Melody Kramer asked a smart question this week about value in legacy media:
Update: Melody also did a longer post about the value of archives.
I have long felt that newspaper archives were a wasted asset that exposed our legacy mentality, always focused on the expensive task of producing new content while failing to think of new approaches to our business and failing to extract full value from content we’ve already paid to produce.
With the increasing value of video, TV station and network archives are similarly valuable. In both cases, older archives that haven’t been digitized present a cost-benefit consideration: You need to develop an effective way to generate revenue from your archives to justify the cost of converting old content from its original formats to digital. But I think archives have serious revenue potential that would cover the costs of converting and preserving archives. And much of your archives are already in the digital formats we’ve been using for years now.
I think press associations or media groups could hire developers to make do-it-yourself tools that allow users to make customized products such as front pages, newspapers and videos using content about themselves, their teams and their organizations. The ideal tool would provide search access to archives, with templates that offer basic products or some drag-and-drop options, giving the user flexibility choose or rearrange content, make simple edits and add original content.
Here are some ideas I hope legacy media operations will try to add value to their archives (if you’re already trying these or other ideas, please send me information, including links, and I’ll highlight them here):
I would love to see a community news organization explore the possibilities for helping people use archived content to celebrate life milestones. This might work better in a smaller community newspaper or TV station, where individuals appear more often in the news, than in a larger metro operation. But metro operations have more people in their communities and thus more who have appeared occasionally in the news (even if the threshold of newsworthiness is higher). The approach probably will work with any size, but the details and promotion might vary.
You’ll want to take measures to protect the integrity of your archives, such as not allowing changes in published stories. But you might allow trimming of stories to fit pages, and you might allow new headlines, both to fit the new pages and for fun and updating. Pages and other products can include statements that cannot be edited or deleted, describing how the products use material from your archives and asserting your continuing copyright protection. Stories might be date-stamped.
Some of the sales here could be through general promotion, but I think you also could gather birthday information from a significant number of users either in subscription, registration or other engagement interactions. Offer to send a package of coupons and specials to people on or in advance of their birthdays (or wedding anniversaries), and I think you’ll collect a lot of valuable celebration information (a sales opportunity businesses will also embrace).
However you connect with people about celebrations, the product possibilities are endless:
- Original birthday (or anniversary) editions. You could reproduce the front page (or full paper) from a person’s birthday, anniversary or other special day. The replicas could come in an array of products: framed actual paper, framed replica, T-shirt, plaque, limited press run, metal printing plate (flipped to read like the page, rather than backwards for printing).
- Personalized editions. In community newspapers, most people appear in the paper multiple times over the years. Imagine the interest if your archive site offered an opportunity to pull all those stories and photos (or the best of them) into a personalized front page or four-page edition. If a person is approaching retirement or a milestone birthday (or a couple is approaching a milestone anniversary), a loved one goes to your “personal front page” tool and enters the person’s name in your search engine. The person can then pick stories and photos from the results and your tool presents a sample front page, which allows the user to adjust the size and play of stories and photos and rewrite headlines. You might allow the user to produce and include a new story (appropriately labeled) about the retirement, birthday or anniversary.
- Videos. Maybe your search tool pulls those pictures, stories and any video clips you might have into a video for which the user can provide a voiceover. Again, you’d want to allow some editing ability to select which content to use and to change the order.
- Other printed products. Could you offer a person who’s been in the paper a lot a book compiling all the coverage (or selected coverage) into a book, choosing a photo or page as the cover? Or, if you have more than a dozen photos of someone, could you offer a calendar choice? Social tools such as Snapfish offer these products for user-generated content. Your professional-quality content may have as much potential, or more, for personalized books and calendars.
- Obituaries. As I’ve noted before, news organizations should consider offering the service of professionally written stories about people’s lives, rather than formulaic obituaries provided by funeral homes. A good supplement to that service (or a more traditional obituary service) might offer an option to combine the obituary with stories and photos you published during the person’s life (perhaps with other photos provided by the family) in a front-page, four-page format, book or video.
Virtually every community news organization provides extensive coverage of local sports, producing tons of content that is mostly used just on the day of publication. I think parents, coaches and fans would be potential users and customers for a variety of archived sports content:
- Team archive databases. For any popular local team (or perhaps for every team you cover), a sports site should provide a searchable database of team coverage through the years. You could choose a particular year or player and call up all coverage mentioning that player. Whether your ad team could sell sponsorships for a particular team or just use general page-view-based advertising, an attractive presentation of sports-team archives would be a routine traffic generator, with spurts for championship runs, season endings and other events that heighten interest in the team. This would be most effective, though, for driving sales of customized products.
