October 17th, 2012 by Lloyd Gofton
As you may have seen in the excellent Greenslade blog on Media Guardian yesterday: a U.S. newspaper has broken with the trend of staffing cuts, and instead hired dozens of reporters to focus on quality journalism and ultimately boost its print readership.
The title in question is the Orange County Register, published in Southern California, which has recently employed about 50 editorial staffers to add to its existing staff of 180.
As an example of this quality local focus, the paper recently sent 40 journalists and photographers to cover high school sporting events in one weekend.
That’s some serious investment in quality content, but why this change from the usual path of online first?
The Orange County Register’s Editor, Ken Brusic said “Think about a Starbucks model. If each day you went into Starbucks and plunked down $4 for a latte, and the cups got smaller and the content got weaker, chances are you’d stop going to Starbucks. That’s basically what newspapers have been doing as a way to deal with decreases in advertising revenue. The new guys are attempting to reverse that trend, and are attempting in a variety of different ways.
“In the meantime, we are moving as fast as we can to increase the quality of the print edition, because that really is where so much of the revenue comes from.
“The new owners have decided that the way they want to proceed with a business model is to really move from solely an advertising-based newspaper model to a subscriber-based one, and in order to accomplish that – basically, what we need if we’re going to charge more – is more quality in the newspaper.”
The strategy includes increasing subscription prices and a paywall, which is likely to go up before the end of the year.
This move seems to make sense, and counters the failing of some traditional media that falter because they reduce quality to focus purely on web-based services. This approach fails to take into consideration why readers, or anyone for that matter, would access content online if the quality is reduced?
In the Niemanlab piece, Brusic confirmed that improving print first doesn’t mean abandoning digital. It does, however, mean cutting back on “things that seem to be distracting the staff from the basic mission, which is to increase quality first in print.”
“The staff still file breaking news to the web, still understands the importance of mobile and digital, but we really have pulled back from chasing empty pageviews and are focusing really on – whether you’re dealing with print or digital – the core mission should be to build quality in content and build a core audience.”
It maybe seen as a risky strategy in the longer term, but it’s a strong differentiator.
By investing in quality, the Orange County Register is giving its loyal and hungry audience exactly what it wants, focusing on the news that they can’t get elsewhere.
It is also adhering to the number one rule of content marketing, which is quality over quantity, and although the investment may not be rewarded in full, it shows a brave approach to solving the traditional vs. digital publishing question.