Think about it. Most local newspapers are filled with the same routine information to fill space: engagement announcements, obituaries, local club activities, property transfers, board meetings, crime reports, and community events. They're all things that are considered necessary, but not very interesting. It's these never ending stories the MUST be reported that often burden reporters and prevent them from seeking out and reporting other stories.
So here’s an insane, heretical idea for change. The goal is to make everyone in your community start talking about your newspaper and your Web site. You want people asking all their friends and co-workers, “Did you read x this morning?” and “Did you see y on the Web site this afternoon?” You want a woman coming home from work to say to her stay-at-home dad/husband, “I have to show you this thing on the Beacon’s Web site!” You want her to say that even before she asks, “What’s for dinner, honey?”
That’s your goal. How do you get there?
Well, first you have to quit crushing everyone on the staff under stupid stories that no one in your community even cares about.
Second, you have to figure out what people would care about — locally — if only you covered it properly.
In order to witch things up, the first plan of action is to gage what the community wants to read. What's important to them? What excites them? What do they need to know? What do they want? The staff would aim to answer these questions by asking. (Duh.)
Ask friends. Ask family. Ask community leaders. Ask the everyday Joe. Ask in as many areas and categories of people as possible. Ask on the street. Ask in the paper. Ask online through a forum, blog, or poll. Really get people involved in the paper. When this happens, the readers get what they want and need, and the paper stays in the black.
I see it at home with my local paper all the time. People pick it up, glance through it, then tos it back. A friend's mother commented the other day that it wasn't interesting at all, and stacked it with the other issues next to the fireplace. Papers that were donated to my JOURNALISM classrooms often went unread, and they were scrapped at the end of the day. And though the paper is trying to branch out online and with video, it's a complete mess. The paper's site is poorly put together, navigation is difficult, and slapped on ads make it unattractive.
Newspapers are a business. You need to create a product that people will want to buy. This means actually getting to know your customer base and creating a quality product catering to them, while captalizing on new technology.
Now I know many journalists are thinking, "Won't following what the public wants compromise journalistic integrity? Won't catering to public whim cause fluff journalism? Will hard news disappear in favor of gossip and fashion advice? Will we all end up chasing celebrities as cheap paparazzi?!" (Duh-duh-dunnnnn!)
Yes, celebrity gossip sells. People in your town may pick up People at the register, but I seriously doubt that they are clamoring for you to report on Britney in the newspaper. People do want news. They want to know what's going on in the world, especially about issues that affect them. And that's the ticket, finding out what affects them and having that information available.