Friday, September 07, 2007

Neighbors in Need project

This project could be implemented at every newspaper (or initiated by a concerned bank). It's a helpful way to involve readers in communities and help communities become better places. It also benefits front-line news professionals as well as the publications themselves.

Currently, news professionals include known donation information in stories. However, the subjects of breaking news situations almost never have an account for donations and/or rarely know to get one. If this project is implemented at several newspapers, communities could immediately help their neighbors.

While this pitch is designed for newspaper management, it could also be a grassroots project from news professionals upward.

Increase circulation, advertising revenue, employee morale and retention as well as access to news subjects while helping distressed people within a newspaper's readership area and creating goodwill with our readership.

Create one general and multiple individual relief fund accounts for subjects of local news stories. Reporters, PJs and management could have the ability to assess distress levels of story subjects and easily create accounts for the subjects.

Print and online readers as well as advertisers and other concerned organizations would be able to make donations directly to the subjects through the newspaper and its banking partner.

Donors could also contribute to a community's general need fund. The general fund would supply seed money for new accounts while individual accounts would get direct funding from donors.

Although it would be best to set up these accounts as a not-for-profit foundation affiliated with the newspaper (to allow donations to be tax deductible), it would be fair in the interim to simply state donations aren't tax deductible.

This project can be completed without any cost to the newspaper. Reporters and PJs currently complete this work without a way to benefit the subjects of our reports.

To make the project more viable, it could cost some administrative time to establish payment and accounting methods. It could also cost some additional time and expense to establish an affiliated non-profit foundation.

Ideally, the newspaper would donate some seed money to the project or offer some additional matching funds as the project progresses and fulfills the desired goals of increasing readership, circulation, ad revenue and employee recruitment and retention. Obviously, this could be tax deductible in many circumstances.

Bank Partnership:
Initially, a partnership must be established with a bank of management's choosing. This could most likely be a current advertiser. The partner bank should be encouraged to add this distinction to their advertising plan and help establish the initial seed money for the project.

It's critical that the partner bank charges no administration fees to these accounts and understands why.

The bank would create a general fund and a simple system for newspaper front-line personnel and/or editors to establish new accounts for subjects named in news stories (individuals or organizations). Individual accounts would be seeded from the general account and then remain open for a designated amount of time.

Upon creation of an account, the bank would send the recipient a debit card to access the account. With the card and/or proper identification, the recipient would be able to immediately draw from the account. All taxes are the responsibility of the recipient.

Reporters and PJs with stories of legitimate-need about people within their readership fill out an online form prior to publication for an account reference. The account reference is listed with the published story and online.

Donors can either deposit directly into the account via traditional means or through online transfer through a secure porthole of a newspaper's Web site.

Need assessment:
As stated, reporters, PJs, editors and management with stories of legitimate-need about people within our readership create accounts for story subjects.

While approaching the subject for news stories, reporters and PJs should assess the need of the subjects. The following would be need indicators:

* Immediate potential loss of life or property.
* Total loss of life or property.
* Uninsured severe need of medical supplies or attention.
* Uninsured loss of property (home or business).
* Management-approved charitable organization.

Periodic updates on various subjects (particularly near the end of the donation period), would reward readers for their compassion.

Increase readership
People prefer to know about the needs of their neighbors more than the needs of someone they don't know. As such, people with the ability to contribute to help their neighbors would like to do so and need a source to clarify legitimate need. This project would fill this need.

Consequently, it's anticipated more people will read these stories to know how to help their neighbors or get help for themselves in times of need. Simply stated, it's a community-wide, need-based insurance policy.

Increase circulation
As readership grows, so shall circulation. As an additional motivation for significant donations, a one-month subscription could be granted to donors who identify themselves. Since these particular donors have sufficient income to donate, it's understandable these same donors have sufficient income to purchase a subscription but haven't completely familiarized themselves with the newspaper.

Online donors could be rewarded with archive access if the newspaper has a paid archive system.

Increase ad revenue
As circulation increases, so can ad revenue from both advertiser motivation to contact readers as well as proportionally increased ad rates.

As advertisers are motivated to join the project, they'll have created a vested interest in the project and the viability of the newspaper itself.

Advertisers receive an additional incentive by having their name listed periodically on a "thanks to our partners" house ad. Furthermore, they're encouraged to include their donor partner status on future paid display ads within the newspaper. Hopefully, this reminds them to place regular ads.

Advertisers get additional clientele from the house ad and realize the usefulness of placing display advertisements in the newspaper. If the donor business stops donating to the fund, its clientele may question the stoppage. Since there are no administration fees and each recipient is confirmed by reporters, the business would be urged by their regular clients to continue to be a part of the program.

Increase goodwill
Although a newspaper's primary function is to make a profit, its special status in a community is to inform the public. This information often surrounds subjects in dire need.

When a reporter or PJ approaches these subjects with nothing but a request to collect personal information, the subjects have less incentive to cooperate and may become hostile toward news gatherers. This program allows the front-line personnel to gain access, trust and information while helping the community as a whole.

News gatherers could, over time, be welcomed and actually invited to collect news about the people most in need of help. This could additionally elevate the status of the newspaper in the eyes of our readers.

Increase employee moral
Great reporters are caring, passionate professionals. Although motivated by adequate income, they're often equally motivated by performing a greater good for readers. This project is exactly the motivation needed to help recruit, retain and motivate great reporters.

With this tool to help alleviate some of the misery news professionals encounter, they could be motivated to help others through their work. This doesn't mean the professionals are doing less without this project, but it's a significant motivator to recruit and keep quality newsroom personnel.

At the end of each day, our readers, news professionals, management and advertising partners should feel they've been a positive influence to the community.

Enough for now,

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