- Customized keepsake pages and papers. Your customization tool could offer users pages or papers (or videos or other products) featuring all the coverage of a particular person or team. You could offer only your archived coverage, or you could offer the opportunity to supplement your coverage with photos, videos and/or stories provided by the user. (Maybe a player who wasn’t a star was featured in two of your photos and mentioned in three or four stories, but the family wants to write a season-summary story to anchor the page, along with a family photo shot in uniform.) I can see a market for parents to collaborate on a limited-run eight- or 12-page paper of all the season’s coverage, as a gift for all team members at the team banquet.
- Team history posters and pages. The customization tool could help people design posters (either on hard poster stock or on a newspaper page) commemorating great moments in team history: a replica of the front page (or sports page) from a team championship, or a poster of several smaller pages depicting team highlights (championships, bowl victories, players breaking records or retiring).
You have published lots of information about your community that might have lasting value beyond the day of publication, when it got its most attention.
Using a mix of automation and curation, you need to create pages and sections featuring important community organizations, institutions, attractions and events. Profiles or other stories that might be interesting at any time people are reading about this topic could be tagged to anchor a page, and other content would fill in automatically, with the freshest content on top.
For important aspects of community culture, you might do special curation, as one of my former newspapers, the Omaha World-Herald, does in providing lots of current and historical information about Omaha’s biggest annual event, the College World Series. Much of the traffic the section generates is probably for current baseball coverage, but a history section makes excellent use of old photos and some use of old stories as well.
Projects and continuing news stories
When an enterprise project or big story has lasting interest in your community, consider how to gather previous coverage together, both for current browsing and to help searchers find your old content (and stick around and browse when they do).
Nola.com’s Hurricane Katrina section is third in Google search results when you search for content relating to the hurricane (and Nola stories show well in the Google News results right above the third result). Director of Digital Operations Keith Marszalek said the landing page got about 5,000 views in January and Katrina stories added another 15,000 views, about three-fourths of it driven by search. After initial set-up, the page is usually fed automatically, with occasional curation if something demands special treatment, he said.
Some other examples of effective use of archives for continuing stories or projects:
- The Advocate has a landing page for its excellent Giving Away Louisiana project.
- The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has organized its coverage of the Michael Brown shooting and subsequent events in Ferguson, Mo., into an interactive section that presents archived stories, photos and videos by topic.
- The Des Moines Register has an Iowa caucuses section, which ranks high in search traffic and offers lots more than just the day’s leading caucus campaign story. But I think the Register could do far more with its history section, which offers just a slide show of straw polls through the years and another slide show of 2012 caucus campaign photos. This could be a database where you click on any election year going back to 1972 and go into a selection of the biggest stories and pictures or have an option to click on a candidate’s name and see all the photos and stories for that candidate that year (or through the years for repeat candidates such as the Clintons, Bushes or Bob Dole). Other Iowa newspapers and TV stations could also benefit from building similar sections combining their current and historic caucus coverage.
Linking in current stories
I’ve blogged repeatedly about the importance of linking routinely in stories. If you do this, you’ll find that many of your links are to related stories in your own archives. Most people won’t click most links, but the occasional clicks add up and generate page views and revenue for your organization. As you develop topic pages for continuing stories, you can develop automatic hyperlinking for terms such as “College World Series” or “Iowa caucuses.”
In addition to providing hyperlinks in your text, you can also provide automated or curated related links to feature next to each story. Many news sites already do this, but not enough.
People love old photos and your newsroom likely has file drawers full of them. If you’re not already doing a feature like Nola.com’s #ThrowbackThursday or the Salt Lake Tribune’s A Look Back, you should consider scanning some old photos to provide current nostalgic content.
“We mine our actual physical archives quite a bit, looking back in nostalgia,” Nola Media Group Vice President of Content Jim Amoss told me this week.
As I noted in a post two years ago, these old photos are great tools for engagement in social media, too.
Get help digitizing your old photos
I think you could engage your community in helping you digitize those historical photos that are sitting in file cabinets, taking up room and not generating any revenue or content.
Set up a scanner and invite the people in your community to come in and scan the old photos of their families, businesses, schools or whatever they care about in the community. Provide instructions on how to search your morgue and how to scan photos. And require that they write a post for your community nostalgia blog (even if it’s just captions for the photos) about the photos they scanned and attach key information to each photo:
- Identify all people, either from the clip you filed with the photo or from their own knowledge.
