Untapped potential is a challenge every news media organisation faces. 

Realising that one of its greatest advantages is the number of innovative market tests and experiments it can conduct by using its collective power and distributed network of talented teams, Gannett decided to face the problem head on over the last two years. 

The news media company created the LDSN (Local Digital Solutions Network) framework, a first-ever collaborative cross-country network of designers, developers, and product teams.

In doing so, it refocused work in individual markets to prioritise Gannett’s larger goals. In the process, it eliminated repetitive work and allowed great projects formerly done in silos to be surfaced to the full Community Publishing division and beyond Gannett divisional lines.

The mission of LDSN is to build digital solutions that grow revenue and audience and secure a competitive advantage in the local marketplace. 

The goals of Gannett’s LDSN are to: 

  1. Enable new revenue streams in collaboration with consumer marketing, advertising, and editorial. 

  2. Support audience growth in key consumer segments through new products and enhancements, with a priority on the under-40 audience. 

  3. Provide scalable editorial and advertising white-label solutions to support quick-win opportunities. 

  4. Support designers and developers who want to allocate a portion (10%-20%) of their time to projects that they feel passionately about, even if it doesn’t fit neatly into one of its current objective buckets. 

The yield has been a number of “firsts” within Gannett that are worthy of highlighting: 

  1. First infrastructure that enables under-a-day development of multiple apps using the existing Gannett CMS. 

  2. First niche site with a subscription model. 

  3. First app to use hyper-custom alerts.

As Kevin Poortinga, general manager/product development, puts it, “The Local Digital Solutions Network walks the walk of what it takes for Gannett to be competitive in today’s ever-changing media market.” 

This is a snapshot of the LDSN portfolio in year one: 

• Sports: iOS and Android sports apps live in several markets. This has created an experience that marries Gannett’s coverage with live game stats for several professional and college teams in its local markets.

• Subscriptions: Built a new, integrated subscription offering around “passion topics,” such as sports. 

• Traffic: Developed an iOS app for the Cincinnati Enquirer that marries traffic news with custom route data, traffic cameras, and push alerts. 

• Foodies: Created btvfoodie.com — a sponsored Burlington (Vermont) Free Press site with a conglomeration of recipes and information on wine, breweries and wineries, food classes and tastings, and restaurants. It celebrates the Burlington community’s culture of food and drink, and provides high-utility information on how to navigate the local scene. It is an extension of the local food magazine, Savovore. 

• Apartments: LDSN helped the DemocratandChronicle.com in Rochester, New York, roll out a local solution in partnership with NewDigs.com and apartments.com. It allows the user to define his or her own neighbourhood by drawing a polygon around it, save a property to their favourites, take 3D tours of a property, and learn more about a property by watching a video. 

• Food trucks: LDSN also helped Rochester launch wherethatfoodtruck.com, a series of food truck sites that aggregates tweets from food truck operators and, when available, shows the vehicle’s location and menu.

• AZ Fact Check: Built a native version of AZ Fact Check, which examines the statements of politicians and agencies. LDSN also rolled out a version of this for USAToday.

• 12th & Broad: This Nashville niche site, www.12thandbroad.com, celebrates the city’s creative community with unique experiences, collaborations, and stories, and saw improvements such as adding an entrepreneur channel.

• Snapshots: Another Rochester project is a collection of scanned black-and-white photos from the U.S. Department of Defense taken in June, July, and August of 1950, including the caption information on the back of the photos. It is shared by a local Korean war veteran and Ph.D. The goal of the site is to connect the photos with the veterans featured in them. The project utilised the template from a previous project, apollo11.floridatoday.com. 

• Hurricane Hub: Available on both iOS and Android and presented by Gannett Florida Media, this app has been re-designed and re-built to increase engagement. The team added live storm maps, push alerts, and Presto integration (Presto is Gannett’s proprietary digital content management system).

• Caucuses: Based on existing infrastructure, Gannett was able to quickly create a new native app for the 2016 Iowa Caucuses for the U.S. presidential election. It will be in app stores soon. 

• Gift guides: Rocgifts.com was redesigned to be responsive and rolled out to several sites for a “quick revenue win.” It will be available again during the Christmas holidays. 

• Things to Do: Apps that combine Gannett’s curated “best” lists with an events aggregation engine. It is available in Des Moines, Indianapolis, and Nashville, with Phoenix waiting in the wings. 

• Cook’s Corner: This app was developed with the Louisville Courier-Journal, and allows users to easily browse through a collection of recipes from Louisville’s most famous restaurants. 

• Customer loyalty: Coloradoan.com was built with the consumer marketing team to allow subscribers to get exclusive deals, events, and content. 

• “Best of”: The team designed and supported AZCentral and DesertSun’s “Best of…” initiatives with best.azcentral.com, which is on the schedule for scaling to additional sites next year.

• E-mail newsletter sign-up module: This module is live on the Tennessean.com home page. Options include daily news, daily sports, daily business, breaking news, and a top-five list. The section front module (near the bottom of the page) provides a path for a site to grow both reach and distribution. 

• RSS module: Currently live on Cincinnati.com’s Reds section front http://static.cincinnati.com/rss/. This module allows a site to promote non-Presto content from any section front.

• Meet the babies: The LDSN supported this annual initiative, www.Meetthebabies.democratandchronicle.com at the Democrat & Chronicle, bringing in a significant amount of revenues from its sponsor and users. 

• RAGBRAI: LDSN continued to support this app and browser, the Des Moines Register’s large revenue generator. (RAGBRAI stands for The Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa.) 

• E-mail acquisition app: This is in testing. LDSN is working with consumer marketing to offer an app that helps acquire attendees’ information at live events.

• Elections: There are modules at both the Cincinnati Enquirer and Arizona Republic in Phoenix. In a test of scalable local results modules, LDSN supported two of Gannett’s larger properties on election night. 

Says Poortinga of the multi-pronged effort: “By networking the talents of formerly remote and independent teams, Gannett was able to put its full force toward the highest return projects for the entire company. Members of the Local Digital Solutions Network were also able to more easily learn from each other and feed off colleagues’ energy to push the quality, creativity, and speed of each of our projects.”