Bill Ostendorf: Look to your newsroom resources to generate revenue

Consultant and former Providence Journal graphics and photo editor Bill Ostendorf has made a career out of asking newsrooms tough questions about how to generate revenue.

“We shouldn’t be anti-revenue,” he says. “I’m not saying, take down the wall between advertising and editorial. I think that’s valuable. But there are resources we have and ideas that we can come up with that can make us money.”

At the ProJo Ostendorf was a member of a creative team trying to come up with revenue-generating ideas. They published a series of photo calendars, and sold as many as 20,000 copies; they raised money for charities through art gallery showings of those photos; and they started a wire service to sell editorial content to other newspapers. He even syndicated Food Network content, which the ProJo owned.

So based on his experience, he went into consulting on newspaper redesigns (better single-copy sales is a low-cost money-maker) and even branched into software for ordering classified ads and managing press releases.

A selection of his suggestions for newspapers and newsrooms:

  • Have an entrepreneurial spirit. Most journalists have this — we’re in journalism for a reason — and that’s the first step.
  • Don’t assume other newspapers have the answers. Do the opposite of what other media companies are doing. Ostendorf says newspaper companies are timid dinosaurs stuck in a tar pit, and that if you do the opposite, you can go a long way.
  • Take an editor’s eye to projects. His example is classified order forms: Newspapers were trying to replace the entry forms their classified sales reps had used, rather than examining how readers might use them. By giving the forms an editor’s touch, he was able to make a marketable product that readers don’t hate to use.
  • Find dumb things that need fixing, and fix them: trapped house ads, for instance. Ostendorf asks, can you find a way to reclaim the space for editorial space? Is there an ad position you can sell, if you’re having a hard time selling the ones you have, or a different configuration of editorial content?
  • Make something out of nothing. There are lots of things you can do with the resources you already have, like Ostendorf’s software for press releases, which his company licensed to the St. Petersburg Times. Can you take something you’re already spending money on, and make money off of it?