By David Arkin • LMA Contributor

Food is one of those content categories that continues to be a real audience hit for local media companies, really regardless of size and location. Readers just love to eat and drink.

The Record-Journal, a daily newspaper in Connecticut, recognized the interest and decided to dedicate a significant resource toward the topic for a few months. The results were promising. Engagement spiked and the newspaper created products, including a newsletter and a unique design for the content online. The content focused on everything from restaurants, interesting menu items, trends and recipes.

The effort was so successful that it was recognized as the Best New Digital Initiative in the Local Media Association’s Digital Innovation Awards, for news organizations under 750,000 unique users.


We caught up with the leader of this initiative, the Record Journal’s Ashley Kus, audience engagement editor, to learn more about how they did it.

Why did you decide to create such significant resources around food and drink?

We saw a consistent audience and high engagement with our On The Menu weekly restaurant feature. On the Menu and other food series outperformed other similar features on a regular basis. We wanted to focus on that audience more so we revamped On the Menu to be a Food and Drink vertical with digital embeds and alternative story formats.

Tell us about the kinds of content you created.

We create stories about new restaurants, food trends, recipes inspired by local chefs and bakers, and other food-related hyperlocal content. We use alternative story formats like lists, timelines, and a variety of digital embeds.

Of everything you created, what resonated most with your audience?

Before the pandemic, our new restaurant stories usually did the best. However, once restaurants started closing, we saw high engagement in the list we compiled of places to get take-out and curbside delivery.

How did you approach the content for different platforms?

For digital, we wanted to engage food and drink audiences and keep them on the story longer. We did this by creating a different look on the page compared to our other news content. When you click on Food and Drink, the layout is more visual with image blocks and a photo gallery automatically included in the middle of every story. We also created a corresponding Food and Drink Facebook group for recipe sharing, content sharing, and polling the group members to find out what story we should explore next.

We also launched a newsletter for Food and Drink in conjunction with the vertical. We have seen a loyal base of subscribers and growth in the newsletter.

For print, we created Food and Drink with a digital-first approach with most of our resources directed to digital content. We publish the content as we do with any other feature content. Our next step is to find out how Food and Drink fits into a designated print section.

Have you had any success monetizing the work or plans in the future to do so?

This Food & Drink section was one of our experiments for our [consumer-revenue-focused] Facts Arent Free team to increase engagement on our site to lead to more conversions. So for plans to monetize, in the future, we’ll focus on targeted offers to these engaged users.

Any advice for someone who may be thinking about trying to do something similar?

Designate a specific team member to the content.