A smash-hit special section
The Sault News in Michigan revives Veterans Day keepsake
When your Monday-Saturday daily newspaper runs between 12 and 14 pages, and your special section is 88 pages, that's a special section you'll want to do again.
It didn't take new Publisher David Zewicky long to put the The Sault News Veterans Day special section back on the schedule after he joined the Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., paper a couple of months ago. He's pretty sure that the first magazine-style section in 2016, called "We Salute You," was the biggest in the paper's history.
"They loved it," Zewicky said about readers, contributors and advertisers. "One of the things to be careful with about this program, while it was pretty special and we raised almost $10,000, it was a tremendous amount of work. You have to scan all those photos in."
About 400 photos, as it turned out.
A Veterans Day section or advertising promotion isn't an original idea, but The Sault News' circulation is 2,700. So getting 400 families to submit photos and basic information about their loved ones who served their country represents an impressive amount of reader engagement.
Zewicky said the small-town, "everybody knows everybody," nature of Sault Ste. Marie probably contributed to the section's popularity. He presented the idea for SNPA's P2P conference call on revenue ideas.
"Newspapers have survived by being good members of the community," Zewicky said. "This is one more thing that helps our base here in the community."
The newspaper began promoting the section as early as April of 2016. All readers had to do was bring in a photo of the veteran for a "Thank You" or an "In Memoriam" insertion. And advertisers were obviously happy to buy in.
But the staff discovered that not only did people want to put their loved ones in the paper, they wanted to talk about them. So one drop-off might result in a 20-minute conversation, Zewicky said.
They also wanted their photos back then and there, because the photos were often old and precious mementos. "Scanning all these photos in, keeping track, it takes a lot of work," Zewicky said. He suggests that other newspapers that try something similar need to be prepared to deal with the volume of submissions.
Veterans Day will be Sunday, Nov. 11, with the observed holiday on Monday, Nov. 12. This time around, The Sault News has what Zewicky hopes will be a more efficient plan.
Contributors will be encouraged to submit their photos and information online through the Second Street Audience Engagement Platform. Essentially, Second Street will set up a website solely for submissions, and the paper will sell sponsorships to bring in more revenue. Ideally, it will also reduce the staff workload.
But some of the veterans honored are from World War II and even World War I, and some families don't have a scanner at home for an older photo. If they prefer to submit things the old-fashioned way, that's OK. "People are more than welcome to walk in the door and we'll help them out like we always have," Zewicky said. How many people go online and how many come down to the paper with their photos remains to be seen.
Zewicky also advises that the production quality of such a section should be high because it will be a keepsake for readers. Even though the older photos were black-and-white, "We Salute You" went with stitch-and-trim, a glossy cover, a better quality newsprint and all-color ads.
"Obviously, making it look good is very successful," he said.
For more information, contact David Zewicky at email@example.com.
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Jane Nicholes is a veteran journalist based in coastal Alabama and is a regular contributor to SNPA. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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