How Advance Local is using data and segmentation to improve subscriber acquisition

Conversion techniques are constantly being refined and getting more sophisticated, and data is at its core. In this example, newspaper publisher Advance Local is using data to understand the propensity to subscribe, or readiness as they define it. It makes a lot of logical sense that a loosely engaged user isn’t the likeliest to buy a subscription. Advance Local is using this data to refine its conversion strategy and its trial offerings. Most publishers are using a registration step, but Advance Local is instead using trial subs for the first step on its subscription journey. The case study also brings us back to one of the common themes of this newsletter, engagement. For those with infrequent engagement, they have been testing a day pass offering.

Nieman Lab offers up a good overview of how news outlets from around the world are using WhatsApp Channels feature - the US, UK, Argentina and India. They are seeing fast growth, solid engagement and even referrals back to their websites.

Coverage has focused on how traffic from social media, especially Facebook, to news sites has collapsed. Charlie Warzel has a different explanation.

Consuming news might always have exacted an emotional toll, but by 2020, the experience of picking through the wreckage of social media to find out about the world was particularly awful. It’s telling that during the darkest days of the coronavirus pandemic, the very act of reading the news was rebranded as “doomscrolling,” and people have long called Twitter a “hellsite.”

He sees news fatigue as something that was created not just by events but also the toxicity of news consumption through social media.

The Press Gazette in the UK reviews traffic trends amongst local newspaper sites in the country. What is interesting is how Reach’s largest sites grew but many of their other sites saw traffic declines.

Press Foward is the foundation funded project that hopes to stem the collapse of local journalism in the United States, and they are not wasting time. This is an example of the type of projects that they are funding, local journalism projects in Chicago.

Hunterbrook, a hedge fund, is going to pay for journalism that helps it identify investing opportunities. Well, at least it is more productive than some of the investments that other funds are making in buying up journalism outlets.

Publishers are challenging the idea that scrapping content without permission for the purpose of LLM training is fair use, and the News/Media Alliance has called for an end to unauthorised use of publishers’ content. While I see a lot of potential for AI, I think there has to be a clear value exchange for content creators.

Elle UK’s community strategy creates premium subscription product

Community is a resurgence in terms of media. Whether it’s membership schemes or other strategies that include experiences, media outlets including Hearst and DC Thomson are both announcing their pivot to community. From a business standpoint, it makes a lot of sense because the community plays often include premium tiers that allow publishers to increase ARPU. That is definitely the case with Elle UK in which their membership scheme is £110 more than the basic subscription.

But I understand the repacking of media as a community play. I think that a sense of belonging is one of the things in short supply following the pandemic. People are hungry for social experiences and a sense of connection.

Essentially we are giving them access to the daily joys that we experience every day as an Elle editor. They are getting the opportunity to experience what we do every day. So we try the beauty products first, we go into the exhibitions, we go see the films, we go on the trips, we have these amazing opportunities to engage with thought leaders, women who are driving the discussions that are dominating our group chats, women who are sitting at the centre of fashion, beauty and culture.

One of the major themes in media over the past year has been the collapse in traffic from social media to publishers’ properties. The Verge conducted a rather radical redesign in part to lure more audiences directly to their site as traffic from Twitter dried up. The Verge has seen readership increase by 15% in part because of a dramatic, 62% rise in its loyal readership. This article is thing on details, but the tech publisher has been to convert casual readers into more loyal audience members.

Product management is first and foremost a coordinating function. Product managers work across organisations to bring stakeholders into alignment from editorial, commercial and technical teams. Communication is key, and as I found in my master’s degree, product managers are able to translate across these teams.

First, major foundations in the US announced a huge half billion dollar fund to try to address the crisis in local journalism there. They always said that this was a down payment that they hoped would act like seed money for more investment. And now, they have made that goal explicit.

Creators on social media are finding success in providing news on social media. Their followers find their recommendations more relevant than traditional media.

Apart from triple digital growth from Ilife Media’s Kent Online, Reach’s network of ‘live’ regional news website dominated the top 10. Reach’s large sites such as the Manchester Evening News, Birmingham Live and the Liverpool Echo stood at the top of the list. However, not all of the news was good for Reach. If its 31 titles, all but seven lost audience.

By distributing new shows through existing feeds, it helps leverage existing show followings to give new offerings a boost.

