The Our Hometown Road Show visits NDNA
I recently had the opportunity to attend the annual convention of the North Dakota Newspaper Association (NDNA) in Crosby, ND. It was Our Hometown’s first NDNA convention and my first time setting foot in the state.
The adventure was prompted by an invite from Allan Burke, the publisher emeritus of the Emmons County Record.
Since he became a customer in 2013, Allan and I have worked together on several projects including the launch of ECRecord.com and PPioneer.com. Over the years, Allan’s praise has helped us generate new business in the Dakotas. The opportunity to attend the state convention as an invited guest of one of its prominent members was one I could not pass up.
My flight to Bismarck had a stop in Chicago. Our social media team documented the noteworthy events.
On the way to North Dakota… a stop at Chicago O'Hare meant Chicago-style hot dogs were a must 🙂 pic.twitter.com/Q3lKXhb0JK
— Our Hometown (@ourhometowninc) May 4, 2016
Upon landing in probably the cutest airport I’ve ever seen, I picked up my rental and headed to the first stop: Emmons County Record HQ in Linton, ND.
I took the scenic route, which followed route 1804 along the Missouri river, and noticed the abundant waterfowl that North Dakota is known for.
As I wandered down Linton’s prototypical “Midwest” main street, I saw the Record’s banner flying high and proud from halfway across town.
I wandered in and first met Leah Burke, the business manager/layout expert for the Record as well as Allan’s better half.
After meeting several staff members the boss emerged with a friendly grin and hand extended.
Allan started calling me “Mr. Hollywood” a few years ago after I produced a marketing video to help him sell advertising on his website.
I finally had a face to put with the name after years of working together purely over the phone.
Never have I known a publisher so eager to spread the “good word” on the products and services Our Hometown provides. And in the strongest testament of all, by using the best of our tools and services, the Emmons County Record is turning a profit with its website.
Such mutually beneficial relationships are the dream of capitalism.
A lesson in the history of newspaper publishing
After a tour of the office we traveled to the Braddock Country Museum.
This is where Allan spends his time when not in the Record office, which he admits has been growing in proportion lately.
Well, you know, I am semi-retired…so I can pretty much do whatever I want
I had just missed an event Allan organized at the museum, to have a local poet’s work printed on an antique printing press.
We took a tour of the museum, which was a fascinating glimpse into the history of the print newspaper.
My favorite part of studying history has always been when I could see a clear connection from the past to the present. Walking through this museum, you could see countless examples of how the history of publishing is preserved in the way we do things today.
Today we use the term “uppercase” and “lowercase” to describe the size and shape of alphabetic characters. Allan explained these that these terms originate from the days of movable type, where the letters were organized into separate drawers, with the uppercase versions of each letter in the “upper” drawer.
Many practices and units of measure that were standard 100 years ago are still visible in the software that has taken it’s place.
Images on stories and advertisements were molded into a heat resistant material, which could then be caste in lead and used in printing the paper.
I could begin to see how much effort had to be put into producing a print publication. The benefits of digital are overwhelming when you view the production process in this context. Its an important perspective for us “techies” to maintain.
Allan described the ordered chaos of a print shop in full production. Trained technicians would operate their massive, lumbering machines with acute precision. Mistakes were costly. A missed keystroke on the linotype and you would have to recast the entire line.
After the print museum we toured the rest of Braddock village. There were barns packed with antique farm machinery, which is the feature attraction for the village’s annual “Threshing” festival.
Allan and I got to talking about the opportunities for generating more revenue through his website. Looking for the low hanging fruit first, we decided on offering print subscribers an option to also access the digital edition for a 50% upsell. The new product is scheduled to be announced at the 2016 Threshing show, which I hope to attend as a follow up trip.
A good starting point
The Record followed many of Our Hometown’s recommendations when launching their site in 2013.
First, and most importantly, they did not give away all their content. In fact, they didn’t even devalue the editorial content online, as many newspapers are tempted to do in order to increase traffic. This put them in a great position to maximize revenue from the start.
The Record decided to charge THE SAME PRICE for the digital edition as they charge for an in county print subscription
This pricing structure creates an incentive for out of state subscribers to switch to the digital edition. This is good for the paper’s bottom line.
With skyrocketing postal rates, the profit margin on an out of state subscription is as bad as it gets. By putting out a world class website, the Record’s strategy is to migrate readers to the website where and when it makes sense.
We made plans to take off early for the convention the next morning, which was the official reason I was in North Dakota.
Day 2: A trip to northern North Dakota
Allan was kind enough to offer me a ride to the convention, so I dropped my rental off and we met at the airport.
As we drove I could see agriculture and energy as dominate industries in North Dakota.
The flat land has been stitched together into mega farms and its topography apparently makes wind farming economically viable as well.
The windmills scattered the landscape while we were heading north, past Minot. The tell-tale signs of an oil boom became more visible heading West along route 52.
The oil derricks were operating, although Allan explained how the recent drop in oil prices has created an awkward situation for the companies that have invested in the infrastructure for maximum production.
We arrived in good time to catch the opening meet and greet, which was titled the “Newspaper Olympics”. Teams competed in a series of events to test our endurance at stuffing inserts and landing newspapers on a “front porch” target.
I turned in for an early night so I could be fresh for the main events on Saturday.
Day 3: The Conference Begins
I’ve been to my share of newspaper conventions, which typically feature a series of lectures and roundtable discussion on the state of the local media industry. However, I lucked out with this year’s convention.
For the first time in its history, the NDNA program featured three Pulitzer Prize winning journalists, all originating from North Dakota.
After the speakers I had the opportunity to sit down with Allan and another publisher who was looking to do more with his website. Like most newspaper people today, he recognizes that the internet is the future, and in order to survive he needs to adapt to the new landscape.
But, also like most newspaper people, he didn’t know how to go about it or where to start.
Talking to many of these folks gave me a profound sense of confidence and pride in what Our Hometown is trying to accomplish. In the age of tweeting and clickbait headlines, we still believe in the power of journalism and are working to preserve its future. But the proverbial cat is out of the bag and the old ways of paying for good journalism is changing.
Newspapers have to be available to readers on contemporary platforms; I’m talking about PC, tablet, mobile, and yes, still print.
This is why we have invested in new mobile responsive templates and eEditions. Our world class products give publishers the tools they need to deliver the news when and where their reader’s want it. But simple economics tell us that there is a balance between the cost and benefit of having a print product. You will never beat the profit margin on a digital product, so the trick is to preserve your revenue while migrating to a digital-centric business model.
Day 4: The Debate
The conference finale was the ND Republican Gubernatorial debate.
The panel was moderated by a group of publishers who directed their questions at individual candidates, which lead to a relatively “G-rated” debate.
However, things got a bit ugly toward the end of the hour long debate as the candidates were allowed ask each other questions. The front runner, Wayne Stenehjem, was attacked on his record as Attorney General. Stenehjem retaliated, cornering the leading challenger, Doug Burgum, and pressured him to stop running negative attack ads. He referenced what Ronald Reagan had coined as the “Eleventh Commandment: Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican”.
I had a flight booked for the next morning, so the Burke’s and I packed up our luggage and enjoyed a leisurely drive by to my hotel in downtown Bismark.
Update: Steele Ozone joins Our Hometown
I am proud to announce that we have just launched the Steele Ozone and Kidder County Press website.
The owner, Paul Erdelt, was the fella I had a sit down with at the convention.
In a great team effort, we were able to put together a fantastic new website for him in time for the June 20th high school reunion in Steele, ND. Paul plans to seize this opportunity and sell digital subscriptions to the alumni who have since moved out of the area.