It pays to subscribe to your local newspaper: Part 2

18 02 2009

Tonight’s temperature is expected to dip to 21 degrees in Lewiston, Maine, but the deals at the local newspaper are sizzling hot. The editors in charge at the Sun Journal are betting that their newspaper can save subscribers big bucks and they’ve put it in writing with a money-back guarantee.

In a Jan. 4 article, Rex Rhoades, the executive editor at the Sun Journal, told his subscribers:

” If you follow the tips, tricks and advice in our series “Tough People, Smart Money,” you will save far more than the cost of your six-month subscription.

“Our goal is to save you $1,000 over six months … about 10 times the cost of your newspaper for the same period.

“I’ll even offer you this guarantee: If you don’t save at least twice the cost of your home subscription price, call me at the end of the series and I’ll refund your money.”

Another line that struck me from Rhoades’ column:

Instead of simply writing about gloomy forecasts and layoffs, we want to help our readers take charge of their lives and get through this difficult period.
We’ve asked our senior reporter, Bonnie Washuk, to work full time on this series for the next six months. She will write about the things you can do – large and small – to make ends meet.

There are five parts to this series:
 
1. A daily money-saving tip. When the paper inadvertently missed a day, editors received a flood of calls asking what happened to their tip of the day.
2. Monday through Friday, the paper runs thrifty recipes supplied by a cook of the week.
3. On Wednesday, the Sun Journal analyzes a money-saving idea in a feature called “Breaking it down.” Programmable thermostats were a recent topic.
4. Thursdays are “Fun on the cheap”  days, giving ideas on inexpensive or free things to do.
5. Throughout the week, periodic stories on the recession are published. But these stories are written with the consumer in mind. One recent story was on how to avoid being the person chosen for layoffs. 

What a concept. It is just the sort of approach all newspapers, which are in financial free fall, should be taking to maintain readership. From my years of reporting and editing at The Miami Herald, I know that newspapers have always done these types of stories. But they were rarely showcased and rarely had a seasoned reporter assigned to do them. Most often, consumer-type stories were hidden in the back of the section.

Now is the time to retool.

As I mentioned in a previous post (click here to read), I have watched in sorrow as former colleagues lose their jobs. And as the mother of a journalism major at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I have a keen interest in the future of newspapers.

Judging from the proliferation of blogs on frugal living, bargain hunting and freebies, folks are hungry for this type of information. And local newspapers are in a great position to deliver it to their readers with local information tailored to their readers.

I emailed Rhoades to see how the series is being received in central Maine. He said that while he has no solid evidence the paper is gaining or retaining readers, “I can say that the public response and participation in the project has exceeded our expectations.”

Managing editor Judith Meyer is taking a lot of the calls from readers. “We hear constantly from people that they pick up the paper and turn directly to the daily tip, so it’s become a conversation starter in our readership area.

“Mainers are generally pretty proud of Yankee miserly ways, so our readers are proud to share what they’ve learned. We take the sentiment to ‘use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without’ pretty seriously.”

Rhoades said he has had inquiries from three other newspapers that are contemplating the launch of a similar series.

It’s about time. As newspapers across the country do away with entire sections, lay off and furlough employees and freeze salaries and pension plans, editors are also trying to reinvent and/or repackage the content of newspapers to find a niche in a media-saturated society.

At the risk of over simplifying, in my humble opinion, a daily serving of surviving-the-times journalism would give subscribers a reason to keep the paper coming to their driveways every morning. Not the definitive reason, but a reason nonetheless.

As the recession deepens, a lot of subscribers are looking at their budgets and trying to decide where to cut. Among those things on the chopping block are newspaper subscriptions. It’s the job of newspaper editors to realize this and run with it. It’s a given that newspapers are the best at asking the tough questions, holding public officials accountable and digging into public records. But sadly, that’s not enough anymore.

Newspapers have got to become indispensable, giving subscribers  tangible, no-nonsense, money-saving information on a daily basis . Let subscribers know  they will more than recoup the cost of their subscriptions. In households across the country, it’s about the bottom line. It’s time for newspapers to earn their keep.

So, hats off to a small daily paper in Maine for leading the way. If you’d like to read the full text of Sun Journal Editor Rex Rhoades’ article announcing his money-back guarantee, click here.

And click here to read the Sun-Journal’s daily tips and consumer-related stories that make up the “Tough People, Smart Money” series.

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14 05 2009
A good weekend for coupons « Free to be Frugal

[…] those ever-shrinking circulation numbers at newspapers across the country. Click here, here and here for past posts on why I think newspapers are still a smart […]

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