- Record the date of publication.
- Location (presuming the photo says).
- The cutline and any other information recorded with the hard-copy photo.
Then the person leaves with a flash drive containing all the photos, plus the prints (and any copyright information you need to include), and a coupon from the local frame shop you recruited as a sponsor.
And every time someone in the community admires one of your old photos framed in someone’s office or home, that person will explain where she got it, and send someone else your way to digitize more of your old photo assets.
I noted six years ago the opportunity that local search presents for news organizations. If you develop an effective local search vehicle, archives can be an important part of that in at least two ways:
- For entries of non-paying local organizations, you can provide an automated archive search, so that in addition to providing directory information, you provide links to your most recent news coverage of the organization. Beyond the value this provides to the search experience, these stories will often be relevant to people searching for information about the organization, and at the least, you’ll get some page-view-based advertising when people click on the stories. With some simple tagging of archived stories, you could designate profiles or other major stories that might show first in search results, increasing the relevance.
- A feature of premium listings for which organizations would pay might be the ability to customize the presentation of archived material. For instance, the automatic search of an organization’s mentions in your archives might push a recent obituary of an employee and a police story about a break-in at the business to the top of the search results, neither very relevant to searchers who land on the page. But the business would have the option to anchor the search results with a profile you did a couple years ago when the business was in the news. You also might allow an option for featuring archived photos or videos relating to the organization. You need to protect the integrity of the archives and make clear that the organization doesn’t get to rewrite your stories, just choose the most relevant ones to feature. You’d also give the user an option to switch to see the most recent stories.
What are other ways to use archives?
How is your organization using your archives? What other ideas do you have for using the full value of your archives? I’d welcome your responses either in the comments here or in a guest post. Contact me at stephenbuttry (at) gmail (dot) com to suggest a guest post on how you’re using your archives.
Update: I’m pleased to see that Edward McCain is leading a Reynolds Journalism Institute project on preserving and making better use of newspaper archives, with an event coming up in May, Dodging the Memory Hole II: An Action Assembly. Also, Josh Stearns has some great suggestions for using archives, too.
Previous advice on using archives
I was surprised to see that I hadn’t done an earlier post focused just on archives, but in this blog and earlier, I have made repeated suggestions about using archives. In the spirit of encouraging the use of related links from your archives, I have curated those links here:
In a 2007 post for the Newspaper Next blog, I wrote: “The newspaper’s archives are a really helpful database that we need to make more accessible, whether it’s a free audience-builder that we monetize with targeted advertising or whether it’s paid content that we make easily searchable and available online with a credit card.”
My 2008 Newspaper Next report on interactive databases, Be the Answer, had several suggestions relating to use of archives, including this section:
Your archives are a valuable resource that will answer lots of questions and provide target advertising, either with general archive access or specialized databases such as recipes, obituaries, weddings or sports stories on the local team. Online editor Jean Dubail reported on Derek Willis’ blog that the first four days that Cleveland.com offered Plain Dealer stories about the Browns, users made 20,000 searches.
You could offer grocery or specialty stores the opportunity to advertise their prices on the ingredients in a recipe delivered from your archives. This could include an option for ordering the ingredients online, to be either delivered or waiting bagged in a cooler for pickup on your way home from work. You can offer a general search of your archives or you can offer specialized searches in some of the areas that are already your most popular archive searches. For instance, if a local attraction generates lots of searches, you can set up a page just for searching for information and stories about that attraction (an ideal advertising site for the attraction itself as well as nearby hotels and resorts).
As mentioned earlier, the local search and local knowledge sections of my 2009 Blueprint for the Complete Community Connection discussed the value of archives for presenting relevant content and revenue opportunities.
My 2011 post on revenue ideas for newspapers included this suggestion: “I suspect the small fees that most newspapers collect by charging for access to their archives could be exceeded by opening (and promoting) archives, with advertising by targeted topics and keywords and DIY tools for people to create booklets, DVDs, posters, t-shirts and other merchandise showing your archives.”
In a 2012 post on curation techniques, I wrote: “Curators should place news in context, linking to background materials and to related content. Much of curators’ work focuses on the news, but you should always remember the value you can add from linking to your own archives and archives of other news organizations, Wikipedia and other reference sites.”
My aggregation guidelines from earlier in 2012 also discuss the importance of adding value to aggregated content, citing archives as a source for finding that value.
My tips for statehouse coverage discussed how reporters should consider using archives more in their daily work.