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Summary:

It’s a too-familiar scenario these days — the announcement that personnel in traditional areas are being laid off or bought out while resou…

It’s a too-familiar scenario these days — the announcement that personnel in traditional areas are being laid off or bought out while resources are diverted to digital. It’s rarely a quid pro quo as far as I can tell but it helps companies frame cuts as positives in quasi-Orwellian speak. Yesterday’s installment was courtesy of Discovery, which sliced 200 jobs while promising to add some in digital. Today we have Media General’s Tampa Tribune, which is expanding its Tampa Bay Online operations to include hyperlocal sites while cutting 70 staff jobs; the paper currently employs about 1,335. The lengthy press release (via Romenesko) lists the cuts and expansion as part of a batch of changes.
Hyperlocal plans: Online vet Rusty Coats, VP/GM of TBO.com and Tampa Bay Online, provided some more detail about the hyperlocal plans via email. Coats: “Basically, we

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  1. folks interested in hyper-local newspaper best practices should check out Rob Curley, now at Washington Post but previously breaking ground in Florida and Kansas. See Fast Company profile for details: http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/110/open_hyper-local-hero.html

  2. Assuming every dollar is worth more than a dollar (shifted away from the Tribune or even Media General for argument's sake), it's easy to see how a focused sells effort can nudge the Tribune "out of the market" over time. I don't buy into arguments that newspaper is a less effective advertising medium.

    People still want grass-roots, home-town news.

    The types of advertisers that really move the needle for a newspaper's ad revenue (excluding national accounts, auto, builder, telcom, etc.) are still able to effectively hit their demographic.
    Meaning, (insert high dollar local furniture store) on Kennedy caters to a more affluent demo. Those people, 45-50+, still read the paper. Those people can afford to buy from (X Business) and they still look to the newspaper for promotions and sales.

    On the flip side, the smaller mom and pop (with lower valued products) are able to hit their target market too! Their target market being consumers in a 5-10 mile radius.
    Newspapers are one of few options for in-depth local coverage (aside from TV News). With that being said, the price point of a cable TV buy (once you throw in production costs) is too much for that small to mid-size business. Everyone has a point of diminishing marginal return they must follow (whether they do it consciously or not!).

    A quick aside… A new customer is usually worth a lot more in the long term. However, the type of rapport it takes to share this information with a new client is fairly advanced. It's been my experience that you can't just tell someone something. Telling them sounds "salesy", especially at the beginning of a transaction / consultive relationship.

    Point being, there needs to be a larger investment in the sales staff. That's where I think the industry is falling short. A media salesperson needs a spiff for generating new business.

    *** Put dollars in my pocket and reward me for doing the right thing. I'm a salesperson for a reason. I like to make money. ***

    The salespeople are on the streets everyday. They are the "boundry spanners" for Media General. They can move the needle. Selling advertising is easy. The concept of ROI is powerful. They're selling a very calculated dream.

    Now, if 85% of a Newspaper's revenue comes from retail advertising, why not invest in the sales staff first thing?

    Too many people scream the sky is falling and everyone starts to believe it. Look at politics and world news. Global warming, etc. Newspaper isn't dead it just has to adapt. The species that survive aren't always the strongest. The ones that survive are the ones who learn how to adapt.

    My advice: calm down, take it easy, stay focused, stay local and invest in the people that bring business in the door.

  3. seasoned in local Saturday, January 10, 2009

    I am surprised at how many people (either media insiders, observers or hyperlocal participants) have not looked at the hard numbers. There is no $$$ in hyperlocal. In a recent study conducted by the Merrill School of Journalism at Univ. of Maryland, only 7% of hyperlocal sites reported they covered their operating costs. When advertisers migrate from print to online — provided you can even get them to make the transition — the dollars are not preserved in a 1:1 ratio. A hyperlocal site can start for the cost of web hosting so landing a $50,000 account is not a concern. How does a huge company like a Tribune, a Post, a Globe, preserve the quality of its flagship in an online product and compete on a cost level? The answer is it can't and it has to change the game plan — scraping other sites, going blog, getting UGC to fill the news hole — but then the advertisers who want the quality content will turn somewhere else.

    If anyone can find a loophole in this analysis I urge you to post back.

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