Reader engagement programme brings in big revenue

by Joycelyn Winnecke        

Chicago Tribune’s Trib Nation generates revenue through programmes organised by the newsroom, building reader relations and helping with bundling strategy along the way.

Click the image to view a larger versionThe lead columnist cooks a pig and talks about politics. The national/foreign editor and another columnist teach a roomful of aspiring writers how to weave words. The editorial page editor tackles issues critical to Chicago with experts and policy-makers. And a beloved journalist takes the spotlight as host of a weekly news-variety show exploring and celebrating Chicago.
At the Chicago Tribune, we’ve built a new platform for our journalism: the stage.
Reporters and editors are conducting public policy forums, conversations with celebrated authors, classes and seminars, employing the same editorial integrity and ethical standards we hold to in print. In 2011, we hosted 71 live programmes at Tribune Tower and in auditoriums around Chicago; more than 100 programmes are on our 2012 calendar.
Live sessions join print, online, mobile, and broadcast as a fresh channel to discuss issues of the day, educate, inform, and entertain. Organised under the banner of Trib Nation, a reader engagement programme developed over the past two years, these programmes help us build relationships with readers as well as generate new revenue through admission fees and sponsorships.
Already profitable, revenue is expected to top seven figures in 2012. 
“Our newsroom events programme is strengthening the bond between our readers and the Chicago Tribune," Editor Gerould Kern says. “In the end, our success will depend on establishing a relationship with the people who come to the Tribune each day in all of its forms.”
The programmes are planned and organised in the newsroom, then executed through partnerships with Chicago Tribune Media Group’s marketing department and Tribune Events Group, which is part of the advertising department. 
Attendees consistently say they find the programmes enriching and admire and appreciate the Tribune for hosting them. Strengthening bonds with readers is especially critical in helping to support our recently undertaken premium content strategy. (The Tribune added 44 new full pages of content a week to the print edition and increased subscription fees.)
In 2012, events also will play an important part in a new bundling strategy. Customers will be offered a menu of ways to receive news and information, including print and digital subscriptions and extras such as events. 
“There are few products that have as strong an emotional engagement with consumers as newspapers,” says Kathleen O’Hara, vice president of marketing. “Each local newspaper informs, inspires, influences, and engages the readers of their communities. In 2012, Chicago Tribune intends to build on the engagement with our core readers and wrap them in content, bringing together cross-channel bundles.”
O’Hara says the company will strive for a consistent brand experience, whether readers encounter Tribune content in print, on a smartphone, a tablet, or at an event: “Events along with social media are very important channels in each bundle — where consumers can participate in the conversations that make up Chicago.”
Trib Nation events fall into five categories:
  • Chicago Live!: Legendary Chicago journalist Rick Kogan is the host, and The Second City is our partner for this weekly WGN-Radio show taped before a live audience. Chicago Live! brings news stories to life with a heavy dose of warmth and humor. Four seasons of eight weeks each are planned for 2012.
  • Chicago Forward: These public policy discussions get at the heart of our public service mission, highlighting key community issues, offering leadership on policy discussions, and bringing newsmakers to the stage. Audiences last year ranged from 300 to 900. Editorial Page Editor Bruce Dold will lead five programmes in 2012 — public safety, the status of women, health care, an assessment of the Obama presidency, and the Illinois financial crisis.
  • Printers Row: These literary events build on our popular summer festival and annual literary awards with monthly author talks, driving discussion around books, writing, and ideas.
  • Trib U: We call it “the University of You.” Classes and seminars cover topics ranging from social media to photography to wellbeing and are supported by print content in an expanded Sunday features section.
  • Press Pass: These allow readers to hear directly from journalists such as Page 2 columnist John Kass (his programme, “Cooking with Kass,” sells out quickly) and sportswriters.
The same editorial rules apply to events as to our journalism in other forms, and a specially developed ethics policy lays that out. For example, when Tribune journalists appear at events, they offer findings of their reporting as well as the insight and perspective that comes from their experience in their areas of coverage. But they avoid offering opinions unless this is permitted in their regular jobs, as is the case with columnists and critics.
Just as advertising appears in the newspaper and readers buy the newspaper, we turn to sponsors to support events and charge a fee for admission. Top newsroom editors review whether sponsor involvement could present a conflict of interest or the appearance of a conflict. Tribune journalists exclusively determine the content of events, without influence from sponsors or other outside parties. And all Tribune events are open to the public and considered on the record. 

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