Kevin Slimp talks successful newspapers at MPA convention

Note: These are live notes from a workshop. Follow live tweets at #mpa2012.

Kevin Slimp, known as @newsguru on Twitter, presented “What I learned this year from successful newspapers” at the Michigan Press Association’s annual conference Jan. 28 at the Amway Grand Hotel in Grand Rapids.

Successful qualities

Loyalty to the staff in tough times. You can’t keep cutting expect people to buy your product.
Constant investment in quality
Regular training for staff
Close relationships between publisher and staff
Close ties to community
Quality journalism

Wise County Messenger in Decatur, Texas: Slimp is a consultant to the newspaper industry and visited the publication at the invitation of the publisher. He looked at the print product and thought it was incredible for a weekly newspaper, especially the photographs. Learned the photographer had been honored as Photo Journalist of the Year for his work 17 years in a row. Talked with editorial team about what they might do differently and the advertising team about new ways to generate revenue. He met with the photographer who was interested in improving even more. “He said I just really want the photos to look as good as they can,” Slimp said. He visited the photographer multiple studios and Slimp saw his extensive work with celebrities. But, most of all, he’s impressed with the fact he would invite kids to come in on Halloween to have their pictures taken and kids would line up around the block. These photos were displayed all over the studio. The paper was putting in a pool table and ping-pong table because he wanted it to be a place where staff likes to work and has a good time. Produced a one-sheet that listed in paragraph form top news items and put these in coffeehouses and restaurants

Learned from his visit: Strong staff, loyal management, a focus on strengths

The Jasper Hearald in Jasper, Ind.: Focuses on its strength of photography, that’s what readers want. Collegiate Photographer of the Year took job there over New York Times and Chicago Tribune because Jasper known for photography.

The online paper is subscription only to drive readers back to print.

Learned from his visit: It’s community centered, focus on quality, emphasizes strengths.

The Auroran in Canada: Hired five new sales representatives and the paper grew tremendously.

Successful newspapers don’t cut their staffs. Once you cut the staff, quality goes down, businesses stop advertising, he said.

An investment in sales staff can pay off. Investing in online presence can pay off. Contests help.

The Times Leader in Princeton, Ky.: Publisher wants newspaper to be as good as it can be and the staff to be as happy as it can be.

Learned from publisher: Support staff with no reductions, emphasis on quality in all areas, record profits, not scared to invest in resources: press and new equipment.

Prescott Journal: Slimp learned key to success there was investment in technology, investment in new staff, making work fun and meaningful and investing in new publications.

Index-Journal: Didn’t cut staff even when lean times. Kidsville in North Carolina, which needs to be licensed and distributed through school systems, 24- to 28 pages, full color. Google “Kidsville” for details on how to use/produce.

Key to successes there: Producing niche publications, investing in technology, investing in training.

Slimp: Support staff (no reductions in numbers), regular training for staff, emphasis on quality and strong community support key to successes.

Times-Free Press in Chattanooga, Tenn.: Last year it was the fastest growing paper in 2010 in the industry. About 38 percent increase in print circulation. Publisher bought MacBook for every employee involved in reporting and/or design so they would know they were important and they would take it home and work on it. And it worked, he said. Example of a large paper doing something right: Growing, successful, making a profit, because making employees feel important and investing in resources.

Let staff know we value them and that they are important.

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