We’ve finally reached a point in publishing where ‘digital first’ is no longer news but ‘print first’ is. At the Publishing and Media Expo, John P. Garrett spoke about Community Impact Newspaper and what it took to make it a success.
John is the founder and publisher of the Texan organisation which is proud to put print first. His business model, and something he considers most papers are lacking, is based on quality. Community Impact Newspaper launched in 2005 as a free, monthly title, which has since expanded to 13 editions with a total circulation of over 850,000.
The idea for the paper came after a perceived lack of relevance in the local news already available to the community. John pointed out that in the digital age people no longer know what’s going on in their backyard.
As is probably true in the UK, people who run for election in Texas are largely unknown and coverage outside the main parties is sparse. Part of the secret to Community Impact Newspaper’s success is total political coverage without an editorialised angle; if the public are well informed they can make their own minds up. Also, John said, ‘If you endorse, you lose credibility’.
There are lessons to be learnt from digital though, and the way news is consumed has shifted to be more visual, with infographics and graphs a feature of many high-interest articles. Community Impact Newspaper has made the designers part of the editorial process and if all an audience sees of a story is the graphic, they should still be able to work out what is going on.
With his successful print business, John thinks other newspapers are blaming the wrong things, he said: ‘Newspapers don’t have a right to make poor business decisions’. He likened the approach he believes many newspapers are taking to Dell deciding to remove their keyboards and then charging more in order to compete with Apple. Editorial is not taking enough responsibility for the falling revenues of newspapers, according to John, and there is no excuse for a lack of quality in the product.
Community Impact Newspaper is a profitable and expanding print business that started in 2005. Its model cannot be applied across the board and other media organisations are facing a completely different set of challenges. But, it is a print-first, quality product that pulls in advertisers while remaining editorially independent. John says it is the quality, above all other things, that advertisers want to be associated with and is therefore the route to their success.
Digital is important, and while some people are turning their digital-first and digital-only offerings into profitable models, for Community Impact Newspaper it is a supplement to the real product. Print is still going, and in Austin, Texas it’s going strong.