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From iPad apps to cross-media daily deals to paid firewalls to local ad networks, leading newspaper companies have shifted their revenue mix as they develop their plans to keep them as local leaders. Mike Hodges, President/COO of U-T San Diego and Jim Moroney, Publisher/CEO of Belo’s Dallas Morning News shared how they’re essentially operating living laboratories for what newspapers and other local media organizations can do.

Moroney spoke to Belo’s three initiatives of effective content marketing; 508 Digital; and SpeakEasy. For effective content marketing, Moroney explain the strategy is to start with relevant content the pulls the user in rather than a typical push model. Talk with the audience rather than shout at them. The content refers to both editorial and advertising content. Belo’s 508 Digital group is a local digital internet marketing solutions group, powered by The Dallas Morning News. 508 Digital was launched in May 2012 to compete in Dallas with other digital firms like Yodle, ReachLocal; SuperMedia and 508 has written 500 contracts, averaging $575/month with a 7.5% churn through November 2012. The final “lab” Moroney spoke to was Speakeasy, a social media joint venture with Slingshot. AH Belo owns 70% of the venture and the goal is to drive sales and wrap quality content around ads. Moroney’s final word was to say newspapers will never recover lost traditional print dollars from digital dollars; they need to launch news businesses and diversify. AH Belo appears to be having some good successes doing just this.

Hodges joined the U-T San Diego less than three years ago with the mission to drive digital revenue growth. Starting from a newspaper platform able to leverage 4,000 merchant relationships; and a large readership base, U-T’s strategy under Hodges has to leverage its big audience and big advertiser based. U-T has also expanded its lines of business into adjacent markets such as real estate and mortgage brokerages (rather than just selling ads). The U-T also formed its own digital agency to develop and sell customer loyalty programs, deals, events, database marketing and other services to become a fuller offer to merchants.

Hodges also described the U-T’s video initiative. The economics around video have changed with lower capex and faster ROI so it is much more compelling to develop and run a 24/7 online television operation.

Hodges had the same message as Moroney, digital revenue is becoming a bigger part of a newspaper’s revenue mix; entry into adjacent and complementary lines of business make sense. However, Hodges made no apologies for being in the newspaper business. He asserted that there’s a lot more longevity in the newspaper business than many people think. The sales forces, content, advertiser and audience base all have enduring value.

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