Create your own reality event

How three Indiana newspapers produced ‘Reality RV’


Take eight people, confine them to a pop up camper and a small outside area for a week, make up some challenges and tell them the winner gets the $10,000 camper. Watch newspaper sales soar.

This southeastern Indiana version of "Survivor" was called "Reality RV," and it made quite an impact on the three papers that make up Southeastern Indiana Media, part of the CNHI group.  Regional Publisher Laura Welborn got the idea from a northern CNHI paper. The last Reality RV was held two years ago and she's planning to go again this summer.

The Greensburg Daily News circulates about 3,500. The twice-weekly papers in Batesville and Rushville circulate 2,100 and 2,000 respectively. Single copy sales increased by 475-500 during each day of Reality RV, and revenue generated was $5,000 above what was traded in advertising and promotion.

"It was a lot of fun and I think we're going to do it again," Welborn said.

Readers were not only engaged, they decided the winner. At pre-set times, they voted on their favorite contestants using hard copy official ballots that had to be printed off websites or pulled from the print editions. The contestants receiving the fewest votes were gradually eliminated until one remained.

The papers announced when the challenges would take place and invited readers to come out and watch or simply visit the trailer, which was rotated among the three towns. Family members and friends of contestants were not the only regular visitors. Welborn said the average attendance for the challenges was 300 people.

"We tied it in with different festivals and events going on in each community and then moved the camper to those communities," she said.

A local RV dealer donated a pop up camper that slept eight and benefited from the ensuing publicity. "They got recognition in all three markets with ads and all of that, and they were also given the chance to present the camper to the winning person. Basically it was just advertising trade," Welborn said.

Local restaurants also donated meals to the campers in return for advertising and promotion.

Like Survivor, contestants are limited in what they can bring to the camper, and while they don't have to stay in the camper all the time, they are confined to a marked area outside of it. Newspaper staff participated in selecting the eight applicants for the contest, devising mental and physical challenges and supervising the site. When no one from the papers was available, a deputy sheriff was enlisted to be in charge.

Challenges included bobbing for apples, balancing eggs on a fork and differentiating between gummy worms and real worms while blindfolded.

Welborn herself spent much of her time on site during the contest, visiting all three locations multiple times a day. She notes that the staffs of all three papers were involved and that a generous time commitment is required.

For anyone interested in trying their own "reality," Welborn said, "Make sure you do your due diligence." Criminal background checks were required of the contestants, who also needed to be free of health issues that could affect their participation in the challenges. Contestant releases were required.

Overnight security must be provided and emergencies prepared for. One afternoon severe weather forced an evacuation of the camper. Fortunately it was parked at the Daily News at the time, and everyone moved inside the newspaper building.

"Have everything planned. Have a contingency plan for bad weather, bad storms. Have all your challenges figured out and make sure they are approved by corporate for whatever you're going to be doing," Welborn advised.

In the past, Reality RV has run over a continuous week or over three weekends. In 2019, it will be more interactive because of developments in digital technology. Online voting will be allowed and Welborn said it will be possible to live stream the challenges. Money raised will be given to a nonprofit organization.

For more information, contact Laura Welborn at

Jane Nicholes

Jane Nicholes, a regular contributor to the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association's eBulletin, is a freelance writer and editor based in coastal Alabama. She is an award-winning veteran of more than 30 years in the newspaper business. Reach her at

Reality RV, Southeastern Indiana Media, CNHI, Welborn
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