News Analysis

Here’s what the Des Moines Register is doing to make it in the digital news age

The Des Moines Register’s Jan. 31 print edition | Randy Paulson

I had the chance to visit The Des Moines Register’s offices a couple of weeks ago with my mobile and social media class. The paper’s engagement editor, Brian Smith, gave us a tour of the company and explained how the Register has adapted to the changes in the news industry, namely from a print business to a digital one.

Like nearly all newspapers still in operation, The Des Moines Register has had to adapt to the digital and mobile news landscape in order to stay afloat and continue providing high-quality news coverage to its readers.

Looking through both a print copy of the Register and its website, it’s clear the paper receives much of its revenue from advertisers, even though revenue for print advertising has been sharply declining for newspapers in recent years along with print circulation.  Those who frequent the Register website will also have noticed the company has a paywall, offering readers only 10 free stories a month before asking them to subscribe. Given the Register’s tighter budget, it’s more important than ever that its reporters work harder than ever to deliver readers news that is timely, accurate and interesting enough to be worth the subscription cost.

My mobile and social media class and I sitting in on the Des Moines Register’s morning news meeting | Randy Paulson

One of the main ways journalists at the Register engage with their readers and pique their interest in their work is by having an active social media presence, especially on Twitter. The Des Moines Register itself has its own Twitter account, which posts the most recent stories from its reporters as they are published to the website. Also, from scanning the Des Moines Register’s online contacts page, it’s clear the majority of its writers, editors and executives have Twitter accounts they use for much the same purpose.

After getting their stories, columns or editorials in for each print copy and for the website, they then promote it on Twitter; some also share their stories on their Facebook pages. According to Smith, the paper does not require its journalists to use social media to promote content, but strongly encourages them to do so, especially on Twitter.

For example, in the Wednesday, Jan. 31 edition of the Register, Stephen Gruber-Miller wrote a story that covered how Iowa lawmakers, law enforcement and citizens are taking action to curb the opioid epidemic that, according to Gruber-Miller, claimed 195 lives in 2017 alone.

In print, his story is titled, “Iowans are fighting back against opioid problem” and is accompanied by an infographic showing the rise in opioid-related deaths and overdoses in Iowa since 2000. However, online the titled was modified to a more inviting: “Here’s what Iowa’s doing about its opioid problem.”

The online version also includes six videos: The first one, placed beneath the headline, is an informational video which presents several statistics about the opioid epidemic. The other five, which are arranged in a carousel halfway down the page, tell the individual stories of five grieving Iowan moms who have lost children to opioid overdoses.

Gruber-Miller promoted his story both on Twitter and his personal Facebook page by sharing the link to the story as a way to engage his readers as well as his friends and family. On each post, the link to the story is accompanied by an image of a pile of opioid pills and tablets arranged in the shape of Iowa, the same image which appears next to the lede sentence on the website.

Screen Shot 2018-01-31 at 8.53.54 PM
Screenshot of Stephen Gruber-Miller’s tweet, which links to his story about Iowa’s fight against the opioid epidemic

While his posts only received a few likes and favorites each, by consistently sharing his stories on social media, he’s creating an additional avenue for his readers to access his work instead of searching through the Register’s website or a print copy.

As the news industry becomes more and more dependent on digital, mobile and social interaction, I expect The Des Moines Register will likely make it through the long haul just fine. However, while the Register and its reporters do a great job of making sure their stories are published and shared on Facebook and Twitter, I noticed its Facebook audience tends to be more active in liking, commenting and sharing stories compared to its Twitter audience. Yet at the same time, more people follow the Register on Twitter than on Facebook.

One thing the paper could do to better promote engagement on Twitter is to add follow-up tweets to stories asking readers for their thoughts, opinions and any questions the story left them with. This could be particularly effective for stories about controversial topics or breaking stories that will likely be followed up with additional reporting.



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