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Local news reader survey

Survey Highlights Changing Reader Sentiment Toward Local News

How do readers feel about local news outlets in their own communities, what makes them want to engage, and why do they prefer certain digital publications to others?

To answer these questions, and gain a better understanding of how local news organizations can be more transparent with readers, the Center for Media Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin recently teamed up with the News Co/Lab at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Together, the two organizations surveyed more than 4,500 people in three areas in the United States — Fresno, California; Kansas City, Missouri; and Macon, Georgia.

What they discovered through their survey should be enlightening to anyone who has been tracking the local news industry in the past few years. It turns out that readers have better impressions of local news than news in general, but their opinions skew more negative when asked about specific publishers in their own communities. Here are other key findings from the survey:

Readers consume national news more frequently than local.
In News Co/Lab’s survey, “most” people said they consumed national news about once a day, on average, and local news “slightly less often.” That’s not what most digital publishers will want to hear, but it is valuable information nonetheless.

Knowing that readers are less likely to visit a local news website multiple times a day, publishers should be looking for ways incentivize that behavior. For example, rather than publishing all of the day’s stories at once each morning, the publisher could dole out content on an hourly basis throughout the day. This publishing schedule requires readers to visit multiple times during a 24 hour period in order to stay up-to-date on the latest news around town.

Engagement has become an issue for local publishers.
Survey respondents rated local news outlets poorly when asked how they engage with their communities, giving them an average score of just three-out-of-five.

Why does that matter? For one thing, recent research has shown that engagement is tied to perceptions of bias in local news. The more engaged a digital publication’s readership is, the less editorial bias is perceived by readers. Therefore, local news outlets that can engage readers are shrinking the perception bias that often plagues the industry.

Here at Web Publisher PRO, we’ve talked a lot about reader engagement, and we know that digital publishers thrive when they have devoted audiences. A few of the ways we recommend that digital publishers work to improve engagement are by inviting readers to become active participants through commenting and guest posts, covering local stories that other outlets are missing, and adding job boards as a way to position their websites as community portals.

News literacy skills are often lacking.
Almost across the board, News Co/Lab found that survey respondents were overconfident in their ability to understand the news. Readers who showed the lowest news literacy skills were also the least interested in receiving help.

Local publishers shouldn’t be surprised by these findings. In a separate survey, researchers at the American Press Institute found that almost one-third of Americans can’t tell the difference between news and opinion articles.

Frustrating as it might be, these findings actually show us that a great opportunity exists for digital publishers. When local news outlets increase transparency and utilize tools to improve engagement, they create more informed news consumers. Those news consumers have a greater understanding of how local journalism works, and with that information, they should have an easier time pinpointing which news sources are credible and which are not.

On a smaller scale, we recommend that publishers consider web design as a tool for improving news literacy. Simple changes to a digital publication, like drop down navigation bars and a more functional layout, help readers find the content they are looking for on the first try.

Although the News Co/Lab’s findings show that trust in the local news business is low, digital publishers should remember that there are ways we can increase reader confidence. Seemingly minor changes to web design, such as adding visual breaks and getting rid of large pop-up ads from third-party websites, go a long way in changing reader perceptions and improving trust in the local news industry as a whole.

Launching a local news site

The 5 Best Strategies for Launching a Local News Site

Only the strong survive in the local publishing community. Launching a local news site requires a solid business plan and a firm grasp on the needs of the community you’re planning to cover.

While statistics on the number of local news sites are scarce, the number is clearly growing, and competition for readers and ad dollars is fierce.

Despite that competition, there has perhaps never been a better time to consider launching a local news site, given the news consumption habits of American readers. According to Pew Research Center, four-in-10 Americans often get their news online, and 28% get their information from news websites directly. That’s a lot of eyeballs, and potential revenue, for online publishers.

Based on our experience working with local publishers in the midst of launching local news sites, these are our five best strategies for success.

