Innovative ideas abound at 2016 INA Convention

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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Iowa Newspaper Association tried something new and unique during its 2016 Annual Convention and Trade Show. It devoted an afternoon to developing innovative ideas for the newsroom. Five ideas were identified in a work session held several months prior to the Convention and four were fleshed out at the innovation workshop on February 4th during the INA Convention.

The ideas included developing an online “reporters’ toolbox” as a resource for reporters on such things as where to find useful information on government websites, how to make an open records request and names of seasoned reporters from around the state who can be helpful in specific areas.

The “names project” discussion focused on increasing the number of local names that show up on the pages of our community newspapers. More names in the paper bring with them better and more diverse readership.

A roundtable discussion on repurposing content resulted in a long list of unique ways to secure revenue through new avenues using the content your newspaper staff has already developed.

And, hosting events drew a large number of Convention-goers eager to identify ways to engage their communities through events hosted by the newspaper.

Reporters’ toolbox could be the stuff dreams are made of…reporters’ dreams anyway

Jared Strong, Carroll Daily Times Herald, led an INA Convention discussion on developing a resource for reporters that could save them time, money and frustration. Ideas for inclusion in the “reporters’ toolbox,” which would be available on the Iowa Newspaper Association website, run the gambit from instructions on how to access a public record to a list of sources and contacts for a host of common news stories.

Imagine you’re writing a story on the number of car accidents at a particular intersection in your community and you’d like to know how the statistics compare with others across the state, but you don’t know how to easily find that information. Now, imagine, there is a password-protected resource available to you that not only provides you with information on where the statistics can be found, but also provides you with the name and contact information for a person who can answer your questions and provide a quote for the story.

Now imagine there’s been an accident at that intersection that’s resulted in a juvenile’s death. Do you publish the name? Wouldn’t it be nice to have a resource for some of the ethical questions you face every day? The “reporters’ toolbox” would be that resource.

This online resource is being developed by a group of reporters who are looking for the same information and facing the same ethical dilemmas every day that you are. If you have suggestions for inclusion in the “reporters’ toolbox,” drop an email to INA executive director Chris Mudge at and she’ll pass it along. And keep reading the INA Bulletin for more information on this project.


Content with strong readership may have nine lives

Has your newspaper ever published a book about a natural disaster that took place in your community? How about a poster commemorating the success of a local sports team? Yes, you say. These are common ways to generate additional revenue.

How about publishing an architectural history of your community? Harlan newspapers did this…again, using archived photos published in the newspaper.

Or maybe you want to engage your readers, and attract new ones, by creating a display of photography from a single event and sharing it with the public at a local venue. The Cedar Rapids Gazette displayed photos of the 2008 flood at the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art.

What about developing targeted newsletters for selected groups of subscribers? For example, antique collectors might want a sneak peek of what’s for sale this week in your classifieds.

Those are just a few of the ideas bantered about by a group, led by Zack Kucharski, Cedar Rapids Gazette, at the innovation session at the INA Convention. Other ideas included:
- Publishing a book of photos from the newspaper’s archive;
- Using Pinterest to connect content with an audience…i.e. cooking recipes;
- Sharing information on your newspaper’s Twitter feed or Facebook with a wider audience;
- Using an online newsletter to tease an upcoming news feature to promote better readership;
- Developing podcasts to discuss content in more depth or to share interviews or behind-the-scene stories; or
- Publishing a book of columns about the history of the community.


The Names Project attempts to bring engagement to a new level

Have you ever counted the number of community members’ names in one issue of your newspaper? No? Well, think about how many issues of your newspaper are saved because Mr. Jones wants the story of his award for his scrapbook or Johnny’s mother wants to send the story of her son’s winning basket to Aunt Edith?

If the number of names in each issue of your newspaper grows, so does the number of issues being sent around the country or being hung up on the refrigerator with a magnet. If the number of names in each issue of your newspaper grows, so does the number of community members engaged with your publication…the number of community members that will eagerly await the next issue.

That was the premise for a group of INA Convention goers brainstorming how to get more names in the newspaper. Here are a few of the group’s ideas:

- Publish a regular column listing members of churches’ choirs and committees. Run the lists from a different church each week.

- Include more coverage of youth sports. Ask parents and coaches to email information to the newspaper, making it easy to compile.
- Publish more business briefs and award presentations.
- Secure the results from the local pool and dart leagues and publish them.
- Provide your readers with more military news.
- Use the voter registration list and develop a “Happy Birthday” item in each issue.
- Work with universities and colleges to get more information about what local kids are doing while away at college.
- Assign a reporter to the Facebook beat to find information of interest to readers.
- Add and/or improve online submission tools.
- Publish a regular Q&A with “people who make a difference.”
- Publish detailed prep sports statistics weekly.
- Create more contests and announce more winners.
- Develop a “You know you’re from (insert town) if …” feature.
- Be sure to include cut lines on published photos.


Engage your community in new and different ways by hosting events

When a group of INA members came together at the 2016 INA Convention to discuss ideas for engaging the community in new and different ways, the flood of ideas that spilled forward that were already being done kept the group mopping up for most of their time together.

Of course, in the area of social media, the majority of newspapers are engaging community members through the use Facebook, Twitter, websites, and in many cases, Instagram, Pinterest, and Snapchat.

Newsletters are also a popular and effective way to provide information to your community members in a different and very timely way. Newsletters that were mentioned in this gathering included an obituary newsletter, a newsletter with daily headlines, a daily email of breaking news and video and photo galleries.

Participants also shared successful events…

  • A Halloween Spooktacular, sponsored by the chamber with the newspaper taking photos and promoting the event in the newspaper along with a Halloween story.
  • A promotion featuring single sentences about how five couples met. Readers are challenged to match the couple with the way in which they met. The winner is asked to share his/her love story with readers.
  • A newspaper-sponsored forum about the history of the community…the county…the buildings, etc. or a tour of historical homes or buildings with an article published on each.

And, all participants agreed it’s very important that the newspaper work with its local schools. Specifically, publish the work of the local high school journalism kids or ask local businesses to sponsor classrooms and then have the newspaper staff work with the kids to take photos of, and write stories about, the sponsoring businesses. Or, identify a subject relevant to students, interview students about the topic and publish the interviews.

And, on the subject of giveaways, why not take a picture of the home crowd during a football game and put a circle around a different group of people each week? Publish the photo with the circle in the newspaper and partner with local businesses to sponsors the photos and give away gift certificates to those in the circle that come forward.

Of course, no discussion such as this could avoid the subject of time…or lack thereof. The group agreed that engaging the community in these ways is very important to the future of the newspapers and that, perhaps by engaging the community, all of the work would not have to be done by the staff at the paper. Keep an open mind.