Newsroom

There are at least 25 ways to improve your print product

Here are three of them

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When publishers lift their heads up from their tablets and smartphone screens, they should realize that there’s not just life left in the print newspaper business model—there are opportunities to optimize print, thereby optimizing revenue.

The Inlander over the next few issues will be showcasing these ways by publishing a series of suggestions taken from “25 More Ways to Improve Your Print Products in 2017.” We may even from time to time slip in some tips that came from “25 More Ways to Improve Your Print Products in 2016.”

Both white papers were created by the SLP Print Solutions Team of Southern Lithoplate Inc., Creative Circle Media Solutions, Presteligence and MW Stange LLC.  

This issue’s installment touches on sponsorships, publicizing social media frenemies, and captioning.


Stop promoting social networks in print

Drop the social network icons! Is Facebook paying you to run their logo all over your pages? Or Twitter? Or Instagram? Of course not! (They should, but that’s a different article.)

At best, these social networks are frenemies. At worse, they are ruthless, local competitors. Facebook wants your advertisers to spend with THEM, and they sell intensely local ads. Meanwhile, they keep tweaking their metrics to de-emphasize our content and posts in their feeds.

Yet papers everywhere are putting Facebook, Twitter and other social network logos on page one – sometimes above the fold!

It’s INSANE!

No one can click on those logos. They don’t help your newspaper in the least. Get rid of them!

It’s not news anymore that you have a Facebook page. If you are going to put anything in your paper about these networks, use your handle – your actual URL or address. That’s promoting YOUR brand, not the social network.

Every piece of junk on your pages is a negative. Unnecessary colors, logos, typography – everything that distracts takes space and attention away from your brand and content.

Take a look at your printed pages and get rid of the junk!

— Creative Circle Media Solutions


Try Sponsorships

Sponsorships have a bad rap, especially in the newsroom.

How can we compromise the integrity of content with advertising sponsors? We don't want to be like television or radio or pay for play websites!

But "native advertising," "special advertising section," or real unfettered content with adjacent advertising is not that different from a sponsorship.

Lots of papers sell sponsorships online but don't do the same in print. Why not?

A great story from the golden era of the 90's talks about a large sporting goods retailer that wanted to spend six figures locally to help sponsor sports coverage of high school sports. It could have been accomplished with a skybox ear, perhaps a Sports front strip ad, and something inside the section, but it was turned down.

We have many pieces of specialized content that are suitable for sponsorship, and never in conflict with investigative or hard news reporting. If there are concerns about reader perception, run a disclaimer with the ad explaining this sponsor has no influence on coverage.

Syndicated elements can be categorized and matched up with potential advertising sponsor options in advance of a sales effort by an assigned specialist or manager for careful handling. Content elements with a small but devoted readership that normally generate no ads could be priced very low with long frequency with a sponsorship.

Some options to consider:
• Gardening or home improvement columns - local home improvement stores, contractors
• Bridge or Crossword - local game stores or venues, bingo, bookstores
• Book reviews, lists - local book stores
• Fishing/hunting reports - outdoor gear retailers, fishing charters, game clubs
• Better Business Bureau column - local bank/home improvement loans
• Television grid - Cable or satellite TV, casinos
• Lottery results - Convenience stores, bingo
• Astrology - New Age book stores
• Local sports coverage - almost anyone who sponsors local sports teams, sporting goods stores, a local bank or medical group
• Business calendar - Banks, Commercial Real Estate, Business Caterers
• Wedding Announcements- Caterers, Wedding vendors
• Sports agate - Sporting goods stores, big screen TV outlets, sports teams
• Right rail position in Sports - Automotive
• Homes Sold record - Real Estate Broker
• Health care column - Hospital group, doctors

— Mark Stange, MWStange LLC


Stop wasting captions!

Photo captions are among of the highest read content in your newspaper. And they represent the worst writing almost every newspaper produces.

Between 60 and 80 percent of captions get read. That compares to less than 25 percent of stories that are read at all and about five percent of stories that are read from beginning to end.

In our print redesigns, we re-direct newsroom resources to the content that is more highly read - captions, headlines, breakouts and refers are all read at a much higher clip than text. Just increasing the attention we pay to these elements a little can make a big difference. By making these elements much better, we can quickly change readers' view of the quality and value of print our products.

Step one to improving your captions would be to abandon AP style for captions. This formatted, boring, style is death to both good writing and strong readership: "Person X (left) and person Z (right) from town Y stare at the camera holding the widget they produce."

Newspapers didn't adopt AP style for captions because it was good. They adopted it because it was easy. Like so many things that have gone wrong in newspapers, newsrooms don't act in the interests of readers but in the interests of expediency.

The AP doesn't publish newspapers. They don't have design or layout or context for their images. They don't have print readers or individual subscribers for that matter. Their style is designed to provide consistency and conformity across a wide range of images they process, not creativity. So their style is inappropriate for newspapers.

We encourage our clients to use quotes in their captions to bring them to life. And to mix up caption writing to make captions more varied, creative and interesting. We would also argue that the best quote, stat or information from the story - whenever possible - should be pulled from the story and used the caption. Why? Because that would dramatically increase the readership of the very best information you have for every story by a factor of five or six.

Most readers who pick up a paper spend much of their time skimming it - looking at headlines, photos, captions and other display elements. They look at the short stuff first and they take all these elements in before reading the stories. Many readers don't go any further - in fact most stories are never read even though the headline, photo and caption are. Readers are gathering data, deciding what interests them and then moving on. If the headline, photo and caption are engaging, they are more likely to read the story. If they aren't, readership of the story suffers.

In this environment, having a generic list of names and a bland description as a caption is deadly and dumb.
In the past ten years, newspapers got rid of photographers, copy editors and designers - diminishing readership dramatically - and that has fed the slide in circulation of our print products. The editors and accountants decided these functions weren't part of a newspaper's core product. Somehow ENGAGING READERS was optional. That was about as insightful as it would be for Apple to decide the design of its products didn't matter.

If anyone had read the research and thought about readers, we would have made very different choices about newsroom staffing, even in the face of significant cutbacks.

Meanwhile, here are some tips for improving your captions:
• Vary the writing of captions. Don't always start with the "who."
• Make sure captions are interesting and engaging. Use quotes and infuse captions with some of the best content from the story, where appropriate, to gain the highest readership for your most important information.
• Use an informal, casual style, like you are talking to a friend.
• Don't just list names of subjects in a photo. Gather some more detail about those people and who they are. Our research shows that readers want and expect a parenthetical phrase - like everyone uses to describe the people they know - to describe people in photos. "Joe Smith is a retired police officer who loves to garden . . ." Make people in photos three-dimensional, not just names in a list.
• Don't describe what the photo already shows. Remember, the reader has already read the photo before reading the caption.
• Encourage photographers (if you still have any) to interview people they photograph, not just get their names.
• Don't gang lots of captions together. That leads to more navigation (counter-clockwise from left) than information. Each photo deserves a caption. If you do combine captions, only combine two and make sure the caption touches both photos so readers quickly see and understand where to find them.
• Write captions earlier in the day so more than one person has an opportunity to read and edit them. Leaving them as the last thing we do is one of the reasons they are so bad now. Remember, every caption probably has higher readership than any story you publish.

— Creative Circle Media Solutions


Download your own copy at: http://25printideas.creativecirclemedia.com/