1. Launching a Local News Site: Know the Competition
Who are the dominant publishers in the community you’re planning to cover, and how long have they been in business? By doing your research beforehand, you can dig deep into the publications already having success within your niche and find out what they’re doing that readers love.

When researching competing publications, pay particular attention to which topics they cover, how they promote their stories, and how they generate revenue. For example, you may discover that competing publications place significant emphasis on local high school sports or city council coverage. Just because existing publications cover these topics doesn’t mean you need to, but you should use that information for reference when strategizing and launching a local news site.

2. Launching a Local News Site: Find Gaps in Existing Coverage
Now that you’ve done your research on competing publications, it’s time to start thinking about what topics or areas are being left uncovered. Finding a unique niche is one of the best ways to guarantee immediate success when launching a local news site.

In order to find holes in existing news coverage, you should get on social media and use hashtags to ask people in the community what they’d like to learn more about. You can also use web analytics and keyword research tools to find out what people in the area are searching for on Google.

When you’re launching a local news site, it pays to dig into a specific niche. Leave the state and national political coverage to the big media companies. Less competition means greater chances for success.

3. Launching a Local News Site: Develop a Strategy for Monetization
One of the key differences between a hobby blog and a professional news website is monetization. If you’re launching a hobby blog, feel free to jump right into content creation. However, anyone hoping to turn their local news site into a sustainable business needs a solid monetization strategy.

Thankfully, there are endless opportunities for generating revenue as a local publisher in 2018. The most common revenue generation strategy for new publishers is selling advertising to local businesses, but it’s growing increasingly common for more established publishers to sell subscriptions, as well.

Check out the Web Publisher PRO archives for more ideas for generating revenue. We’ve covered how to generate revenue through live events, membership programs, and e-commerce, along with other forms of ancillary revenue.

4. Launching a Local News Site: Start Creating Content
With a business plan and monetization strategy firmly in place, the next step in launching a local news site is to begin creating content. Breaking news coverage is easy to produce, but it also goes stale quickly. Our best tip for any publisher in the early stages of launching a local news site is to think about evergreen content. Which topics are likely to generate clicks in the coming weeks, months, or even years?

For publishers planning to cover specific neighborhoods or communities, we recommend starting with a local restaurant guide or niche business guide. This is the type of content readers are likely to discover on Google in the years to come, and when done right, it can become a valuable resource for people new to the community.

5. Launching a Local News Site: Develop a Readership
You’ve got a business plan, a monetization strategy, and an archive of great content. Now is not the time to sit back and let readers come to you. Whenever you’re launching a local news site, it’s imperative that you reach out into the community and bring readers to your site.

One of the easiest ways to do this is through social media advertising. You can target social media users in specific geographic areas, or users who’ve indicated an interest in specific topics like local news. Depending on the niche or community, you may also want to consider sponsoring local events and festivals as a way to get your publication’s name out there.

Launching a local news site has never been easier, but keeping that newly launched publication afloat, and turning it into a sustainable business, requires foresight, patience, and hard work. If you’d like to learn more about the best strategies for launching local news sites, please reach out to one of our publishing experts at Web Publisher PRO.

readers

You Launched a Publication. Now, You Need Readers.

Launching a website is the easy part. In order to build a business, would-be digital publishers need loyal readers who are passionate about the topics they cover.

Here at Web Publisher PRO, we work with first-time publishers all the time, designing custom business strategies and identifying new areas for growth. Whether a publisher’s revenue model involves digital advertising, subscriptions, memberships, e-commerce, or some combination of the above, having a healthy readership base is necessary for success.

Part of getting a new publication off the ground means finding readers. After all, thriving online businesses rely on them. Here are three of the best strategies we’ve come across for attracting readers to a new digital publication.

1. Start with your network.
You’ve got friends. Put them to use. Send an email blast to everyone in your contact list letting them know about the publication you’re launching. You may want to also invite them to a launch party for your publication. Family members, friends, friends-of-friends—they can all help spread the word.

Ask anyone who attends your launch party to post about it on social media. You can create a hashtag for people to use, as well. Trendsmap, RiteTag, and Hashtagify.me are three examples of services that help users come up with hashtag ideas.

