Classifieds and newspapers: More reasons why there’s still a spark

In a blog post here last week, I chimed with some thoughts on the relationship of newspapers and classifieds. Newspapers are local brands and, as such, have the advantage of serving as the community’s bulletin board – both online and in print. It’s not too late for newspapers to lean on classifieds for increased revenue.

I shared my post on the Facebook pages of some newspapers, including McClatchy Newspapers, the company that owns the Sacramento Bee, the hometown paper of Geebo’s birthplace. I was happy to see a comment post by a McClatchy rep, albeit an anonymous one.

This rep’s argument in the exchange about Career Builder is strong. Newspapers were quick to realize that the most lucrative pieces of the classifieds revenue pie included job listings, real estate and car sales. Those were the community businesses who were doing the advertising.

But classifieds also included everything else you see on sites like Geebo today – used furniture, rooms for rent or garage sales. Those were the listings from the people in the community, the readers with whom newspapers had a trusted relationship because of their journalism. And even though those 2-line, agate-typed listings for a lost pet didn’t bring in as many bucks as the job listings, they were a link to the community – something that was just as valuable.

A report released this week by the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University highlighted a case study about TV station KSL in Salt Lake City, which jumped into the online classifieds game early on and focused its efforts around providing a safe online marketplace for its audience. Owned by the Church of the Latter-Day Saints, the station refused adult-oriented ads and screened for potentially fraudulent ads. (via NYT)

Newspapers once did the same thing. And it’s exactly what Geebo does now.The Columbia University report quotes Clark Gilbert, president and chief executive officer of the station’s online properties, which includes He said:

“Here’s something hard for old-media people to accept. … Our news content gave a level of trust to the classifieds, and classifieds drove relevance back to the news.” Or, put another way, the fact that readers have come to rely on the classifieds under the KSL brand helped to
build relevance and credibility in the news as well.”

Interestingly enough, the same Columbia University report also uses McClatchy Newspapers as a case study, looking at how the chain has had to rethink its advertising model. The linkage between the news side and the ad side of the business is breaking down and news orgs are looking for ways to replace it.

The report quotes Chris Hendricks, VP of Interactive at McClatchy, who said: “The longstanding premise of content and advertising being inextricably linked has clearly fallen apart.” He said the company has started selling space on Yahoo or Facebook as part of the pitch to local advertisers, essentially turning its own salesforce into the local sales team for worldwide online companies. “It’s almost like we are a sales and distribution company that decided we’re going to fund journalism,” Hendricks said in the report.

As newspapers rethink their advertising models, it’s important for them to remember that classifieds were once an important element of a lucrative model. Yes, they may be seeing nice returns on employment ads or real estate listings – but are they still the trusted marketplace host for their local readers? There’s still a chance.