The Future of Neighborhood Newspapers: What If They Acted Like TV News?

By Paul Greeley

I recently met with the editor of a weekly neighborhood newspaper to discuss dwindling print circulation and ad sales, web site and social media usage and the demand from corporate to push digital to replace print. The weekly is part of a large newspaper group that reaches readers in 10 states and has recently declared bankruptcy.

As a consumer of the weekly’s website and a local TV news professional, I didn’t report the news; I promoted it, but in so doing spent almost all of my time in the newsroom working alongside journalists—I offered the editor the following opinions, observations and suggestions.

What if newspapers thought of themselves as local TV news operations? Their websites could function like local TV stations, i.e., all video stories, (with the printed version available for those who want to read the story).

What if newspaper reporters went out and covered news stories just like their TV one-man band counter-parts? Shoot interviews, do stand-ups, get b-roll? Tell the story. What I see on many of the weekly newspaper sites I visit are just snippets of the story, usually just an interview, no semblance of story-telling, no reporter involvement, context, or narration. There is NO reason that the video news stories on newspaper web sites can’t be as well-written and edited, polished and produced as what we see on local TV stations.

What if newspapers valued good audio? The audio on many of the videos is often awful. I learned from the weekly newspaper editor that the reporters are, for the most part, shooting their video with a Flip camera, which, like shooting video with your phone, has no input for any external audio. You can buy high-quality HD cameras with plug-ins for microphones between $150-$500. I would get microphones that have microphone flags to help promote your digital presence.

What if print journalists embraced video editing as a story telling tool? Video editing is not hard, especially the kind of straight-forward editing that most local TV news operations employ. If necessary, newspapers might consider at least one news editor on staff during the day to edit these stories, although every reporter should know how to edit. It isn’t hard, and it can be addicting.

What if newspapers used social media to promote their coverage of the story? If a reporter is on his/her way to a fire, record a little promo in the car telling us where they’re going, why and to look for the story on the web site. Use your social media to create a thirst for news and drive your social media audience back to your web site. 

What if newspapers focused on gaining revenue from pre-roll ads from the videos just like local TV stations do? This revenue would be in addition to the added revenue gained from the increased number of eye-balls that their web sites would get using videos.

What if newspapers employed a creative services staff, like local TV stations do, to create video commercials for local businesses in their neighborhood? Think of all the local businesses that might be interested in video advertising but don’t have the expertise to create one on their own? Most local TV stations give away the creation of video ads in exchange for the advertising time and newspapers could compete with that revenue.

What if newspapers used videos created by schools in their neighborhoods to give voice to local teens and improve their coverage of local sports and issues related to teens and their issues? These videos are created every day, are often well-written and edited, and best of all, it’s free content once the pipeline is opened. Many of them are inventive, provocative and creative. The stories cover issues like teen pregnancy, school bullying, relationships with parents, profiles of teachers, health, love and sex, sports and many other issues that matter to kids in high school. They're often inspirational and poignant. I wrote an article on the subject recommending that local TV stations consider it and you can read that here.

What if local newspapers sought alliances and partnerships with their local TV station brethren that would add expanded and meaningful coverage for the local TV station viewers, while expanding the brand of the local newspapers and bringing even more eye-balls and thus revenue to their website?

Local newspapers have long, well-known, and established brands which may be one reason Warren Buffett recently bought 63 of them. Local newspapers have the resources with the knowledge and contacts to cover neighborhoods better than large market TV stations. They are what many large market local TV stations strive to be, and with the help of local newspapers, could be: hyper-local.
Click here for a helpful link on video journalism.