This year's list of 10 Newspapers That Do It Right recognizes some of the most diverse ideas out there today. From an augmented reality app to a video studio, some of these publications are thinking outside the box, experimenting with strategies and revenue ideas to engage with their audiences. On the other hand, some of them, despite operating with limited staff and resources, are being recognized for doing hard-hitting investigative journalism that produced results and changes in their communities.
Our 10 newspapers, along with the ones listed in our honorable mentions, show that journalism continues to thrive, thanks to bright ideas and bright people. We hope they inspire others to keep up the great work.
Cape Cod Times
Circulation: 22,842 daily; 25,323 Sunday
True to their hometown spirit, reporters at the Cape Cod Times aim to "fish where the fish are, not where the fish aren't." That mantra led the newsroom to start creating engaging projects on the digital realm.
These projects included: Life With Gwen, a lifestyle Facebook program and podcast hybrid; CCT Live, also a hybrid and weekly news roundup; Cape League Corner, a podcast that highlights the summer basketball league in the country; Cape Cod Fun Show, a lighthearted show that highlights activities in town; and Curious Cape Cod, a reader engagement program that allows readers to submit questions and topics online for journalists to investigate and report on.
Executive editor Paul Pronovost said creating these programs gave the newsroom two things: "One, you certainly can reach new audiences or at least an audience in a different way, but two--and perhaps of equal importance--you're developing competencies that you wouldn't have had otherwise in the newsroom."
Some of those newfound skills included how to speak properly, have a good presence on camera, and editing video and audio. Although journalists don't always like to leave behind traditional print things, Pronovost stressed that experimenting in the newsroom and developing new skills as multi-disciplined journalists is important for today's industry.
Their success continued in 2018. Life With Gwen saw hits of 13,103 viewers on one episode alone. Pronovost also mentioned that the Cape Cod Fun Show is something that not only residents and tourists can use as a resource to discover great activities, but he's also heard from people all across the country that enjoy it.
Curious Cape Cod was originally a year-long project parent company GateHouse encouraged them to try in the attempt to find a new way to connect with audiences. Since it launched last June, it has received 75,000 page views, 146 submitted questions and 2,258 votes. Since the results exceeded their expectations, the newspaper decided to continue with it.
Overall, this experimentation and journalism method has resulted in about a 20 percent page view growth, which comes out to about 5 million viewers a month; 5.2 percent user growth; 20,000 podcast downloads; and 22 percent Facebook growth.
"(These projects) basically allowed us to not plateau and to continue to trend upward, and that's been pretty exciting," Pronovost said.
Circulation: 80,000 daily; 132,000 Sunday
In early 2018, Dispatch reporters "pulled back the curtain" on prescription-drug pricing in an innovative series called Side Effects. Editor Alan Miller said while reporting that series, they were able to find one of the biggest obstacles to understanding how the system worked was the cloak of secrecy around it.
"There is a dearth of information available to consumers about the actual cost of drugs, so consumers have no way of knowing whether they are getting a fair price," he said.
Eventually, after months of reporting and developing the trust of sources within the industry and government agencies, reporters were led to the federal government's National Average Drug Acquisition Cost.
Miller said the bulk of the ongoing series was focused on "pharmacy benefit managers," middlemen who are supposed to hold down or reduce costs, but instead, played both ends against the middle and collected billions of dollars in the process.
In addition to publishing the stories in print, a digital component (dispatch.com/sideeffects) also included a drug price database that is updated monthly. Miller said thousands of people have used the look-up tool and readers have responded positively to it.
"This took a commitment from everyone in the newsroom," he said. "We may be smaller and have other responsibilities, but it was important that we rally together."
With projects like Side Effects, Miller said it shows that the paper doesn't have a readership problem, but a revenue problem.
"At the Dispatch, we have more eyeballs than ever reading the stories we produce," he said. "What we need is more revenue, and we, like all other news organizations, are seeking to do that by making ourselves relevant to readers and advertisers--especially in the digital space."
Some of these newer initiatives include: The Good Life, an occasional series in the paper's Life & Arts feature section highlighting the good things people are doing through volunteerism and community service (in 2018, the paper expanded the label to a section on Dispatch.com); a monthly pet page in the features section with a sponsor and other ads to support it in print and online; "Everyday Heroes" program, where heroes from the community are honored and recognized in a magazine-style special section and a special event (revenue comes from advertising, sponsors and ticket sales); Window on the World stage, where local artists are invited to perform in the front window of the Dispatch building; and podcasts, where the Dispatch saw 295,328 digital audio downloads in 2018.
Herald & Review
Circulation: 11,187 daily; 12,651 Sunday
Playing detective has paid off for the reporters at the Herald & Review. By scouring through documents of local elected bodies, reporters were able to connect dots and discovered trends that led to important stories. Central Illinois editor Chris Coates admitted the process may be unglamorous and tedious, but this aggressive approach to a simple strategy has delivered big results.
"In a time of shrinking resources and limited bodies to attend meetings, these documents are goldmines of material that, with the right mindset and patience, can spark meaningful watchdog journalism," he said.
A few examples include: a Macon County Jail report showing there were not enough doctors on call and inadequate medical screenings for new inmates, and a failure to track medical data and no training for new employees, which all emerged from reports from a county justice committee meeting; a shortage of court reporters affecting judicial districts in Central Illinois and across the state, which came from comments made by the chief judge during a committee meeting; and the Decatur School District seeking legal solutions and hiring a consultant after ongoing problems with getting grass to grow on a high school football field that was built in 2014, which tipped off reporters after they read through various school board packets.
Coates, who came to the Herald & Review in 2016, said he was skeptical about the process at first when he noticed regional editor Allison Petty spending a lot of her time looking through minutes from various meetings, but he credited Petty's ability "to spot things" that convinced him that taking the time to dig through these documents was worth it.
"Our newsroom values public service and investigative journalism of all kinds, and public documents are a key part of that strategy," he said. "In the case of minutes and reports, the entries can be a jumping-off point to Freedom of Information requests, more digging and gumshoeing. They are the start of the scent trail ... It starts with knowing what to look for and creating a newsroom culture that loves searching for a hidden gem."
Even as papers chase after digital traffic, Coates said building brand loyalty through in-depth reporting and analysis is just as important as page views.
"We're going after the audience whether that's in print or digital," he said.
By offering impactful journalism, the Herald & Review can provide a service to the community by leading conversations.
Community engagement is the foundation for every newsroom, Coates said.
Circulation: 16,510 Tuesday-Saturday; 19,980 Sunday
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