In a recent article, Day editorial page editor Paul Choiniere discussed the importance of supporting local journalism, and I was inspired by it to re-up my lapsed Day subscription.
The fact is that The Day’s coverage of local affairs is, hands down, the best (sometimes the only) source for local news and important information. Without local reporting, local democratic governance no longer functions. There are some complaints about The Day’s reporting, but they are largely directly caused by the very financial issues that Mr. Choiniere is speaking of.
Like most local papers, the Day is in financial difficulty. Their 20th century advertising model is faring poorly in the 21st century. People are drawn more to entertaining and exciting platforms. Reading about town government and local institutions, while vital to democracy, is not quite as exciting and reading a glossy, full color story about your neighbors and their cute dogs.
I should know, because I publish the magazine that has the families and the dogs. We achieve a 90% open rate among our readers, who receive the magazine for free. Because it is free and going to every home in the communities we serve, we achieve a level of saturation that is powerful for our sponsors.
We are a great advertising platform because we stay away from all controversial topics. Instead, we focus on meeting the neighbors, fun events, cute kids and animals, delicious recipes, and heartwarming charities. People love it. This has allowed the Best Version Media publications here in Connecticut to collectively grow by more than 100% every year we have been in the state.
Print. No digital. 100% year over year growth.
Print is very much alive.
People love what we do at Groton-Mystic Neighbors, but people need what The Day does. As the Washington Post’s new, and very accurate, slogan says: Democracy Dies in Darkness. We need the reporting on local government that The Day offers. We need the investigation that only a great local reporter can offer to uncover what is broken under the facade.
Here are my suggestions on how The Day could adapt to the modern marketing environment and thrive.
Promote Support Like NPR
With my involvement in my local government, I’m more often in the position to know the news before I read it, but I have subscribed anyway. I subscribed because The Day is vital to our local community, and I want to be a part of supporting it and keeping it around for another century.
At some point in the last thirty years, The Day went from being a robust for-profit business to a beleaguered but vital community institution. This transition is not so much a problem as is the failure to adapt to it. The traditional model of selling subscriptions with special deals and “great value” won’t work when they are competing against sources that are free.
The message that will resonate is the one that resonated with me this morning. The Day is important for you and your community. For about a dollar a day, you can help ensure we continue to do the great work New London County needs.
This is the model that NPR operates under and it is incredibly successful. Without giving a penny to NPR, you have full access to everything they offer, yet millions of people donate money every year to support something they care about. Churches operate under the same model. As do Rotary clubs, Lions clubs, and many other vital community institutions.
The Day could do likewise, but it would require a change in tone and an acknowledgement that their advertising model is no longer working and a new model is needed.
Tear Down That (Pay)Wall
In order for people to feel the obligation to support The Day as a community resource, it has to be a part of their lives. If you watch how people interact with The Day’s website on social media, you will see that they are inclined to share articles regularly as a vital and trusted core of the community conversation.
In the comments, you will then see a number of people commenting that they could not read the article and thus disengaging from the conversation.
Usually, the site just asks you to log in or answer a survey to be able to read an article, but bugs in this system often make it difficult or even impossible to read the article. Even when I tried to log in tonight as a subscriber, the site did not register that I was logged in and gave me the survey to complete before I could see an article.
The news that The Day provides is vital to our community, but not fun like families and puppies. It’s like eating your vegetables. The paywall gives people an excuse not to engage with important but dense content. That lack of engagement prevents them from appreciating the incredible value that The Day offers.
On the other hand, people would likely donate after particularly interesting or enlightening articles. Twitch works on this model, as do many other sites. Consumers voluntarily donate money at the exact moment the receive value. This model could potentially work well for The Day.
The Day could also employ a freemium model in which the vital news is free, but the more entertaining or premium content is charged. Free brussels sprouts, but you pay for the ice cream.
People are willing to pay for value, but first they have to feel the value.
Stay Out of National Politics
The Day adds nothing to the national political debate. They don’t have reporters in Washington. They don’t have new insights on national issues. They should stay out of the discussion of national politics.
Local politics are about real things. Tax rates versus local programs we all use. Should we fix the bridge or lower the taxes? Should we build the new school or keep the old one? There are valid arguments on both sides and most people can find the reason in the case of those who disagree.
National politics are divisive and tribal. It’s not about facts. It’s about our team and their team. Our team is right. Their team is monsters.
By getting into the scrum on the editorial pages, The Day does not educate but alienates. Those who agree are annoyed by the fact that it’s even being discussed and those who disagree may stop reading the entire paper in disgust.
If you posted a Right Wing article on Wednesday and a Left Wing article on Thursday, you would not have readers feeling that the paper was balanced. You’d alienate liberals on Wednesday then you’d alienate conservatives on Thursday.
The Day should be opining on local political issues, even state level issues. These provide insight and context to local residents who will need to make important political and economic decisions. That is the value The Day provides, but they should stay out of divisive, vicious, toxic national politics.
Position Advertisers as Sponsors
If The Day were positioning themselves as a public good, a community resource, then the advertisers would be seen less as businesses advancing their interests, but as supporters of something of great value.
Many of my sponsors have gotten business from the communities we serve in reciprocity for the fact that those sponsors bring the community our publication.
Because The Day is seen as an permanent institution that has always been and will always be, the advertisers are not appreciated as those who make it possible to get the local news. This is all a matter of perception. Advertising is vital to getting the local news, and The Day should make efforts to ensure that the public perceives their sponsors in this light.
Furthermore, with their existing platforms, they could promote all of their sponsors in a directory on their website. This wouldn’t be your typical directory. This would be a gallery of sponsors, highlighting these generous local companies who want to help bring you important news. Supporters of The Day could then choose to go to this directory to support the business that support their community.
Utilize Local Content Resources
There are a lot of great people out there in our community who have valuable things to say. Not all the content in the paper must come from paid staff writers.
Professional writers are critical for covering hard hitting issues like local government, scandals, crime, etc. But for other feature content such as local interest, community events, expert opinions, and the like, there are many out there who would gladly offer content at no cost.
Some might even pay to offer that content. That’s how most local shows get on local radio: the hosts pay to have a show.
By leveraging those resources, The Day can both create additional engagement with the community and offer more content that makes people feel good about where they live and good about the publication that brings it to them.
I am a huge fan of The Day, and I believe it provides a vital service to our community in New London County. I very much hope that it can adapt to the changing times and even thrive. If there is anything that I can do to assist, I would be quite happy to. In the meantime, I’ll become a supporting member, and I hope you will as well.