Tactics of a smart newspaper

On my vacation, I spent four days in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The newspaper there, the Chattanooga Times Free Press, made a strong impression on me. I picked up the print edition at breakfast time on Friday, and I liked it so much, I bought one each day after that.

I liked the layout, the type families, the headlines, the story choices. I even liked the weight and texture of the newsprint. Wow, what a nice newspaper, I thought, about halfway through my biscuit with sausage gravy. But as you might guess, I was particularly enamored of the “online” blurbs at the top of almost every staff-written story.

Some stories had an online blurb and a refer box, like the one above that provides both a phone number and an e-mail address. I admire the user-friendliness of putting this information smack at the top of the story — it really shows that the reader comes first here, and not the writer’s ego.

Some stories had a refer box that points the reader to an external Web site. Again, I liked the prominence given to the information. I think it increases the value of the newspaper.

I also liked the clean little icons the newspaper uses to indicate that online readers can read additional text, hear audio, view video, and comment on the story.

Even a local story with no extra information online can invite the audience to visit the Web site to comment. (And hey, who doesn’t want to sound off about a rate hike?)

The choice of Chattanooga for a new Volkswagen manufacturing plant has been making headlines for some time already, and will continue to do so. Why not remind the print readers that they can check the past coverage of this story by visiting the Web site?

The Times Free Press is doing some nice local video, such as this one about the scooter rally I attended. Production, pacing, and story quality are all good. I wouldn’t say that the Web site has reached its full potential yet (the “Spotted” photo galleries, for example, are really annoying to use because you have to wait for a new page to load and then scroll the page to see the picture — I got sick of that by the third photo).

I had wondered whether I would be able to find the features referred to in the online blurbs in the printed paper, but the organization of the site is satisfyingly straightforward. I had no problems navigating around and finding what I wanted. Even the past coverage of the Volkswagen story turned out to be very easy to find.

Update (Aug. 4): Reader Peg Achterman liked the “article tools” on the Times Free Press Web site:

Article Tools from Times Free Press

Too bad the “iPod friendly” option doesn’t allow you to download videos. I tried it, but all it gives you is the text.

12 Comments on “Tactics of a smart newspaper

  1. I agree on your comments on the LOOK of the paper. It is much cleaner than many others that have tried to show Internet links in print.

    But my issue is with the content.

    You talked about the VW plant opening in Chattanooga. So I went to the paper’s web site to see what kind of coverage there was.

    Yes, they covered the announcement, how the city won the plant and all the benefits the city will get from the plant. But no where was their any reporting on the economic, political or social situation in Germany.

    I checked articles one month before the announcement through Aug. 1 and nothing came up discussing the situation in Germany. I would think that readers in Chattanooga might be interested in knowing the situation in Germany. (After all if things go bad economically in Germany, do you really think a US plant will be spared the ax?)

    And it’s not like the paper has to send anyone to Germany. I would bet the AP and other news services the paper subscribes to churn out regular business, political and social stories about Germany.

    This is a criticism of not just the Times Free Press. Too many news organizations seem to be unaware that globalization means foreign companies open plants and offices IN the States. That means what is going on in Korea, Japan, Germany, Belgium etc. IS now a local story.

    One would think that even if space in the printed version is limited, the papers could use their web sites to provide links to wire service stories about countries important to the local economy. (Now that would be putting the Internet to good work AND provide more information for the local public.)

  2. @Dan – I don’t know a lot about Chattanooga, but I heard they were “always a bridesmaid, never a bride” when it came to getting a big auto plant to come to town. So, to trot out another old cliché, maybe they don’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth when it comes to Volkswagen. They’re just happy to be getting a horse.

    I agree with you, though, that it would be great for the paper to give the community some information about Germany’s economy, and the European carmakers in general.

  3. @Matt – Once again, you prove the adage that my readers know more than I do. I would like to look up circulation numbers for the Times Free Press, but no time right now. In spite of Hussman’s anti-Web attitude, the Web site is not bad at all (not great, but not bad), and the print product is really top-tier. I stand by my impression!

  4. Despite the inside baseball of the paper itself, I really like how it refers readers to the Web for extra information or to comment on issues. I think the key to retaining readers is getting them to feel more connected to their newspaper.

    Case in point, I am a video game geek, and I started posting on message boards for a certain game in 2000. I haven’t played that game in more than seven years, but I still post on that message board because I made friends and I feel connected. Maybe it’s different for newspapers (I don’t know of any news forums that existed in 2000). I think there has to be a parallel somewhere though.

  5. The icons, the way things are presented, are excellent, i always imagined to do things like that on paper, as the other half for a newspaper’s website. As far looks and function go, it goes pretty far.

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  7. Another piece to like that we don’t see enough of on newspaper websites – few sites at all really. I nice friendly set of navigation choices. I clipped it, but cannot attach here, so I’ll send it to Mindy for attach if she would like.
    The options are things like “email this, printer-friendly, iPod friendly, comments, share” AND..even a font-size increaser! Cool.

  8. Only in the blurbs that reference someone else’s Web site is the URL given. I would add the newspaper’s URL to every blurb, no matter how redundant it seems. I don’t know if the URL is in the folio or elsewhere on each page, but it should be everywhere. The name of the newspaper is on every page, I’m sure. So put chat.com or whatever it is there too. Oh, and when developing a URL for the paper, make it extremely simple and memorable.

  9. Mindy, I just wanted to point out that this is an Ellington CMS client. Times Free Press buys the software, but employs their own designers to customize their look and feel of the website.

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  11. Good to see the Chattanooga Times Free Press finally got on board the web train.

    For years they locked out the masses from their website unless you subscribed to the print edition.

    That strategy led to the launch of this site:
    http://www.chattanoogan.com/

    Which now owns breaking news in Chattanooga.

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