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Zoning

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Mr. X, Jun 29, 2008.

  1. Mr. X

    Mr. X Member

    I recently saw zoning described on a blog as a failed '80s strategy.

    My wish is that my region's largest metropolitan daily would reinstitute its zoned sections because I think that would help reverse its circulation decline and also improve its Web site.

    (I must admit to bias here because if metropolitan daily reinstituted zoning I likely would be working for it in some capacity.)

    Zoning allowed the paper to have interesting stories it does not now have, including coverage of city councils and high school sports. (High school was the lowest level of sports covered.)

    It was also able to generate advertising. I remember a hardware store regularly taking out a full page ad because its ownership knew it could reach potential customers by advertising in the zoned section. The ad price was also right for it. It did not want to advertise full run because it could not attract customers from many miles away.

    However, my heart tells me that because zoning would cost more -- in staff, newsprint expense, et cetera -- the ownership would never adopt it.

    I know markets differ, but to you, is zoning a failed strategy or something that can reverse circulation declines?
     
  2. I think zoning can and has been overdone (didn't the Post Tribune in Gary have like seven zones at one time?), but every metro should be doing it on some level.

    We zone our community/hyperlocal news sections, which makes sense from both a reader and economic standpoint. I also believe it gives advertisers a slightly cheaper advertising option that will reach their local readers.
     
  3. crimsonace

    crimsonace Active Member

    One idea I had once had (as a lowly SE), and would've loved to implement was ...

    Own/manage a company with a handful of small contiguous dailies ... say, we have 4 dailies, ranging in circulation from 8K-20K, usually running 12-20 pages.

    Use a universal desk. Each bureau ("local paper") has its own staff of reporters + photographers. The chain has a statehouse reporter and possibly a person devoted to enterprise reporting. Business & life/style stories come from the individual bureaus, but run chain-wide. Encourage enterprise news stories that can run chain-wide. Hire a couple of chain-wide beat writers and/or columnists for regional sports -- cover the metro pros & college teams as a beat.

    It's kind of reverse zoning ... taking a small community paper and adding the resources of others in the chain to create a small community paper with the reach & content of a large regional paper. It also allows for the consolidation of resources.

    You can have the reach in the regional pages for regional advertisers -- and can compete with the neighboring metro. You can also have the hometown feel of a small newspaper.

    How I'd break it down.
    A front: Each newspaper has a local front, local opinion page, at least 1-2 local inside pages. The rest is devoted to common template regional/national stories that run in all papers. Key stories of regional/national interest will start on A1.
    B: Business and/or life-style. Features + business stories. Each bureau gets at least 1 page for local business news + life/style news (wedding announcements, et al), depending on the day. We put classifieds here.
    C: Sports. Again, each bureau gets the first two pages for local sports, with important regional/national stories tossed in. A common agate page + national sports fill the back half of the section.
     
  4. zebracoy

    zebracoy Guest

    The problem with zoning these days is that it gives an easy indication of which areas are not buying the paper, and therefore, which should be cut first.

    It's a tough stretch, too, because the first time cuts come in manpower, the reporters from the farthest-zoned areas will be the first to go. Then, once those reporters are gone, the subscription numbers in those areas drop - with the complaints of "You don't cover us anymore!" growing louder - and then the money from subscribers and businesses drop.

    When those drop, more cuts, more peripheral areas are trimmed and, sooner or later, you're covering the city block.

    If they wanted to do it right, MORE effort would be put into boosting those fringe areas. I can point out three or four regions in our state just beyond our coverage area that aren't covered by our paper - and really, nobody else. But no, don't let common sense get in the way of that precious profit.
     
  5. FileNotFound

    FileNotFound Well-Known Member

    Online was made for zoning. The effort it requires for print (to do it right, at least) is substantial, and getting harder to justify. Zoning on the web, however, is an absolute natural.
     
  6. zebracoy

    zebracoy Guest

    Well, yeah. That's given. But just don't make it free.
     
  7. Editude

    Editude Active Member

    For many years, zoning was my life. And it's a life whose time, editorially, has passed. Ads can be directed to specific zip codes or neighborhoods, but repackaging or replacing copy by geography is no longer relevant. People aren't buying the newspaper because their city council or high school baseball team wasn't covered (or wasn't on the cover in one zone and on C8 in another). The divide is far deeper than that, and the personnel needed to do zoning right, and not just appear to do it, is stunning. Dozens of reporters, copy editors, assigners (two days of my week were devoted to planning and executing prep football zones) and designers need to be on board. Look at the recent YourHub experiment in Colorado Springs. It was an online version of zoning, with reporters assigned to more than a dozen zones of the city. Nobody cared. Not readers or advertisers. And most of the YourHub staff was let go.
     
  8. Frank_Ridgeway

    Frank_Ridgeway Well-Known Member

    You have to define a zone some way, create borders. By county, usually. And they bear no relation to how people actually live. The county line is meaningless to most people and where they shop, where they spend leisure time, where they go to church, where they go to a restaurant. There is no checkpoint at the county line. The TV and radio stations they use also define their interests. They hear about something awful in a town 20 miles away, they expect to read about it in the paper.

    I've never been anywhere that has had much success with advertising zoning, except inserts. I spent a year in my 20s editing the sports zoning on a large paper and not once did I ever deal with an ad on those pages. Not once. Not to mention the job bored the shit out of me.
     
  9. Lieslntx

    Lieslntx Active Member

    From an advertising standpoint and as a consumer, I personally hate zoning. My mother (living in the same town as me) gets all sorts of coupons that I don't get. Quite frankly, it pisses me off to no end that some highfalutin marketing guru thinks that I don't possess enough money because of my zip code to frequent certain stores. I find this practice quite insulting, actually.
     
  10. Good point. There's also countless stories of addresses in the county the zone is intended for that don't get it and addresses outside of the zone who do get it. It's a very imperfect process.
     
  11. BrianGriffin

    BrianGriffin Active Member

    The fringe is where most papers these days compete with other papers. I feel like my shop is far superior to the product put out by the metro 90 minutes to our northeast. However, the small town halfway between, we basically concede to the competitor to the north. Why? I know the coaches at the high schools beg us to move in because we do a better job with preps. Same thing happens on our eastern fringe.

    We don't zone, never have.
     
  12. steveu

    steveu Well-Known Member

    When we used to do zoned community-news sections before the advent of online-only content, I knew a school where if you lived west of one street, you got one section. On the other side of the street you got another section.

    Try explaining that to parents... "Well, I didn't see your story!" -- "OK, where do you live?"
     
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