What's the first thing that a lot of folks turn to in a newspaper? The sports section, of course. The digital age has thrown in a monkey wrench for printed media, but like almost every other dilemma, there is a solution.
Community newspapers need a community focus. That's never been more true than now, when national and world news is available online practically in real time. So your assignment, should you choose to accept it, is to give readers a reason to come to you first.
Your job is to make your newspaper the go-to source for local sports.
Poor, Demonized Digital
Digital publications have been blamed for everything from tanking print circulation to falling advertising rates. It doesn't seem fair, really. The evolution to digital is apparently something the masses want, or it wouldn't be happening. The blame isn't unjustified, but it does create a problem. When it comes to sports, timely reporting is important.
When the game is over, scores are what's on everyone's mind. Readers can either go to an online source, or wait until tomorrow when it comes out in print. Which do you think will happen?
Local Sports is Different
To engage a community audience, you have to be relevant to their lives. Pro and college teams make national print news nearly every day. Online, updates happen even more often. You can follow suit, but you're never going to "scoop" anyone on highlights from a pro or college game. But what about your local high school, middle school and even minor league teams? There's your edge -- that's what you've got, and no one else has.
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Local teams probably won't make national or even state news unless it's for something extraordinary. But in your hometown, sports fans want to know if the local high school team stomped their bitter rival two counties over. Or if they didn't.
Get the Community Involved
Ramping up community relevance by reporting on local teams is the first stage. You've got their attention. It's what you do with that attention next that can really step up your game. Pardon the pun.
If your paper has a digital edition, you've got the perfect platform for encouraging a social community online. Comments let readers share their thoughts, and engage with other readers. It also gives you clues about what your audience wants to see. If online commenters are anything at all, they are usually not shy about voicing opinions.
Aim to Offer the Best
Just because you have a corner on the market for your local teams, that doesn't mean you can skimp on reporting. You've got an advantage, so make the most of it. Sportswriting is an art, and fans can see straight through a reporter whose heart isn't in it.
Photos are critical. They can turn an average story about Friday night's mid-season football game, which might have lacked exciting highlights, into something the whole town is talking about. And of course there's the ''fans'' factor. You've got built-in readers, just within the team members' friends and family. Those fans love seeing photos of their hometown heroes.
Bonus: At the end of a season, why not compile a "sports highlights" edition, or even an e-book? The reporting and photos are already there. You can recycle them into a special-edition newspaper or e-book and get more mileage.
Local sports is something original to your community. And community newspapers need as many unique features as possible. While you're looking for ways to build reader engagement and grow your audience, local sports is practically plug-and-play.
What might have been a small part of your paper probably needs another thought. You can add write-ups just to offer the bare minimum, and perhaps throw in a few offhand photos, or you can see local sports for what it is -- something no other town in America has: Your teams.