Use of syndicated content remains steady Good Coverage

Mar 13, 2017

By Stanley Schwartz | Managing Editor, Publishers’ Auxiliary

The amount of syndicated content used by community newspapers has stayed fairly steady, according to a non-scientific survey done by Publishers’ Auxiliary.

When asked if their use of syndicated content has increased, decreased or stayed about the same, the majority, 68.5 percent said they still use about the same amount of outside material. About 13 percent of the respondents have increased their use of syndicated material, while 18.5 percent have decreased their use of outside content.

National Newspaper Association member newspapers were sent the survey in early February. Of the people who answered the survey, nearly 70 percent (67.95%) use syndicated content in their newspapers. But on the other side, almost 25 percent (24.36%) don’t use any syndicated content.

Of those who answered the survey, 34.6 percent said they use outside content in their special sections. Only 8.9 percent use such material on their websites, however.

Some content providers offer their content at no cost, relying on product placement, sponsorships or already sold ads to cover the costs of producing the content. More than half of the survey takers paid for the content they used, 68.9 percent.

And what do most community newspapers like to use? According to the survey, 58.4 percent use crosswords. That interactive item is not the only thing popular with readers. Other puzzles, such as Sudoku, came in at a close second at 49. 2 percent. Also high on the list were home improvement (38.4%), food (29.2%), health (29.2%) and holiday (26.1%), followed those puzzles and other games. Other popular categories were comics (27.6%), lawn and garden (27.6%), entertainment (23%), and information for seniors (21.5%) and families (21.5%).

The reason community papers use syndicated material varies. One respondent said that because of a smaller staff, the need for material became evident for a larger paper. One respondent said a popular column makes all the difference in making readers happy.

One respondent said it had to discontinue its crossword puzzle because it was no longer available. It raised a huge outcry from readers.

Another respondent said: “We recently bought a Pearl Harbor section from Gatehouse. We sold a single sponsor and made a decent profit. I saw this as a good win—we made a profit and provided our readers with good content that we were unable to produce.”

Some of these syndicate sections make readers happy, said one respondent.

“We have used Metro content to fill out special sections for several years and have gotten great comments from readers. We are just beginning The Lennox Valley series and have high hopes it will increase readership.”

Another said: “Syndicated content allows us to expand our coverage—particularly for special sections—without taking staff time from producing local news.”

One respondent adapted Christmas storybooks to local interest, to boost readership and provide enjoyment to its readers.

One newspaper said special sections that it produces in-house actually perform better than syndicated ones.

“[It’s] precisely because we do not fill them with syndicated content but rather locally produced and locally focused stories that are legitimate news, not just excuses to fill an ad product.”

Another uses syndicated and locally produced content in its special sections: “Content used in our special sections (health, home and garden, etc.) provide a wealth of information for our readers and complements the locally generated content to provide a much broader product at a lower cost than one totally created in-house.”

A respondent said the use of Associated Press material is necessary because the wire service provides good coverage of state government, which many of its readers would not get because they do not subscribe to a daily paper.

One responded added that TV listings and crossword puzzles are great subscription builders.

When asked what type of content community newspapers find difficult to find, but would be valuable, one respondent said good editorial and opinion pieces. Another respondent echoed this sentiment saying, “Free moderately conservative and moderately liberal editorials would be useful” for the paper’s readers.

Another respondent is looking for good farm and agricultural content, while another wants editorial cartoons specific to issues in Illinois. One respondent wanted content that wasn’t trying to sell something. This theme was evident from more than one respondent. One noted: “Keep content as objective as possible without overt references to companies or products.”

Some wanted more on business, legal, construction and real estate.

One respondent was seeking a weekly sports column with photo, such as the one he used to receive from King Features about NASCAR.

When asked what newspapers would like to say to vendors, one said the paper could use a good food page with ingredients that is not brand driven. One noted that smaller papers couldn’t afford most of the syndicated content that’s being offered. A few of the respondents did not like the shipping and handling charges some syndicated companies tack onto their prices.

AP content, said one respondent, is good for his paper’s Facebook traffic.

One respondent was extremely proud of his paper’s staff and contributing writers.

“We have a stable of high-quality local writers representing a variety of political, topical and other viewpoints, who write for free for the privilege of being printed and who have strong local followings. Two have won statewide awards for column writing for their work for us. So please, would-be columnists from other places—be it New York City or Hole-in-the-Wall, AK—don’t waste my time filling out your email. Local newspapers succeed by being local—clean up your pitch lists.”