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Going native in a
Q I want to dig in to your work with crowdfunding but to get
started, can you please give me a thumbnail of your media
company and your personal career path in our industry?
A I started out as a copy editor at the Racine (Wis.) Journal-
Times. As a reporter, I covered higher education, business
and public safety, and spent a year and a half as an investigative
reporter in New Jersey – that was my definition of heaven. My first
management job was as the night city editor at the La Crosse (Wis.)
Tribune. I have been an editor/reporter coach for more than 20
years at papers ranging in size from 5,000 to 80,000 circulation.
Q And, can you also provide some insight into the characteris-
tics of the Faribault Daily News and the market it serves?
Faribault Daily News is a 5-day, 5,000 circulation
newspaper in rural south central Minnesota, an hour south
of the Twin Cities. Our newsroom has 7 employees including myself,
and the paper employs around 30. Our website averages about
80,000 visitors a month.
We’re part of APG Media of Southern Minnesota, which consists
of 10 newspapers, two niche publications, 13 websites and a printing
plant. We’re a subsidiary of APG Media, which has newspapers in
Ohio, Maryland and Wisconsin, in addition to Minnesota. We have
no serious competition in our markets, though that could change
any day with the tremendous growth of Internet as an information
Q You are a current project leader for an institutional fellow-
ship from the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute to
study native advertising and how it can work in smaller news
operations. Can you tell us about the impetus behind this involve-
A It started with an assignment from then-Daily News
Publisher Steve Pope, who asked me to study up on native
advertising and devise a draft business plan. Clearly the goal was to
implement a native advertising program at the Daily News, but we
struggled with a way to do it without investing a lot of money up
front to build an “agency,” which is what much larger publications
were doing. I had all but given up on the possibility of having native
as a revenue stream when I came across the RJI call for fellowship
applicants. What was so appealing was that the fellowship allowed
me to stay in my newsroom and study and implement a native
program, essentially in “real time.”
Q You’re about half way through your work on the RJI study
and I’m guessing you’re discovering a trove of information.
What can you share about the lessons so far, especially as they apply
to smaller newsrooms?
A Here are a few lessons I’ve learned so far:
■ There’s a great demand for native, but it requires a lot of
explanation for advertisers to understand what it is and what it isn’t. As
a consequence, you have to have very firm guidelines in place for what
you will and will not do.
■ Hosting gatherings where you can talk about native (for example,
hosting a luncheon with prospective clients) is a great way to unveil it
and test out what kinds of questions you get.
■ Consider selling native in special sections. Your reporters don’t like
writing for them, anyway.
■ A consultative approach is an absolute requirement for selling native
advertising. You can’t sell it as you would space in a special section or on
a website. It requires a good understanding of your client’s overall goals
and a communication process. It’s not a one-stop deal.
■ Metrics are still a question mark. Click-Through Rates are no longer
the answer. It’s about engagement and your program should be able to
show how your visitors are engaging with the ad.
■ Have a plan in place to reverse publish native if your client requests it.
In our small town, several advertisers were as interested in that as they
were in the digital native ad.
■ Don’t be afraid to say “no.” After all, it’s the paper’s credibility at stake
and it only takes one bad native ad to do serious damage.
Q Conflict of interest and transparency are major issues revolving
around native. Can newsroom personnel be involved in native
advertising work? Fundamental ‘do’s and don’ts’?
A Yes, I firmly believe they can, but there have to be clear guide-
lines that are well understood by and — continuously commu-
nicated to — all involved (publishers, advertisers, ad reps, reporters and
Some basics about ethical guidelines:
■ A reporter can’t write native advertising if it conflicts in any way with
their regular beat. Some beats where also undertaking native would be
less of a conflict include general assignment, education, public safety,
government. Business clearly is off limits as is investigative or enterprise
reporters. Editors are a good bet to undertake native advertising as they
generally don’t have a beat and the duties that would conflict (such as
editing) can often be given to an up and coming staffer or another edit-
ing team member. The thing we all need to remember is that no matter
what the beat, because they are a human being, reporters will also have
their own biases and assumptions they carry with them. It is their pro-
fessionalism that prevents those biases and assumptions from showing
up in their work. There is no reason why a reporter cannot produce a na-
tive ad and turn around and write a news story (see my next guideline).
A good story is made up of the same elements, no matter what you call it
or who wrote it.
■ A native ad should not require the reporter do anything fundamen-
tally different than what he or she would do in the normal course of
reporting a story.
■ Native ads should be bylined just like a regular story.
■ Native ads should have commenting capability on them just like a
CONTINUED ON PAGE 18
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