If your website has a hyperlocal focus, then you should also get in touch with community associations, journalists, and other local influencers who might be interested in helping to spread the word to other people in town via printed flyers or social media.

Getting the word out through your personal network is more than just a good way to gain readers. It could also lead you to potential advertisers or other local business partners.

2. Get active on social media.
Twitter is often called an echo chamber. Without enough followers, it can sometimes feel like you’re tweeting into the ether. But there’s a strategy to using social media to attract readers to a digital publication, and it starts with finding a niche.

First off, don’t get too attached to any single network. Twitter is popular within the media community, but it’s not the only social media platform that consumers check on a regular basis. Make sure your publication has also accounts on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Google+, and make sure you’re updating them on a regular basis.

Hyperlocal publishers with websites that focus on specific communities or areas have an advantage on social media, because people are usually eager to follow accounts that provide up-to-the-minute information about the places they live.

When you promote your articles on social media, make sure to include the handles of any prominent community members who are mentioned, along with any local businesses that might be interested in the news.

Hashtags are helpful here, too. Most small towns have a hashtag that locals use when posting community-specific content. (For example, the #ReddingCA hashtag in Redding, California.) Figure out what that hashtag is in the area you cover, and include it whenever possible. That will help other locals find your social media feed. From there, it’s your job to make sure your social media accounts are designed in a way that makes people want to click over to your website to read even more great content.

3. Don’t forget SEO.
Search engine optimization has gotten a bad reputation. Trying to squeeze irrelevant keywords into stories is an outdated practice, and it’s not what we’re after here.

Regardless of how well you’ve promoted your website in person and through social media, the vast majority of readers will still find you through a search engine like Google or Bing. SEO is just one of the ways we can make sure the right people are finding you through those platforms.

Use a tool like Google Keyword Planner or WordStream Keyword Generator to discover which keywords or tags are relevant to your site, then get into the habit of using those keywords on a regular basis. For a hyperlocal website, that means including the name of the city or the neighborhood whenever it fits into a story, as well as in titles, descriptions, image captions, and content file names.

The goal here is to bring the right types of readers to your publication. It’s not just a numbers game. We want loyal, local readers to visit your site because those are the people who will continue coming back for more. So make sure that the keywords you chose are directed at them.

For more information about the custom business strategies we develop for hyperlocal publishers, feel free to reach out. We love to connect with publishing entrepreneurs.

Data Journalism Tools

The Small Publisher’s Guide to Editorial Analytics

Numbers don’t lie. For local publishers looking for new ways to boost traffic and click-through rates, editorial analytics can serve as a roadmap to success.

Rather than polling readers or simply guessing which articles will be most popular, more publishers are now relying on audience metrics and editorial analytics to inform their newsroom decisions.

Editorial analytics platforms can be setup to measure visitor activity on a publisher’s site. With popular platforms like Chartbeat and Parse.ly, publishers have the ability to track readers on their websites in real-time. Analytics platforms also track whether site visitors are actively reading, or whether they are just skimming content and saving articles to read later.

With this data in hand, publishers can make better decisions about which topics or stories to cover and how prominently certain articles should be promoted on their sites.

Three examples of how analytics can be used to make newsroom decisions include:

  1. People in the community may say they love reading stories about the public library, while editorial analytics suggest that sensational crime stories are actually driving the greatest engagement.
  2. Editors can track how small changes to published articles, such as changes to headlines or additional links to outside sources, impact how readers engage.
  3. When doling out annual bonuses and selecting candidates for promotion, publishers can look at reporters-specific metrics to determine which staff members are bringing the most value to the organization.

Should editorial analytics always be used to determine which topics get covered in a local publication? The answer to that is tricky. Just because a certain topic doesn’t generate traffic doesn’t always mean it’s not a topic worth covering. These are difficult questions that journalism ethicists have been debating for years.

