The Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute is showcasing innovative ideas that were shared at the 2014 Walter B. Potter Sr. Conference for community newspapers. If you like ideas such as these, we encourage you to attend the 2016 Potter Conference, which will be held April 14 and 15 at RJI in Columbia, Missouri. Register by Friday, April 8.

For 15 years, Leader Publications of Missouri has found a way to share and monetize its readers’ memories: photo contests.

The Festus-based newspaper company, which publishes three weekly newspapers, invites readers to submit photos for five themed annual special sections for a chance to win cash prizes.

In 2015, the company brought in more than $48,000 in advertising from its weekly newspapers’ efforts, says News Editor Peggy Scott. Readers enjoy seeing their photos in special sections and sharing them with friends, Scott says, and local advertisers benefit from exposure in these popular publications. Scott says people regularly stop in the office and compliment staff on the photo contest issues.  

According to Scott, the photo contests were inspired by lack of local copy for their special sections. Now, if the advertising department sells ads for a bridal expo special section, the newsroom may ask readers for photos and stories about their wedding dresses or engagement proposals. Or when it’s time to put together a senior citizen magazine, news staff will ask seniors to submit photos of their grandchildren, pets or vacations. Staff still generates some stories, too, says Scott.

Readers submit hundreds of photos, says Scott. There’s not always room in the print editions for all of the submissions so additional photos are posted online.  

“These contests have been going for 15 years and going strong,” she says. “I don’t think that there’s any idea that they’re going to slow down.”

Leader Publications either brings in outside judges to critique the photos or it holds a random drawing for prizes, says Scott.

Learn more about how to do photo contest special sections at your news organization

Jennifer Nelson  
Senior Information Specialist


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