasts including: "Halas Intrigue," a Chicago...