In the years since digital-first publications like The Huffington Post and Gawker first started using analytics to make editorial decisions, the practice has gone mainstream. Many of the most popular tools for collecting this data at large media outlets have since been adapted for smaller digital publishers.

As a best practice, editors should consider asking themselves these questions when deciding the best ways to utilize editorial analytics in the newsroom:

  • Which readers are we trying to reach?
  • What types of reader behaviors do we want to cultivate or encourage?
  • Which metrics are we using as benchmarks for success?

In a survey of news editors, CEOs, and “digital leaders” conducted by Reuters Institute, 76% said improving the way newsrooms use data to understand and target audiences is going to be “very important” for their organizations.

Larger newsrooms have added analytics teams to the mix at a furious pace. Audience development editors and data analysts pour over the data to uncover new areas for opportunity. In smaller newsrooms, journalists themselves have access to analytics tools and metrics for their own published stories.

For publishers who’ve decided to start using editorial analytics to make strategic newsroom decisions, the next question is which platforms or tools to use. We’ve put together a list of some of the top choices for small and mid-size publishers who run their websites on WordPress.

Top WordPress Plugins for Editorial Analytics

  1. Chartbeat: For existing Chartbeat users, this plugin makes it easy to install Chartbeat’s code and start tracking website traffic and audience behaviors.
  2. Google Analytics: The Google Analytics plugin for WordPress connects publishers to Google Analytics and lets them see how visitors are finding and using their websites.
  3. Parse.ly: Designed for writers, editors, and website managers, Parse.ly helps publishers understand how audiences are connecting with the content they publish.
  4. Google Analytics Post Pageviews: This plugin links to a publisher’s Google Analytics account to retrieve the pageviews for individual articles or posts.
  5. Clicky by Yoast: Publishers who use this plugin can track individual posts and pages as goals and also assign revenue to specific pages or posts.
  6. Crazy Egg: With Crazy Egg, publishers can see exactly what visitors are doing on their websites and where they are clicking. They can also see where visitors are coming from and what types of content are bringing people back.
Data Journalism Tools

How Local Publishers Use Analytics to Make Editorial Decisions

In digital newsrooms across the country, editorial judgment is being replaced by web analytics. Which news events should a hyperlocal publication cover, how much coverage should a particular story get, and what sort of resources should be thrown at it? Those are all measurable questions that can be answered by looking at a publication’s web analytics report.

According to a study by the Donald J. Reynolds Journalism Institute, editors of mid-size community newspapers are more likely to base editorial decisions in part on web analytics. Ninety-percent of editors receive web analytics reports that show page views, length of visit, and traffic on their websites, and 49% make decisions about which topics to cover based on those web analytics reports.

Google Analytics and Chartbeat are two of the most popular tools for tracking publishing metrics, like time-on-site, time-on-page, and engaged-time-on-page, in real-time. Sometimes these sources can give conflicting answers about the success or failure of a particular article. That’s because Google Analytics and Chartbeat each have their own way to count visitors. But larger trends should still help guide hyperlocal newsrooms in their editorial decisions.

Just as no two publications are exactly alike, no two editors measure content performance in exactly the same way. At some local publications, analytics are used to make day-to-day decisions that optimize traffic and reach, while other publishers utilize the same data to form longer-term business strategies. There is no right way or wrong way to use web analytics to make editorial decisions. Context, priorities, goals, and expertise all go a long way in determining how digital publishers use the web analytics they collect.

Understanding the Audience

Web analytics make it possible for local publishers to get a clear view of who their audience really is. It’s easy to assume that readers engaging with hyperlocal content must live in the surrounding community, but is that really the case? Without analytics to back up their assertions, publishers are essentially flying blind.

A few questions that publishers can answer with basic analytics tools include:

  • Who is visiting the website, including location, age, gender, and income
  • How are readers interacting with content
  • What types of content are readers engaging with the most
  • Where are readers arriving from
  • Which segments of readers are most likely to share content
  • Where do readers go after they leave the publication

Gauging Reader Interest

Publications like the Wall Street Journal, and many others, rely on algorithms and web analytics reports to gauge which topics and stories readers are most interested in learning about.

