Sunday, March 06, 2016

Georgia newspaper gets industry innovation award; example of nimble weeklies adapting to digital

Forsyth County, Ga.
The thrice-weekly Forsyth County News in Georgia won the Mega-Innovation Award presented at the recent Key Executives Mega-Conference for newspaper leaders.

"Publisher Vince Johnson says that when he came to the paper a couple of years ago, it had a rule about social media. Only one article was posted to Facebook each day, at 6 a.m.," Jane Nicholes reports for the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association, a sponsor of the conference.

Johnson said on his entry form that he changed that rule when he became publisher of the "wildly traditional" paper about two years ago, instituting repeated social-media promotion of stories, and the paper has since increased its social-media following by more than 1,000 percent. Nicholes writes, "The county is fairly affluent and its residents are attuned to new ways of communicating and receiving information, Johnson said."

Vince Johnson and Carol Hudler,
Mega-Conference program coordinator
The paper also revamped its staff, with new job descriptions and some layoffs; started a "Best of Forsyth" contest, special online advertising offers and a platform aimed at college students; raised subscription rates (with little protest, Johnson says) and used the video component of its website as a brand to sponsor local events.

Johnson told Nicholes, "We certainly represent the small- and medium-sized newspapers and how you can innovate in an area and a place where you don't have tons of resources, and you're not a huge corporation or anything like that."

One conference attendee, Arkansas Press Association Executive Director Tom Larimer, wrote in Arkansas Publisher Weekly: "Small newspapers are the prime targets for acquisition. Once considered the country cousins of the newspaper industry, it’s the smaller newspapers operating outside the metro areas that are figuring out how best to capitalize on the new opportunities before them. Where once these newspapers looked to the metro dailies across the country as the go-to sources for how to do things in the newspaper industry, it is the smaller dailies and non-dailies across the country that are now taking the lead. And they are prospering as a result. There are reasons for this, and it’s not because the operators or smaller newspapers are smarter or luckier, although that is sometimes the case. For the most part, smaller newspapers are more flexible in how they go about doing things. They can react to situations faster, and to make dramatic changes to their business model faster than their behemoth cousins in the city."

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