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What’s the solution?

May 23, 2009

Imagine that your local newspaper has always published your child’s school’s bus route. That bus route is very important to you and other parents of students. The number of schools in your local newspaper’s coverage area is more than a dozen. The number of bus routes that parents are looking for amounts to between three and four broadsheet pages. That’s a lot of newspaper real estate.

What happens when the amount of time it takes for Newsroom staff to gather the bus routes from the schools’ transportation departments, enter into computer, format, and paginate puts a strain on Newsroom resources?

The school bus routes get moved to the Advertising department’s Special Section. This opens the door for advertisers to support a supplement that is based on the community’s need to know this stuff.

Now, what if advertisers don’t want to support a School Bus Routes supplement? The supplement runs 12 pages. It strains the resources of the Special Sections department because someone still has to gather the bus routes from the schools’ transportation departments, etc.

If a good ratio of advertisements and editorial content in a supplement equals 40 to 50 percent, and a supplement only garners 10 percent advertising, does the newspaper cut its losses?

I’m using this supplement as an example of the importance of newspapers: the community needs this information. What source is going to offer this important information as conveniently as the local newspaper? Why do readers expect their local newspapers to offer products at little or no profit?

If this type of supplement moves to an online only version, will there be an outcry from the local newspaper readership? Is it this type of move that will show a large segment of the community the importance of their local paper for information they need to know?

Your thoughts and comments?

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. May 23, 2009 2:36 pm

    This type of information should be online only. News organizations have to stop thinking in terms of print. Everything should be web first. News organizations have to become a resource for all the information their local community needs. Once they have done this, they will once again be attractive to advertisers and will have the opportunity to monetize their content and drive revenue. It’s not just about monetizing a bus schedule section, it’s about creating a bigger profile for advertisers of all the different types of content that readers are looking at online. Allowing newspapers to offer profile based targeting to advertisers instead of the section based targeting inherited from the static print world.

  2. May 23, 2009 6:29 pm

    Won’t the school district provide it?

    Spending resources getting and publishing commodity information that is available elsewhere is not efficient. The web brings new efficiency because you can do what you do best – report, I hope – and link to the rest – source material, such as this.

    • May 23, 2009 7:20 pm

      Hello Jeff,
      Thanks for the comments. I did a Google search for the two big school districts for whom the newspaper provides the print version of their school bus schedules. One of the districts, Auburn, does have the bus schedule posted on their Web site. However, the schedule is several layers into the site. The other district, Lewiston, does not seem to have their bus schedule on their site, and I did hunt for it. I realize that Lewiston uses an outside source for their bus transportation, Hudson Bus Lines, and so I Googled that and came up with nothing for Lewiston school bus schedules.

      An online version of these bus schedules, as noted by Adam in his comment above, is an example of how communities depend on their local newspapers to provide the non-journalistic information they need. Newspapers should play up this importance by being an online destination and not simply appearing in news feeds.

      It is also a perfect opportunity to make the switch from print to online. If you have a child in school who takes the bus, the school bus schedule is a very important document.

      Until school departments upload this information onto their own sites AND parents/students can easily find the bus schedules, the newspaper really is the key to information disbursement. I foresee an advertisement in the print version of the paper, announcing that the bus schedule will appear online beginning (DATE) and then have a form online for school transportation departments / bus companies to upload their schedules directly themselves. Help will be available if needed, but the upload process should be easy for anyone to perform.

      There are other supplements that lend themselves to Web only, but I wanted to focus on the school bus schedule since it comes up every August.

      Thanks again,
      Special Dee

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