This is the final post in my 3 part series about saving the newspaper industry and my interview with Joe Boydston. It details some of the ways newspapers can use custom plugins and tools to increase efficiency.
Online and print editions both originate within WordPress
The first way the staff is more efficient is in the publishing process. They plan the paper’s layout and where each story appears in the print edition using WordPress. Stories get published online and they are turned into an InDesign file for print. This cuts down production time by 2 hours.
The comments section of newspaper sites can be awful. There are so many trolls, mean people and spammers. To improve the quality, you can monitor the comments manually, but the volume can make that task overwhelming.
To crowdsource some of the work, the newspapers added a “report abuse” link. When someone clicks it, WordPress automatically hides the comment from the person who reported it. If 3 people flag the same comment, then it will be moderated, and can be permanently blocked or removed from the site.
With all the reporters and staff using WordPress to publish, it can get unwieldy to monitor. Like Facebook, they added an activity timeline that shows what is happening in real time. Using the activity stream inside of WordPress you can see who is logging in (which subscribers), who is sharing content, saving posts, activities from reporters, etc. Joe monitors the feed to see which subscribers view the most content and sends them a personal thank you. Nice touch.
The newspapers use the Broadsheet newspaper theme for WordPress as a base for the design.
Membership plugin with pricing models
The newspapers manage their 7k paying customers, using s2member plugin with custom controls to determine who pays for content. They aren’t charging to raise revenue but to reflect the value of their content – that it is worth paying for.
So the online version of the paper is free outside of the newspaper’s market. If they can’t deliver the newspaper to your house, it’s free for you to read online.
They can also open the pay wall on days that readership is low (for example every Monday), and run ads for the newspaper on those days.
Since they want to encourage mobile use, people who access the paper on a phone are not charged. Some categories such as the obituaries are always free. If a story is linked to in an email they send out it will be free too. Social referrals are free, so if someone gets a link to a story on Facebook they won’t be asked to pay.
Another way they customize the experience is by looking at referral domains. There is no charge for Google or .edu domains.
I’m impressed by just how much thought and care goes into this model. It’s based on principles and values. The team developed rules (within the plugin) that turn on or turn off the membership based on various criteria.
Spelling, grammar and editing tool
Afterthedeadline is a WordPress pugin that helps with editing, grammar and spelling which is also built into Jetpack. I love Jetpack and need to enable this module immediately.
I hope this series has been helpful. As Joe says, either we need to save newspapers or offer a viable alternative. According to him,
“The future of newspapers is not a digital revolution, but a digital renaissance.”
Thank you Joe for enlightening me and for your love of freedom and a free press. One last thing about Joe that I find amazing: he’s a runner. I’m not sure if it’s for exercise or to save the environment, but rather than driving to the airport from the University of Utah campus where he spoke, he ran it. On major roads. With his luggage. Pretty impressive.
Personal note: I got my start in writing for newspapers in college, writing for The Daily Universe and The Student Review. Later I freelanced for The Daily Herald. I have a degree in conservation biology and wanted to be an environmental journalist. After realizing the poor pay, hours and risks, I decided against it and later discovered blogging.
I have never lost the love of reading newspapers or writing for them. So I’m deeply grateful for Joe’s work and advocacy. He’s an innovator in an industry that really needs innovation or it will not survive. I hope more newspapers will consider following his lead.