Tiny US paper drives multimedia changes

One of America’s smallest newspapers is continuing to make some of the industry’s most innovative digital waves, with several new developments lined up over the coming months.

North Carolina’s 114-year-old Shelby Star, operating in a town of 27,000 people and boasting a 15,000 circulation, was picked by publisher Freedom Communications to test the use of blogs, moblogs, video and more in a bold integrated newsroom experiment.

The plan, which has overhauled the way the paper’s 19 staff gather, produce and publish news in print as well as online, has been hailed a success, bringing 84 per cent more readers to the website.

But the Star has further developments to come, including the Star Car, a rebranded version of the WiFi-enabled, fully-kitted-out, mobile internet reporting vehicle pioneered by NewsGear at the NewsPlex newsroom planning organisation.

“The installation is scheduled for late next month with the launch some time in July,” publisher Skip Foster told Journalism.co.uk.

“The planning for this has been really fun – no rule against that, right? – and we are excited about integrating the Star Car in to our website.”

“The second thing we’re doing is really focusing on driving traffic on a day-to-day basis. We’re learning to be strategic about not only what news we break, but how we break it.

“We’ve tried to learn from TV news on this. They do a lot of teasing and ‘holding back’ on news and content to lure viewers into their newscasts. We’re doing the same thing – dribbling out information, sometimes slower than at the pace we actually collect
that information, to encourage users to revisit the site for updates.”

Foster revealed that, whilst the Shelby Star’s circulation ranks only nineteenth amongst Freedom’s 24 newspapers, it is seventh place in terms of web traffic.

“Clearly, we moved that needle, which is probably the biggest success of our project,” he added.

“All of this is contingent on monetising these increases in overall consumption of our products. How and when will that happen,  I don’t know, but I’m very confident it will happen and we’ll continue to be strong news organisations that simply focus on multiple mediums.

“I don’t think our model has any particular magic to it – there are a gazillion different ways to serve customers in markets across the world. The only element in our model that I think is necessary is abandoning the old print newspaper model; t’s simply not going to work any more.”