Page views can help determine which topics readers are interested in, but when they’re used in a generic fashion, they can also send local publishers down the rabbit hole chasing celebrity slide shows and other content that’s irrelevant to their niche in the market.

One solution that many hyperlocal publishers have settled on is to keep a closer eye on engagement metrics, like time-on-page, which offer more insight into how the audience is receiving a particular piece of content.

Improving Headlines

In addition to influencing the coverage that certain topics receive, web analytics can be used to improve the quality of headlines. Publishers can test different headlines to see which keywords attract the most attention or generate the greatest click-through rates.
Intrinsic factors that made print headlines meaningful are lost in the digital world. A successful headline for an online publication is one that can stand on its own in a social media post and also inspire people to click on a link. “Descriptive and direct” is the definition of a great headline most often used in digital newsrooms today.

Keyword selection is incredibly important, as well. Headlines filled with puns, but missing keywords that describe what the article is actually about, are duds in an online world. Editors can improve an article’s traffic by using descriptive keywords and short, punchy headlines.

Of course, data rarely tells the complete story. In an ideal world, editors would be combining qualitative judgment with their own journalism expertise to make important decisions about what topics their reporters will cover.

If you’d like more guidance on how to use web analytics to improve your own editorial workflow and cultivate a more engaged readership, let’s connect.

recycled content

When Should Local Publishers Use Recycled Content?

Nobody wants to read yesterday’s news, but properly utilizing recycled content can still be an effective strategy for driving traffic to a growing online publication.

Of course, not all content is created equal. An article about an upcoming holiday event or a recap of a high school sports game isn’t going to have the same longevity as a feature story about a local celebrity or a popular mom-and-pop business, or a review of a restaurant that’s become a date night hot spot.

Before we dig into what types of content a publisher should recycle, and how to determine whether a specific article is worth republishing, let’s talk a little more about what recycled content really is.

Recycling content means to take an article that’s done well over time and republish it. Although some viral publishers, like Business Insider and Upworthy, will re-publish articles multiple time on the same platform, it’s more common for local news publishers to recycle content across different platforms. For example, an article that’s done well on a publisher’s website can be repurposed in an email newsletter or expanded on to create an eBook.

Social media is another popular place for local publishers to post recycled content. Sprinkled among the links to recent stories can be links to older feature stories. In addition to generating more traffic, this strategy can also grow a publisher’s audience on Facebook and Twitter.

Syndication is another way to recycle content. Rather than republishing content on their own platforms, publishers who go the syndication route are giving other publishers permission to post their content on third-party websites. Syndicated posts link back to the original publisher, making this a popular way to generate traffic and gain exposure to new audiences.

The Best Types of Recycled Content

Hyperlocal news websites can publish anywhere from three to 20 fresh articles a day, but just a small fraction of those articles generate more than 50% of traffic. If a local publisher is lucky, 5% to 15% of its articles will go viral, leading to social shares and driving an influx of first-time readers.

Evergreen content is content that’s always relevant. Evergreen content doesn’t become dated. It’s always considered up-to-date, and it’s always seen as “fresh” in the eyes of readers. Evergreen content is search-optimized, helping local publishers take full advantage of traffic from search engines like Google and Bing.

The best type of content to recycle is content that’s both popular and evergreen. Feature stories and local business reviews tend to fit this mold most frequently.

A few examples of the types of stories that could be recycled:

  • Feature stories about prominent community members
  • An investigative article about the origins of a local landmark
  • Reviews of local restaurants
  • Lists of the best businesses or date night spots in town
  • How-to articles

Not every feature article or restaurant review is worth republishing. Monitoring site traffic is one way that publishers can determine which articles are worth recycling. In addition to comparing page views for stories that could be considered evergreen content, publishers should also take a close look at how much new traffic those stories have driven and how many new subscriber sign-ups those stories generate.

