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Table Stakes project helps Durango Herald increase subscriptions, engagement in community

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In May, The Durango Herald finished its year-long participation on the Poynter Local News Innovation Program – a program that gave us a toolkit to transform the way we do journalism, engage with readers and with our community.

It was invaluable.

The program, funded by the Knight Foundation and Lenfest Institute, focused on helping news organizations of all sizes position themselves to effectively operate in the digital age. It was less about teaching digital skills and more about providing a framework for organizations to put their audiences at the center of all that they do.

That framework is based on the Table Stakes, which are the outcome of a 2015 program called Knight-Temple Table Stakes project. In that project, the Dallas Morning News, the Miami Herald, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and the Philadelphia Media Network developed seven principles for performance-driven change.

The Table Stakes are:

1. Serve targeted audiences with targeted content

2. Publish on the platforms used by your targeted audiences

3. Produce and publish continuously to meet audience needs

4. Funnel occasional users to habitual and paying/valuable loyalists

5. Diversify and grow the ways you earn revenue from the audiences you build

6. Partner to expand your capacity and capabilities at lower and more flexible cost

7. Drive audience growth and profitability from a “mini-publisher” perspective

During our participation in the Poynter program, we used the Table Stakes to help us dig deep into assessing our employees’ digital skills and mindset about digital, analyze our audiences and guide us in setting goals.

Wins:

We had numerous "wins" using Table Stakes. Many of those centered around our desire to do a better job in engaging audiences. After making some significant changes to our print product in Spring 2017, we felt a sense of urgency to close some gaps that had widened over the last few years.

All news organizations that were part of the program were required to create a challenge, with multiple goals within that challenge, to work on for a year. Using benchmarks, performance tracking, continually assessing assumptions that had taken root – and much more, we came up with a challenge that included what we were going to go, how we were going to do it, and how we would know success.

Here’s a glimpse at a couple of our outcomes from our challenge to engage with our community:

1 We doubled our digital-only subscriptions; we increased our print subscriptions 20 percent; we increased our time on site for our in-market audiences by 30 seconds; doubled our digital signups (breaking news emails and text messages and daily newsletter). We also had face-to-face interactions with more than 800 people in our community through new events.

2 We had different types of events, but our primary effort was in creating a bi-weekly storytelling series called Durango Diaries. The free event features three to five speakers who each have 10 minutes to tell their stories on that week’s topic. After all storytellers share, we open the discussion up to questions from the audience. The speakers are chosen by the news team and invited because of their unique perspectives on the topic at hand.

We used the Table Stakes to help guide us to achieve these wins. Specifically, we used Nos. 1, 4, and 5 to successfully create Durango Diaries. (We are preparing to start Season 2 of Durango Diaries in mid-August.)

Although the Poynter program has ended, we are continuing to use all that we learned to create new challenges and turn the way we do things upside down. Using the mini-publisher model ensures that these efforts include our co-workers in advertising, marketing and circulation. This is not solely a newsroom effort.

We sincerely believe that without being part of this program and being the recipients of the generous funding for it from Knight and Lenfest, we would never have arrived at the point we are today. The Table Stakes inform all of our decisions – from journalism to community to company cohesion.

To read more about our successes, visit https://betternews.org/durango-herald-launched-storytelling-series-connect-community/ and https://www.poynter.org/news/lessons-table-stakes-innovation-initiative. And watch a video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9dQihPhqxSk.