Innovations in Local News celebrated at the INMA Global Media Awards – Part One

Local news is still relevant. Despite the challenges faced by local news outlets, the desire for local journalism remains. In fact, these local newspapers are some of the most trustworthy news sources according to readers. They help to fill the gaps of the national news and discuss what really matters in a reader’s life.

To celebrate the success of local news initiatives, we explore some of the winning local news initiatives from this months’ INMA Global Media Awards 2021.

Local news using text messages to encourage reader engagement

We often hear publishers being told to be where their readers are. US Publisher Newsday Media Group reached their readers right where they are every day: their phones. For this initiative, they won the award for “Best Idea to Encourage Reader Engagement”.

With news about the virus updating rapidly, Newsday turned to the power of texts. They used daily informative texts to keep the residents of Long Island up to date with the latest coronavirus updates. Not only did these texts keep residents updated with news, but they also broke down the barrier between readers and journalist. They did so by giving readers the chance to reply and ask questions, share tips and story ideas. This enabled the newsroom to continue to be able to hear from the local community at a very trying time.

Originally, readers were able to sign up for these texts on social media. As the pandemic progressed, the sign-up link was distributed on a wider scale. This included at the bottom of every COVID-19 story and on Newsday’s daily COVID-19 newsletter. At first, the intention was to refine texts and grow engagement. As they grow in popularity, Newsday focused their texts on growth. From having 1,000 subscribers in September 2020, Newsday hit 5,400 subscribers by January 2021. These incredibly popular texts are a great example on local publishers innovating to engage their local community.

The power of texts was also embraced in Europe by Norwegian publisher Bergens Tidende. Through using automation AI technology, Bergens Tidende launched their new real estate section. The section solely offers texts about every property sale in the region of Vestland. The belief behind this was that the geotargeting would create value to drive digital subscription targets.

The texts provide the story of the property market in the current and historical times by simply highlighting all houses in the same markets. The innovative use of texts has seen Bergens Tidende sell 500 subscriptions from 6000 automated articles. The publisher hope to continue to drive revenues and sell 1000 new subscriptions annually. The project saw them come second place in the award for “Best Use of Data to Automate or Personalise“.

Keeping communities together during the pandemic

Local Newspapers have always played an important role in their local communities, and the pandemic was no different. Keeping community together and keeping events alive was a significant pandemic challenge. Whilst there were only so many Zoom calls and quizzes many of us could take, publishers across the world used innovative methods to keep events and community spirit alive.

To bring some feel good news to the community and ensure that young people didn’t miss some of the most special days of their lives, Calgary Herald of Canada hosted a series of virtual graduation ceremonies for the city’s high school graduates. The celebrations provided a rare opportunity for the publisher to interact with the young people of the city and to champion them as talents of the future. It also saw them take third place for the “Best Public Relations or Community Service Campaign” award.

To ensure that the events were well attended, a marketing campaign was launched through all digital and print channels of the Calgary Herald. These posts also served as calls to action for reader-generated content. In particular, graduates wrote about the areas of graduate fashion, valedictory speeches and future hopes of graduates. The results of the campaign were great, with the publisher receiving over 100 submissions of photos, speeches, videos and articles. These were distributed across print and digital and on social media and celebrated on 3 consecutive days. As well as bringing a positive spirit to the community, readership on traditional and social media platforms increased and single copy sales of print edition grew by 6.3% across the 3 days.

In Sweden, Götesborgs-Posten also decided to bring the city together through live music. By providing a space for artists to take their music to the people, the publisher has hosted 15 digital concerts throughout the pandemic. The Pustervik Concert, held on 4th April 2020, was particularly successful for Götesborgs-Posten. It took place at Pustervik, one of the most famous live music venues in Gothenburg. The 3-hour concert was live streamed to over 17,000 people, and after a week, the concert had been seen by nearly 80,000 people. The concert also raised money to help Pustervik survive the pandemic, with donations totaling over 1 million Swedish krona. The concert campaign also received an honourable mention for the “Best Public Relations or Community Service Campaign”.

Local news driving retention

Driving retention is a challenge publishers face following the subscriber surge of 2020. There are many ways that publishers do this, and 2 key best practices stood out from the INMA awards.

Bonnier News Local in Sweden host over 40 local news titles. Over the past 8 years, the publisher has invested in local sports streaming. As we know, sports fans are extremely habitual. Watching my beloved Manchester United is a must whenever I have the chance. If not, I’ll feel as though I’ve missed out not just on the game, but on having the chance to talk about it with my friends and family!

Having noticed that local sports teams lead directly to the hearts and minds of many subscribers, the ability to use these sports teams to drive retention seemed an obvious choice. The results of the campaign have been extremely positive indeed. Bonnier News Local’s customers that consume live streamed sports content have quickly become their most loyal customers. These customers have an average lifetime value of 20 months, compared with the 6 months of the average “Plus” customer. The power of using local sport is a lesser-known methods, but highly conventional. The campaign won third place in the “Best Initiative to Retain Subscribers”.

The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age quickly realised that they had a big challenge on their hands retaining new subscribers from the pandemic boom. Therefore, the Australian publisher decided to research how their pandemic subscribers differed from their existing subscribers. They therefore launched “Project Engage” which aimed to build ongoing reader habits with their products, connect subscribers to the newsroom and foster brand advocacy.

To do this, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age launched various campaigns. These included pushing readers to download apps, sign up to newsletters and play games, as well as subscriber only events and updates and a value of journalism campaign. “Project Engage” saw retention rates comfortably remain above the standard retention benchmark, even after the promotional period of their subscription had expired. The success of their campaign saw The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age take home third place for regional brands in the Best Initiative to Retain Subscribers.

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