The Ledger (Lakeland, FL)

Read some of The Ledger’s major projects online: The Battle Over Medical Marijuana, Weed War II, Bullying: A Search for Solutions, Sold for Sex, Path to Healing, Congestion and Taxes, Tax Bust or Boom?, Who Killed Baby Zachary?

Publisher: Kevin Drake
Editor: Lenore Devore
Follow The Ledger on Facebook and Twitter

This newspaper’s connections with its community are deep, broad, meaningful and engaging. Its powerful project work (with follow-up community forums) and “Eye on Polk (County)” feature have significant impact, and its new, 100+-page, high-quality “Polk Life” monthly magazine reflects the lighter side of area life. The paper also produced an ambitious proliferation of special sections, offered readers ways to engage more with each other and created a strategic social-media plan that extends beyond the newsroom.

What new initiatives or projects did your newspaper launch in 2014?

Almost every year since about 2000, Ledger editors and reporters traveled to various parts of the county two or three times a year to meet our readers where they live, work and play.

Last year, we took that one step further and decided to engage our readers in a new way: community forums tied to news coverage.

The Ledger produced five multi-day series last year tied to important news events; we held community forums with local and statewide participants following three of those. The topics were timely and critical …

In each case we ran a box with each part of the series asking readers to send in their questions. We then sent the questions to panel members so they could organize their thoughts and present prepared answers. This provided an ounce of control without seeming scripted.

We would have done at least one more, on a Polk County referendum, but so many other organizations had tackled the issue we decided there was not much more to add. That proved we were strategic in what we took on.

This year, we’ve been asked to host a debate between two city commissioners on the topic of whether the city should change its form of governance. If the topic moves to the ballot in November, we will likely provide an education forum, rather than a debate, later this year.

Did your newspaper roll out any new products or pages in 2014? If so, how successful were they?

Last year, the Newsroom created Polk Life magazine, the outgrowth of an advertorial magazine that the publisher, who started here last year, moved to the Newsroom.

Averaging about 116 pages, we have worked hard to produce quality content and photographs that are both informative and fun. All reporters write for the monthly magazine, which has been well received in the community.

It takes a lot of time and effort, and at times pulls reporters in many directions. But the end product proves the thought and care put into it. It’s a product we are proud to provide our readers.

What did you do to engage audience with social media work?

… In December, we started developing a strategic plan for social media at The Ledger – beyond the Newsroom. We shared that with the publisher and operating committee in January, and we meet regularly for updates. We are already seeing vast improvements in Facebook reach, Twitter impressions and website views from social media.


Honorable Mention: Sarasota (FL) Herald-Tribune

Read some of Herald-Tribune’s major projects from 2014 online: Dorothy’s Choice, Newtown 100, The Cost of Life, Home to Havana, Medical Marijuana, A stickup. A manhunt. A Mistake?,TransSarasota, Kindness of Strangers

Publisher: Pat Dorsey
Editor: Bill Church
Follow The Herald-Tribune on Facebook and Twitter

This newspaper’s four priorities (Do journalism with impact; Engage our key audiences; Deliver experiences; Innovate like a start-up) and its reporter-based project-planning model produced impressive and consistent enterprise and watchdog reporting. It actively seeks a wide range of content partners, resulting in broader reach for its work. Readers get ambitious and impactful stories well told and graphically attracting.