GROWING READERSHIP ⁠— Kevin shares keys to increase readership, revenue

Kevin Slimp

May 1, 2022

Kevin Slimp visits with a newspaper staff in West Branch, Michigan, in March. “If I had known someone was taking a pic, I would have combed my hair!” Kevin said.

I had a great time in March when I got out a little more to visit newspapers in multiple states. What I learned inspired, invigorated and reminded me of much that is going well in our industry and some things that need to be done.

The request I hear most often is from community papers wanting to improve their overall products to draw more advertisers and readers in the “next” normal, a term I keep hearing from experts discussing the post-pandemic future. While headlines are filled with stories about national newspaper groups closing papers, these community papers are investing in future growth.

In addition to my work with newspapers, I do a good bit of speaking and training in the corporate communications world. One of the things I remind communicators of is that growth is easiest by appealing to and offering more products/content to current customers, then reaching out to potential new customers. In March, while I was onsite with a wonderful community newspaper in Michigan, we discussed potential new markets for the newspaper. Upon my return home, I was thrilled to learn my new friends in Michigan are making plans to create two new products in addition to their current newspapers. We had discussed the possibility of these while I was with the staff. They took the initiative to go out in the community, do some research and begin making plans immediately after I left.

Creating new content/products can happen in many ways. One is to schedule focus groups, hold discussions among the staff and community leaders, and find other ways to reach out to the community to learn what content could be included in your newspaper that is currently missing. Another is to discover what types of publications might be popular in your community that are now unavailable. I constantly remind clients to investigate monthly senior publications, providing significant potential revenue.

Want to increase the readership of your current newspaper? Let me suggest three steps that I stress most often with my clients:

  1. Increase the visual appeal of your publication. This means re-design regularly. Spend a little time and money to get help, if needed. Wondering why new readers aren’t attracted to your newspaper? Just look at the front page in the eyes of a “newbie.”
  2. Make your stories more interesting. Covering a school board meeting? Don’t report the minutes of the meeting. That’s a snooze fest. Report the background stories. Why were decisions made? What difference will they make to the community, parents and students? Are there questions about the decisions — or how they were made — that need answers?
  3. Write headlines that draw the reader to the story. If the headline is “School board meets Wednesday night,” go ahead and leave the story out of the paper. No one, except maybe the school board members, will read it. If the agenda includes a discussion about recent violence at the middle school, write a headline that reflects the importance of the story.

I did a little bit of research (actually, I just sent a few texts and emails) to learn how papers I’ve worked with over the past four years on redesigns have been doing. What did I learn? They’ve all experienced increased readership and advertising. Trust me. It’s not because of me. It’s just an indicator of the work these papers are continually doing to improve their products and draw more readers.

Apparently, newspapers are ramping up to meet the demands of a (hopefully soon-to-be) post-pandemic world. I’ve been receiving more requests for training than I have in several years, whether I have the time or not. If you look in the right places, you’ll find newspapers dedicated to improving their products and increasing their readership. From what I’m hearing, that work is already paying off in significant ways.

Kevin Slimp is former director of The University of Tennessee Newspaper Institute and founder of Contact Kevin at: