Kevin Slimp Online
Kevin Slimp is a favorite speaker and trainer in the publishing world. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
There's a question I get asked a lot by friends, colleagues and audience members at conferences. There are variations, but they all go something like, "How do you find time to do everything that you do?"
I usually just answer with something like, "I never sleep" or "I don't know. I've always done a dozen things at once."
"Sure," I answered. "Of course. How can I help?"
His question was straightforward and deliberate. "What's really going on at newspapers across the country?"
I knew it wouldn't be a quick answer. I had been standing for two hours and there were a couple of chairs in the corner of the room, near the door. I suggested this was a conversation that required sitting.
As I began to answer his question, the area began to fill. Soon, there were a dozen or more publishers, editors and others standing in a semicircle, intently listening in on the conversation. I appreciated their interest. It's a bit humbling to know people sincerely care what I think about anything.
At newspaper conferences, I often give a "pop quiz" to learn a little about what is going on at newspapers and what journalist think is going on at papers across the country. I used to be surprised that most attendees could guess, with relative success, the answers to the quiz.
It's been two hours since I received word concerning the news that tariffs aimed at newsprint had been overturned. The first person to write me was Ron White, a retired university journalism chair who now lives in North Carolina. Within minutes, stories from major news outlets were spread across my "extra wide" computer monitor.
In two of my previous columns, I've mentioned other newspapers I've visited recently, and I can't help but notice a trend. Every paper I've visited over the past few months seems to be doing well It's not because of me. They were all doing well before I came along. Some of these papers were weeklies, some dailies, and a couple of others were somewhere in-between.
"GateHouse looks forward to leveraging our national resources to support the community that will enhance quality of life and help create a stronger community," Jason Taylor of GateHouse is quoted as saying.
Excuse me while I ponder on that for a moment.
I've noticed a definite trend lately. It might be related to the increased number of industry activities I'm involved in these days, or perhaps it's just be one of those things that can't be explained. Whatever the reason, I've been getting a lot more email over the past few months.
Today, I'm going to take a look at the differences in how daily and weekly newspaper publishers view the benefits of their digital efforts.
Today, I'd like to focus on one particular question from the survey. Question No. 7 asks, "Compared to three years ago, how is the overall health of your primary publication(s)?"
I suppose any time is the right time to look over your newspaper operation and search for ways to make improvements., but the beginning of the year seems especially appropriate for such a task.
As I sat at my trusted keyboard to begin, I sent a note out to newspaper friends throughout North America to ask for their suggestions. Let me share a few of those first.
Recently, Ed Henninger and I did something we've never done before. We taught a class together. Titled, "What You Need to Know About Paragraph Styles," we took the group through a very fast paced 90-minute session, covering everything from simple nested styles to advanced nested styles.
The second task was to meet with his circulation staff and discuss ways to increase circulation. The conversation was lively, and we seemed to come up with a few new ideas worth pursuing. Toward the end of the discussion, I made a suggestion that doesn't take a lot of effort, but usually garners great rewards: creating focus groups made up of readers and non-readers to look over their products and suggest possible improvements.
I was looking for an email yesterday and was surprised to find a five year-old message from a business leader in New Orleans who was excited about a plan I had created, at his group's request, to lure a new daily newspaper to the city after their long-standing daily newspaper moved to a digital-first format, abandoning their traditional daily model.<p><p>
I felt a rush of adrenaline as I read the words he wrote five years ago, "I love it!"
Continuing a practice begun in late 2014, I contacted newspaper publishers, CEOs, owners and other top management throughout the U.S. and Canada to get information about the state of their newspapers. After a week, I've received just shy of 800 responses. I suspect that number will increase even more by the time I finish summarizing all the information.
Interestingly, this particular survey had the best response of any I've conducted. Papers of all sizes and types are represented in statistically reliable numbers. There are plenty of metro dailies, as well as tiny weeklies, and everything in between. Even a few monthly and online-only publications took part.
Read on to learn what was most interesting to me.
An editor in South Carolina wrote to me yesterday, "I'm always amazed at your productivity."
I get that a lot these days. Since yesterday, I've written an opinion piece that's already filling my inbox with responses from readers; my fictional weekly serial, The Good Folks of Lennox Valley; and my alarm just reminded me that I'm on deadline to write my column for newspaper professionals.
Looking over my email, I noticed there has been an increase in the number of folks asking for technical advice over the past few weeks. Perhaps work slowed down a bit over the holidays, allowing people more time to write.
Whatever the reason, I've always believed in "dancing with the one who brung ya," so it seems like a good time to answer some questions from readers.
I don't have to spend very long at a newspaper office to tell you how they're doing in terms of circulation, readership, ad sales and profits. No one has to tell me. There are qualities that lead to successful newspapers, and without them it's a good bet that there are some problems in one or more of those four areas.
I could have listed fifty newspapers in this column, because I ran into a lot of papers that are doing things right in 2015. And it's showing in their numbers. Due to space limitations, here are a few that stood out in my memory.
I got out the dusty thesaurus and found a synonym that best describes the newspapers in Minnesota: phenomenal. That's the best word I know of to describe the trip I just took to Minnesota. Yes, that's right, Minnesota.
I've worked with more than 100 papers in Minnesota this year. I know, that's a lot of papers. And there is something that's very apparent as I crisscross the frozen tundra (OK, tundra might be a stretch) of Minnesota, visiting papers from McGregor to Pipestone to Preston: newspapers in Minnesota are doing really well. That truth was never more apparent to me than in late October, when I visited papers in the central and western areas of the state.
The email came to me at 6:15 last night, just as I was getting ready to take my two teenagers out for dinner. It was from Joe, a publisher at a small weekly who, like many newspaper publishers, has become my good friend over the past 20 years.
Before I tell you more about the email, let's step back in time to yesterday afternoon when I mentioned to some folks in my office that I needed to come up with a topic for today's column. A couple of ideas were tossed around when, finally, I said, "Don't worry. Something will come up. It always does."
I just didn't know that "something" would be my friend, Joe.
The Tennessee Newspaper Hall of Fame celebrated its opening on Friday, July 17, 2015. It was a glorious evening, filled with a celebration fit for the industry it represents.
Last week, I spent a day with a weekly newspaper in Eastern Ohio. I even took a pic of the big building shaped like a basket to prove it. After lunch, the publisher asked something I've heard quite often in my visits with 100-plus newspapers this year, "Could you take a little time to teach us some things about Bridge?"
With so many newspapers reporting a really good year, why are there still newspapers who aren't? I thought about this as I drove to the airport this morning (the roads are pretty clear at 2 a.m. in Sioux Falls, making it safe to think while driving) and came up with what I'm calling:
My top four reasons some newspapers aren't having a great year
I couldn’t help but think of all the speakers and teachers I’ve had over the years.