How Much Content Should Be Recycled

No two publishers are exactly alike, however a good rule of thumb is that 80% of the content on a website can be new and 20% can be republished without loyal readers batting an eye.

Publishers with new websites have less leeway in posting recycled content, whereas established publications can get away with more. However, even established sites should expect to do some basic maintenance or upkeep on the articles they republish to keep them up-to-date. Adding new imagery or updating the introduction to these stories is one way to give old content new life.

Recycling too little content is throwing money down the drain. Creating quality content takes money and time, and savvy publishers can get more juice out of the content they post with a well-planned content recycling strategy.

Questions to Ask Before Publishing Recycled Content
• Is this article worth re-publishing?
• Where are the best places to republish this article?
• Are the facts in this article still true today?
• Do we need to write a different introduction to keep this article relevant?

Comments Section on local news site

How to Improve the Comments Section on a Local News Site

Should a local news publication take on an authoritative voice or serve as a conduit for community conversations? An argument could be made either way, but evidence suggests that encouraging reader discussion—either in a moderated comments section or on social media platforms—leads to greater page views and a more loyal audience.

As with so many other trends in local publishing, comments sections have gone through an evolution. They all but disappeared from public view around 2014, when publishers like Recode, The Week, Reuters, and Mic announced they were shuttering their comments sections within weeks of each other. Around that same time, publishers began steering readers toward their social media pages and encouraging conversations to take place on Facebook and Twitter.

Now, fears over the effect that changes to Facebook’s news feed algorithm could have on publishers are leading many local news sites to bring their comments sections back.

At the same time, publishers are finding that adding a comments section can boost page views, which in turn leads to greater advertising revenue. For example, at The Financial Times, readers who leave comments are 7x more engaged than readers who do not. Readers who comment regularly are also more likely to renew annual subscriptions.

The four goals that publishers should strive to achieve with their comments section are:

  1. To encourage the highest quality comments from readers
  2. To cultivate a loyal readership
  3. To strengthen trust between community members and the publication
  4. To generate new story ideas and potential sources

Of course, setting goals is easy. It’s meeting those goals that often proves challenging.

To raise the level of discourse in any comments section, a publisher needs to be present. Researchers at The Center for Media Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin found that when journalists engage with commenters, uncivil comments drop by 15%. Commenters simply behave better when they know that someone is listening.

Reporters, editors, publishers, and even volunteer moderators should all be responding to valid questions, encouraging productive comments, thanking people for useful comments, and in some cases even asking questions of commenters when conversations in the comments section become particularly lively.

When comments that are libelous, inappropriate, or abusive do pop up—and they almost always will—they should be removed immediately. Publishers should be careful not to let abusive or challenging people dominate the comments section. Almost eight-in-ten Americans believe online services have a responsibility to step in when harassment occurs on their platforms, and 64% say online platforms should play a “major role” in addressing online harassment, according to a survey by Pew Research.

Stepping in to delete inappropriate comments not only raises the level of discourse and discourages copycat commenters, but it also establishes a greater level of trust between readers and publishers. Readers are more willing to engage and interact in a comments section when they feel protected from abuse.

Another way to improve the quality of comments on a local news website is by sponsoring commenter meet-ups. Happy hours, book clubs, speaker events, and even newsroom tours can all be used to bring online commenters together in the real world. Fostering a sense of community and moving the online world offline keeps commenters on their toes.

One of the more controversial ways to improve the quality of comments on a news website is to charge readers for the privilege of participating. Some publishers are charging readers for prominent placement of comments on their sites. Others are doling out “points” in exchange for positive actions, like visiting the site regularly or sharing links on social media. Those points can then be exchanged for access to the comments section. While this strategy is certainly innovative, it’s unlikely to work well for a smaller publication that’s still looking to grow the size of its audience.

To sum up the key points, there are three primary steps publishers should take immediately to improve the comments sections on their websites. These include:

  • Encouraging reporters to respond to questions about their stories in the comments below their articles
  • Deleting inappropriate or abusive comments as quickly as possible
  • Sponsoring meet-ups and happy hours for top commenters