The Hannibal Courier-Post, Hannibal, Missouri
Read some of Hannibal Courier-Post’s digital reporting: As it happened: 24 hours of violence in Marion County, Important votes missed by Hannibal councilmen in 2016
This newspaper developed new ways to engage readers including a monthly health and wellness insert celebrating New Year’s resolutions and thoughtful reporting in several multi-day series throughout the year. This scrappy newspaper also dived into social media launching an Instagram account and demonstrated increased use of videos online. This staff made smart use of Google analytics to decide how and when to play stories, demonstrating an understanding for the technology, which in concert with strong journalism grows digital traffic.
What new initiatives or projects did your newspaper launch in 2016?
2016 was a big year for the Hannibal Courier-Post. In addition to day-to-day excellence in news coverage, the paper and its staff embarked on several adventures and experiments to increase the quality of the product, despite limitations in staff and resources.
• Despite industry trends of lessening page counts, the Courier-Post — for a second straight year — had an overall increase in average page count in 2016 (up almost a full page from 2015). This was achieved by incorporating a new TV Guide page, as well as utilizing resources more efficiently to add nation, business, and sports scoreboard pages regularly in our print product, providing a more well-rounded news product.
•Throughout the first half of the year, the Courier-Post produced a once-a-month health and wellness insert to boost those folks who made a New Year’s health-related resolution. The tab insert contained 24 pages of almost entirely local content focusing on diet, exercise, mental health and other related items.
•In the summer, the Courier-Post produced a well-received glossy-style specialty publication honoring local first responders, as nominated in 13 different categories by members of the community. The newspaper partnered with a local collegiate-level baseball team to host a theme night at the ballpark. “Finest in the Field” was a huge success, both as an event conceived and hosted by the Courier-Post, and as a specialty magazine project that featured first responders in a positive way when many news items at the time reflected poorly on first responders.
• One of the biggest projects of the year involved moving production of two sister papers into the Courier-Post newsroom. With the transition, the Courier-Post hired two new digital artists. The move not only streamlined production processes for less-trained newsrooms elsewhere, but also benefitted the Courier-Post by adding additional presentation specialists. As a result, the look of the Courier-Post improved and also more effectively impacted time management for reporters and the editor.
• Many newspapers produce a “Best of the Best” or “Reader’s Choice” section. The Courier-Post, after years of a stagnant Reader’s Choice presentation, revamped the idea. Now, readers, instead of filling out a paper ballot, were directed to vote online at hannibal.net in batches broken down by category (automotive, dining, health, etc.). Now, the Courier-Post produces a once-a-month additional section featuring the results of online voting.
• Early in the year, it was a goal to create multiple multi-day series throughout the year. That editorial goal to do journalism with impact (a year before it became an official GateHouse editorial goal) was achieved with several multi-day series, housed in “shell stories” and anchored in one of the top slots on our website. Examples include:
— Hannibal’s power portfolio — a look at how a major change in June 2017 will affect how the city gets it electricity
— Hannibal’s heroin homefront — an award-winning series looking at the causes of and potential fixes for a dramatic increase in heroin-related deaths in the city
— Housing’s death row — an award-winning comprehensive look at the condemnation procedure for the worst of Hannibal’s aging, neglected homes
What did you do to engage audience, through social media or community involvement in 2016?
Interaction is a big part of the Courier-Post success. Without it, staff wouldn’t have as successful web/print numbers.
Examples of how Courier-Post staff worked to engage audiences in 2016 includes:
• Increasing the numbers and types of Facebook posts, including better posting during weekends/off hours. Posts were more conversational, more often tagged local business/events/organizations in posts and included more photos. The Facebook page saw a 32 percent increase in number of followers from Dec. 31, 2015 to Dec. 31, 2016.
• Setting up an Instagram page to reach younger people more interested in that mobile photo app.
• Including the audience in selecting Reader’s Choice winners, each month by category.
• Running a specialty promotion in which readers nominated first responders for special recognition in a Courier-Post glossy publication and theme night at a Hannibal Cavemen baseball game. “Finest in the Field” was presented in July.
• Regularly posting links and generating discussion about local stories on other Facebook pages outside of the newspaper’s. Newspaper staff realized that we must meet our audience, not the other way around, so when community discussion pages revved up in 2016, the Courier-Post was right there, encouraging people to interact with our content.
How did you experiment with digital storytelling tools in 2016?
Despite its small staff size, the Courier-Post continues to experiment digitally in an effort to better reach the audience.
• Creating an Instagram account, updated at least twice per week in April 2016. The account showcases a “lighter” view of the news in Hannibal and regularly links back to the main website.
• Varying the types of videos we produced. The Courier-Post regularly exceeded expectations for video numbers per week, often posting more than a dozen videos per week for a newsroom of four full-time journalists. But beyond that, the Courier-Post went above and beyond in the types of videos produced. Examples include:
• A ‘virtual tour’ of the new Ralls County Elementary School (August 2016)
• A time lapse video of a dramatic fire that destroyed a church (December 2016)
• Various first-person interview videos from throughout the year
• Utilizing Facebook Live: On a couple of occasions, the Courier-Post used the Facebook live tool to show breaking news events (major building fire in August 2016) and annual community happenings (4th of July fireworks display) in real time.
• Creating alternative digital displays to accompany some of our most talked about stories. Although the Courier-Post staff size often limits the time we can spend on crafting alternative digital displays, a few successful events stand out.Examples include:
• List article: How often has your councilman been absent since 2012?
• List article: Which are the most dilapidated homes in Hannibal?
• Knight Lab timeline: Important votes missed by Hannibal councilmen in 2016
• Storify: The evolution of a 24-hour crime spree, as seen by HCP staff
• Streamlining the digital upload process. Although not directly related to storytelling, HOW and WHEN staff members uploaded content to www.hannibal.net dramatically changed in the 2016 with the implementation of a digital budget that all editorial employees began using by mid-summer. The result of the Google-based system implemented was an uptick in overall pageviews (9.92 percent) and sessions (6.82 percent) on www.hannibal.net compared to 2015, as well as more consistent weekend and off-hour posting, keying in on when Hannibal’s audience most used the website.