Posted by David Oates 1 month, 3 weeks ago

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I read a piece recently about plans to bring the famed Windy City tabloid back to prominence by its new owners. If they succeed, it will go against the seemingly insurmountable tide its rivals face in attempting to stay relevant.

How they’ll do it remains the question, but what the paper will strive to achieve is not. In short, the Sun-Times intends to focus on reporting “working class” issues. That makes sense given the penchant that the paper’s owners hold for such matters. One served as a City Alderman for a time, and the other made his mark as a labor leader. Regardless of your political leanings, this strategy of "don't be everything to everyone" could stand as a model for other newspapers to follow.  

In contrast, most news organizations, while hemorrhaging revenues and audiences, remain determined to cover a broad range of topics catering to nearly every socioeconomic community within their region. That becomes an almost impossible task as cutbacks to editorial and production staff continue. Yet many outlets hold on to this approach in part because long-standing advertisers still see value in supporting particular pieces of content.

While understandable, this strategy will only accelerate the demise of newspapers. Doing more with less is possible, but only to a point when the product still relies on people to do the job. Reporters can only improve their productivity to a certain level, but can’t streamline interviews or fact-finding activities enough to write complete stories with greater effectiveness.

Because of this, I’m giving the Chicago Sun-Times’ plan consideration. While the paper’s audience might shrink a bit, covering in-depth stories of significant interest to this core group of constituents could drive up engagement. Moreover, it's the same strategy employed by television news. CNN, FOX, MSNBC and PBS target specific economic and political groups. Doing so keeps their viewers tuned in longer, and that translates to more impressions for advertisers and a greater ROI.

This approach is also playing out well in certain cities with hyper local or niche outlets. The widely respected Voice of San Diego comes immediately to mind, but plenty other examples exist, including several that came about after the demise of AOL’s Patch.com experiment.

I submit that the Sun-Times’ strategy could work. I’ll keep a close eye on what happens over the next few months. There’s a chance others will copy this organization's strategy in the not-too-distant future. 

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