Small is Beautiful – How to Succeed with a Local Newspaper?

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblr

Dear Competitors or Collaborators?

Competition in the mediascape is bloodthirsty. There are basically two options to finance a publication: subscribers or advertisements (or the combination of these two). Either way, funding is limited. How is it then possible, that in northern Helsinki three viable local newspapers are being distributed in overlapping areas and they even have friendly relationships with each other?

The secret is in the content

Oulunkyläinen is distributed partly in the same area with two other local newspapers, Käpylä-lehti and Maunulan Sanomat. These two happen to be non-profit publications as well.

Is there fierce competition? Yes and no. All of these newspapers have their own main geographical area, on which they focus. The surrounding areas are needed, as one area would be too small to keep their heads above surface.  The contents are about the local area contributed by the local writers. This gives a definitive advantage in the eyes of the readers. In a local publication it is possible to take up issues that would never prove newsworthy in a regional newspaper.

The element of competition comes from the advertisement sales.  So far it seems the businesses understand the benefits of getting coverage among a broad local readership. In a smaller newspaper even a small advertisement is visible in a completely different way compared with a larger one in a major regional newspaper, where all ads are lost in the static.

Find your niche!

All three newspapers have distinct focus regarding their content. Oulunkyläinen actively takes up city planning issues and has expert contributors in that field. Oulunkyläinen is also regularly reporting on the local sports and arts scene. Käpylä-lehti focuses on local grass roots issues and culture and Maunulan Sanomat has outlined a clear goal to develop the local residential area in cooperation with the city.

For a local newspaper it is very important to be a platform of the local residents’ voice. Every geographical area has its own issues and that provides a possibility to create a unique image for the newspaper.

3 Styles of Production

I met the two other editors-in-chief, Eija Tuomela-Lehti from Käpylä-lehti and Hannu Kurki from Maunulan Sanomat, to join our forces and discuss about making non-profit magazines in Helsinki.

Käpylä-lehti is distributed in 12 different boroughs and produced by a graphic design company that publishes also other publications and takes care of the ad sales. Käpylä-lehti comes out 10 times a year. The publisher is Käpylä-Seura, a local residents’ association. The editor-in-chief and the producer are the only paid staff.

Maunulan Sanomat is a different type of local newspaper. It is published by a support association of the newspaper. This kind of arrangement grants it quite an independent status. Maunulan Sanomat is put together by voluntary efforts except for the graphic designer, and it is even supported financially by the publishers when necessary. Maunulan Sanomat comes out four times a year and is distributed to three boroughs.

Oulunkyläinen has yet another operating system: it is published by Oulunkylä-Seura (a residents’ association) and has an editor-in-chief and a graphic designer as paid staff. Oulunkyläinen is distributed to 11 boroughs and comes out six times a year.

Clearly there are several options to produce a local newspaper. Depending on the goals and scope of the publication, almost any arrangement seems possible. However, all editors-in-chief agree that the more often the newspaper is published the better. It is desirable for the advertisers and it gives better possibilities regarding the editorial content too.

Lone wolfs or team spirit?

Being an editor-in-chief is a position of responsibility, no matter what size or significance the publication has. There are legal responsibilities, but there are also ethical responsibilities and requirements for the goals of the publication. Because editor-in-chief is the person taking on her/his shoulders both the successes and the failures of the publication, she/he often also takes the full control of the reins of the production. This possibility is also one major factor in attracting editors to non-profit magazines. There is a lot of freedom. But there are also other ways to tackle editorship for the more team spirited.

Maunulan Sanomat has a truly communal production process to put together each issue. The newspaper holds several editorial meetings open to all residents in the area. The meetings are held at Maunulan Mediapaja, a space designated for open residents’ activities. There is a group of interested contributors, who write and photograph for the newspaper and design it together with the editor-in-chief.

Käpylä-lehti and Oulunkyläinen have a more editor-centered system. At Käpylä-lehti, editor-in-chief does the whole newspaper pretty much single handed, even making the first design for the layout. At Oulunkyläinen, the editor makes the decisions on the contents, but there is one editorial meeting before every issue to gather ideas and distribute writing responsibilities. The meetings are an important way to keep contributors motivated. The Oulunkyläinen editor also works in close contact with the Oulunkylä-Seura board.

Pay it forward

There are many different ways to make a non-profit publication. What works for one association, probably wouldn’t work for another, not directly at least. But good practices can always be adapted from those, who have created them. If you have found a good way to deal with challenges of non-profit publications, please tell about it! These publications have an important role in the community; they give a voice to residents and increase the sense of community.

The more the local newspapers are read and valued among the readers, the more advertisers they are bound to attract. And readers are interested in well made, relevant content. If we work together to improve our publications, it will pay off to all of us in the end.

3 Editors-in-chief
Hannu Kurki and Eija Tuomela-Lehti discussed with me the ins and outs of making local newspapers at Cactus restaurant in Käpylä. Photo by Ellinoora Kempe

It was very interesting to talk with the colleagues in the local media scene. Hopefully our discussion continues!

Susan

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblr

One of a Kind

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblr

Non-profit magazines have one major advantage – they are free of the commercial reality. Thus, they can present topics that have no place in the publications of big media companies. When real professionals and experts combine their skills, non-profit magazines can develop into true gems. One excellent example is Herpetomania, magazine published by the Finnish Herpetology Association. I had the pleasure to chat with Maija Karala, the editor-in-chief of Herpetomania on what it’s like to produce a unique non-profit magazine.

