March 24, 2017

Add Samantha Bee to the list of media thinkers with a scheme to make money in local journalism.

On this week’s episode of “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee,” the “Daily Show” alumna became the latest late-night comedian to give journalism a boost. But, rather than put out a call for donations like her colleague John Oliver, Bee opted for a different strategy: lottery tickets.

During the segment, Bee interviewed Charlie Kratovil, the editor of a monthly newspaper in New Jersey called New Brunswick Today. The newspaper, which has a full-time staff of one, had a subscription base of less than 100 of the city’s 55,000 residents.

After consulting with serial entrepreneur Gabe Zichermann, Bee suggested that Kratovil needed to “gamify” the news to generate interest. Citing instances where prizes have encouraged people to vote, Bee suggested her team give out lottery tickets to encourage subscribership.

Hilarity ensued:

The promotion worked, Kratovil told Poynter. In the last 48 hours, New Brunswick Today has raised more than $11,500 from donors in the city and elsewhere.

The segment on “Full Frontal” couldn’t have come at a more opportune time, Kratovil said. The paper was already gearing up to launch a membership drive when Bee’s team got in touch toward the end of last year, so the recent flood of cash fits in with a strategy of going directly to readers for support. So far, New Brunswick Today has about 95 new subscribers who each pledged at least $50 each, he said. The paper also got multiple donations for more than $100.

Is gamifying subscriptions a possible strategy for local news? That depends on how much of New Brunswick Today’s success has to do with Bee’s show and how much comes from the lottery tickets. Because some of the donations came from outside of New Brunswick, Kratovil is sure the celebrity endorsement gave the paper a boost.

“Certainly, a lot has to do with national TV exposure,” Kratovil said. “And we now have a $100 option where I’ll send you an autographed picture of me from the fourth grade.”

But he wouldn’t rule out gamification entirely. Some people really do need an incentive to take part in their community, even if it has little to do with reading a monthly newspaper.

“I think this is a model that’s worth trying again,” Kratovil said. “It makes sense. Especially after watching the final segment and hearing about the impact it’s had on voter turnout in that local election.”

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Benjamin Mullin was formerly the managing editor of He also previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow,…
Benjamin Mullin

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