Article

Deseret News’ Transformation to a Worldwide Information Business

What can your Business Learn from its Strategy?

By Paul Beebe

March 12, 2014

On its own, DDM has developed numerous products that take it beyond its traditional news offerings, KSL.com and DeseretNews.com. Under Lee’s direction, the company has set up OK.com, a movie review and rating site whose content is generated by users. The site will soon offer TV, book and music reviews.

Another site, Utah.com, dispenses information about tourism and recreation. FamilyShare.com provides practical advice for families. Familias.com.br and Familias.com furnish similar information in Portuguese and Spanish.

Lee says DDM has more than 200 Facebook pages where users can see content selected to fit their need for specific kinds of information. Enter “I love my mom” into Facebook’s search engine and the social media platform serves up a page with links to articles from the Deseret News and DDM sites such as FamilyShare.com.

“We can promote content to millions of users, which then allows us to produce content specifically for their needs and drive traffic from the social channels to our sites,” he says.

“So if you saw that article in Facebook, you could click on it and it would bring you over to our site.”

The Deseret News has worked hard to find a niche in the disrupted newspaper business. No longer able to count on traditional ways of gathering and delivering news to pay its bills, the paper has looked inward for new channels of growth.

One of the first steps was to understand what customers really wanted from the Deseret News. It discovered that many of its readers identified with concerns about family. So the slimmed-down newspaper created six key areas of editorial emphasis connected to principles that would also reinforce the values of the LDS Church: faith, family, care for the poor, culture, excellence in education and financial responsibility.

“Every day, we hope that the front page of the Deseret News has a strong enterprising story that resonates with one of these core areas of emphasis,” Paul Edwards, the paper’s editor, says.

Surveys showed that the same topics resonated with a lot of non-Utahns. So in 2012 the Deseret News launched a weekly national print edition that aggregates most of the enterprise content that appeared in the local paper during the previous week. Today, some 60,000 out-of-state readers are subscribers.

The paper’s latest step is syndication. Edwards says a lot of its enterprise now appears in “hundreds” of outlets across the country. One of its biggest partnerships is with a company that provides the websites of TV stations across the country. The paper’s family-oriented content is in particular demand, Edwards says, adding that in April a national website for the Deseret News will be launched.

To illustrate how the Deseret News continues to fit into an industry that is undergoing fundamental change, Edwards draws on an analogy that he sources to Gilbert. While the paper may be a prehistoric creature, it is not doomed to extinction—if it’s managed properly. By developing an untapped niche, the Deseret News has managed to survive disruption that has killed off big papers like the Rocky Mountain News and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. At the same time, a new life form, Deseret Digital Media, has sprung up. The two, Gilbert believes, can coexist.

The strongest evidence that the Deseret News will be around for a long time emerged last fall. In a surprise announcement, The Salt Lake Tribune announced it had sold its interest in a West Valley City printing plant to the Deseret News.

The Tribune also renegotiated the terms of its longtime joint operating agreement with the Deseret News. The profit split between the two papers—58 percent for the Tribune and 42 percent for the Deseret News—would change. The Tribune now receives just 30 percent of the profits; the remainder goes to the Deseret News.

Edwards says the deal means that the Deseret News is still a central component of the Deseret media mix.

“With the increased investment in the joint operating agreement and the purchase of the presses, that’s a real show of faith in print for the foreseeable future,” Edwards says.

Gilbert says the changes at the Deseret News were painful. But they have secured the paper’s existence, which five years ago wasn’t certain. In spite of disruption still playing out in the newspaper industry, Gilbert, Lee and Edwards have devised solutions for their media properties that get results.

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