Herpetomania magazine cover
Herpetomania is the single magazine on herpetology, i.e. reptiles, amphibians and their study, in Finland. The magazine publishes both scientific and popular articles, news, travel articles and information about the association. Herpetomania is published four times a year. It was founded in 1992.

Maija Karala has been the editor-in-chief since the beginning of 2015. She started in the magazine by writing single articles, then moved on to do a regular news section. She was asked to take on the editor’s position several times, but accepted only, when it was turned into a paid position.

Voluntary work is very common in non-profit magazines. However, in the course of a magazine’s development, at one point the association needs to decide whether it is publishing a real, quality magazine and paying for professionals to do it, or whether it will continue on an amateur level and accept the uncertainty that follows. Herpetomania is entirely financed by association’s membership fees. Advertisements are accepted, but not actively sold.

Maija has enjoyed her work as the editor-in-chief of Herpetomania. Her job includes all the stages of the making of a publication. Two proofreaders and a writer of English abstracts help her.

-It’s really nice to do the magazine, I’ve been given full control over it. We have a pleasant and skilled group writing articles on regular basis. In addition, we have an extremely committed graphic designer, who’s been with us for a couple of decades already, Maija says.

Herpetomania article

Very often non-profit magazines suffer from the lack of writers. Maija was warned beforehand on how difficult it is to collect the articles from voluntary contributors.

-Fortunately it wasn’t quite that difficult. Popular articles have proved a bit more of a challenge, as I have less contacts on that field. Scientific articles have been easier to obtain for me.

Maija hopes to find at least one all-around journalist into her editorial group, to write interview based stories. The current contributors don’t have the possibility to do that type of articles.

Freedom and Responsibility

From the viewpoint of an editor-in-chief the pros and cons of non-profit magazines could be crystallized into two factors: freedom and the work-remuneration ratio. It is very tempting to have the freedom to do a magazine in your way, although there are a bunch of challenges in that process, the kinds the colleagues in big media companies can hardly imagine. Non-profit magazine editors work almost always with voluntary contributors and have responsibility over all stages of production (often the layout and ad sales included).

While planning issues, recruiting writers and ensuring the sufficient flow of the correct type of articles, an editor also trains and motivates contributors, proofreads, edits, balances the ratio of ads and articles, decides on the editorial line and communicates with the printing house.

No wonder Maija says the biggest challenge in the role of an editor is the amount of responsibility. It is a complicated process to produce a publication and it involves a great number of people. If something goes awry, the editor-in-chief is the one taking the responsibility. Fortunately, the efforts usually result in a published magazine.

-The best moment is when you get the freshly printed magazine in your hands and you have once again pulled it through! It is also rewarding to receive positive feedback from the readers, although any kind of feedback is rare, Maija says.

Susan

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblr

Non-profit Publications – What Are They?

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblr

Do you need more than an editor to make a publication?

My home country, Finland, is sometimes called the promised land of associations. We have approximately 135 000 registered associations with a population of 5 million. It perhaps illustrates this nation’s eagerness to formalize even the grass root activities. Many of these associations also publish their own magazines or periodicals.

Very often this publication is the result of one member’s efforts. It is published when enough material has been gathered. In the other end of the spectrum are the magazines of very large non-profits. These publications are put together by media companies that specialize in client magazines. In between these two extremes, there are quite a few professional and ambitious publications, made by tiny editorial teams.

Most often the staff consists of an Editor-in-chief and a graphic designer (and sometimes even these are just one person). All the articles and photos are acquired from volunteer contributors. Thus the quality range can be wide and articles sometimes require a lot of editing before they can be published. On the other hand, volunteer contributors are often the most passionate and committed experts in their own field.

Where do you find content?

The field of the non-profit determines what kind of articles one can get to its publication. Some fields are filled with prolific writers, who are eager to share their experiences and studies. It might be that a non-profit publication is for these writers an excellent outlet to spread their knowledge. This is of course a win-win situation for all: the writer, the non-profit and the readers.

The lifeline of the local newspapers, published by non-profit associations, is the hunger to get exposure for local issues by organizations and local residents. Residents often find the local newspaper an important channel to influence communal politicians and bureaucrats alike and to bring forward topics that the national media doesn’t pay attention to. This kind of local media is in fact an excellent way to promote a common cause by bringing together local associations and other groups.

Are you a non-profit publication editor?

I am the Editor-in-chief for two non-profit publications: Maatiainen and Oulunkyläinen. Maatiainen is a specialist magazine focusing on heritage plant and domestic animal species. The scope of the magazine is broad; it covers topics from eco-friendliness to traditional tools. Gardening, husbandry and traditions yield an infinite treasure trove of topics. Oulunkyläinen is a local newspaper. It is published in Helsinki, in 11 suburban neighborhoods and it reports about all sides of the local life. In this publication, local events, people and small companies are in focus.

All though I run two non-profit publications, the field itself is somewhat unfamiliar to me. In Finland there is no common platform for people making this kind of publications. Should we have one? I would certainly like to exchange thoughts with other non-profit editors every now and then. These publications share some special features that people at larger commercial publications are not aware of.

Are you also making a non-profit publication? Drop me a line in the comments and share your thoughts!

Susan

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblr