National research study picks newspaper to test innovation

Local readers will now help spearhead a national journalism research study aimed at preserving and strengthening local newsrooms nationwide.

The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Kansas, University of Colorado-Boulder and University of Minnesota, surveyed 132 publishers and 416 readers throughout the central United States on revenue streams they’d like to see put in action or would support funding.
Researchers chose Hillsboro Free Press and sister publication Harvey County Now for a $10,000 grant to act as a pilot partner in putting the study’s findings into action. The research is funded by the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications at KU. The grant also includes an intern from KU, William O’Dell Crow, who started with the publications in mid-May.
“Just knowing Joey and the team there, there’s a lot of enthusiasm, there’s a passion for journalism and there’s a willingness to try, that isn’t there with many other places,” said Teri Finneman, associate professor of journalism at the University of Kansas.

Researchers on the team including Finneman, Pat Ferrucci of Colorado and Nick Mathews of Minnesota concluded from the data they collected that a feasible new business model to test out would incorporate memberships, e-newsletters and events.

“To have the trust of Teri and the rest of the researchers and their institutions is incredibly humbling for all of us.” Publisher Joey Young said. “Part of the project will involve hosting events, which we already do. We jumped at the opportunity of expanding upon those events. The membership model idea keeps what we have in place for existing subscribers, but offers additional ways for them to further support the paper, as well as receive, what we think, will be quite a bit of added value.”

The study will also provide resources to the Free Press and Harvey County Now aimed to help the publication grow readership through newsletters. It’s something the papers have dabbled with in the past, but hope to learn how to better implement.

Managing Editor Laura Fowler Paulus said the program has the chance of benefiting the newspaper and readers and the community as a whole.

“We’ve had articles in the paper recently about young people leaving our community and it’s the topic in county commission and city council meetings all the time,” she said. ”There isn’t always a lot for young people to do in this town and it is often hard to find people to fill jobs so professionally things have deteriorated a bit. With this program, we have the chance to come up with some fun ideas and things to do for younger crowds and for those who may not have a community they have already plugged into as well as maybe build a bit from an economical standpoint.”

Finneman, who heads up the research, previously compiled oral histories on how newsrooms adapted to the pandemic. Harvey County Now also participated in that project.

What she learned during that project motivated her to help put forth the current study.

“It showed how important it was to have a local news organization giving you information you can’t get anywhere else,” she said. “This is an effort to make sure we don’t lose any more newsrooms across the country and keep local journalism strong for the future.”

The Free Press hopes its participation in the project will present findings that can help other news organizations build strong and sustainable local newsrooms and enjoy some of the success the publication has had. Much of that success is thanks to the community and readers that support the paper. They’ll now be a part of an effort to continue to help innovate the journalism industry.
“We appreciate the readers in the Harvey County Now and Hillsboro Free Press,” Finneman said. “You’re going to be national leaders in how this goes and all of the readers are playing a role in supporting this and making a national impact.”

Things will be getting started with an hour long focus group from 4:30-5:30 p.m. this Friday. The group will be held at the Scout House in the park.

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