How to Succeed in a Tiny Media Market?

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The Secret of Lauttasaari
Simo Rista 1970, Helsingin kaupunginmuseo.

There are several weekly published local newspapers in Helsinki. Most weekly papers are owned and published by media companies and represent just one publication of many in the product selection of the company. However, there is one interesting exception to this rule: Lauttasaari newspaper.

Lauttasaari newspaper is published every week with 11 800 copies on the island of Lauttasaari, a neighbourhood just outside the Helsinki city centre. It is published and owned by Lauttasaari association, which employes a halftime editor and a fulltime journalist and advertisement salesperson. The newspaper has been published since 1968 and is a member of the Finnish Newspapers Association. The paper has 12 pages of which 7 were advertisements and 4 editorial material in last June.

3 Keys to Success
Unknown photographer, Helsingin kaupunginmuseo.

Lauttasaari has managed to survive in the tough competition of print media. The chairman of the Lauttasaari association and the leader of the newspaper’s editorial council Katri Penttinen gives three main factors that have kept Lauttasaari above the surface:

  • The newspaper has a long tradition in Lauttasaari.
  • It has a very clear distribution area, because of the island location. Residents of Lauttasaari have a well defined identity.
  • Lauttasaari association is committed in publishing the newspaper, it is a constant topic of discussion in the association and it is regarded as an important form of activity for the association.

One prerequisite for any successful publication is good quality. Lauttasaari newspaper is an important communication channel to the association, but takes into account a broader perspective too. The newspaper wants to tell about Lauttasaari neighbourhood as a whole to its residents. Relevant content keeps both readers and advertisers interested.

Controlled Guidelines
Karl Mitterhusen, 1895, Helsingin kaupunginmuseo.

The current editorial team started a couple of years ago. This change also transformed the way the newspaper was produced. The editorial decisions are now well planned and the contents are selected to interest as wide a readerbase as possible. The editor-in-chief and the journalist both have a journalistic background. The editor bears the main responsibility of the newspaper, but the journalist takes care of the everyday editorial work. The editorial council creates guidelines for the publication. The journalist has also a couple of regular paid contributors to help her. Editorials are written by representatives of the association.

Before the new editorial team, there was a more or less regular group of contributors, who wrote mainly about subjects close to their hearts. Now the themes and topics are planned beforehand.

There has been competing newspapers in Lauttasaari area, but they have not survived. The old residents are traditionally the most loyal readers of the newspaper, but interest among the younger ones is increasing. Spontaneous feedback about the newspaper proves that the renewal process has been a success.

Last autumn Lauttasaari association made a survey on the residents opinions and ideas regarding the activities of the association. The survey also included questions regarding the newspaper. The survey received 212 replies in one month, which have helped to update the newspaper too.

Susan

 

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

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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

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Non-profit Publications – What Are They?

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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

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