Maybe this is my adverse reaction to Natty Geo laying off all of its writers, but this feels like a strategy from the Platform Era. Followers and social media impressions are one thing, but as we have seen, that doesn’t necessarily translate into revenue and sustainable media businesses.

The Engagement Special: How Der Spiegel developed its engagement metric

There are playbooks and then there recipes for success. This is one of the most detailed articles that I have seen in terms of how a publisher has developed their analytics. Der Spiegel walks you through how they evolved the RFV - recency, frequency, volume - metric that was developed at the Financial Times. They also added regularity, and for good reason. The Spiegel Research Center at Northwestern University has shown how regularity is more highly correlated to conversion and retention than dwell time and the volume of content that a user consumes. It is why I stress loyalty and habit that drives known users as keys to building a sustainable media business.

But Der Spiegel adds another important element - empirical cumulative distribution function. “ECDF transforms numerical data, indicating the proportion of values that are less than or equal to a specific value.” It is some powerful data science that they are deploying, and they connect these audience metrics with their business metrics.

And in our second case study, WAN-IFRA looks at how The Conversation is building engagement and donations to add to the university funding that they receive. Analytics is helping them develop new content products such as their Quarter Life series, content that is focused on young professionals. The success of the the series has led them to other audience engagement efforts including quizzes and newsletters. And the next step in their development is in-person events.

These engagement efforts to build direct relationships with audiences are key as traffic drivers like search and social decline. That has been one of the major themes this year, but now, Digiday has evidence that traffic from news aggregators is also on the decline. That decline in traffic and the emphasis on first-party data has media leaders reassessing their relationship with aggregators.

From INMA, we have an overview of two mindsets that determine whether a company develops the agility to embrace innovation. The second mindset is often referred to as “fail fast” in Silicon Valley culture. I prefer to frame it as “learn quickly”. Or as the piece says: “Encourage a culture where failure is not a dirty word but an opportunity for learning and growth.”

Speculation grows as to who might acquire The Telegraph and Spectator in the UK. Germany’s Axel Springer has become a major global media player, but it has cast doubt about whether they will pursue a bid for the British newspaper. They want to focus on a digital-only strategy.

Meta’s Twitter-competitor, Thread, enjoyed a huge burst of growth when it launched because of its integration with Instagram, but then use tailed off. As they develop the product, use seems to have rebounded, and now they are talking about launching an API. The head of Instagram says that they will develop it even if it means more publisher content as opposed to creator content. I guess that shows where their priorities are.

Thus far, there have been limited use of AI to generate deepfakes during the Israel-Hamas War, but what little has been created has only created more mistrust of traditional media. How depressing.

Copy this: The FT’s newsletter development and launch playbook

In an excellent product management case study, Sarah Ebner of the FT writes about the development of its fashion newsletter, which has become the most opened newsletter in its stable. Ebner has a newsletter pitch document to ensure that the propositions are well thought out, and the FT did market research to ensure there was demand for it. She also went through her launch strategy, which made sure that the newsletter enjoyed healthy growth. It’s a solid playbook.

In another practical piece, Peter Bale reviews how The Independent measures engagement. It allows them to give every user a score, and it is relatively easy to calculate. As Peter says, the metric allows the news site to measure both the propensity to register and subscribe while also optimising advertising yield.

As a business school graduate, this brought back memories of the strategic management course. The Fix has an excellent rundown of major management frameworks such as PEST, Porter’s Five Forces and value-chain analysis and also a quick overview of resource-based view analysis and how to apply them to media management.

Ken Doctor has long been an important contributor to the conversation around local news sustainability, and this interview adds to his contributions to this complex effort. He says:

You cannot point to any digital news startup of scale that's trying to replace a daily newspaper that is profitable today. I can't find any. That doesn't mean they're not successful. They are meeting their missions. They are replacing the news function and information function, but they need more time.

I think the issue he highlights is around scale. Yes, there isn’t any local, digital start-up operating at a scale that will replace the newspapers in those communities, but there are interesting start-ups that are starting to put together new models. Most of them remind me of Clay Christensen’s model of disruptive innovation. They are low-scale, low-cost operations that usually begin with a newsletter and move up the value chain from there.

In the US, philanthropic launch money is there, but he says that it will take time to rebuild the lost journalism capacity that was once there.

Just as there is a lot to learn from the FT’s newsletter playbook, for those working in the verification space, there are a lot of lessons in this post. The first is to be sceptical and curious. I did verification work for more than a decade work when I was doing some consulting with Al Jazeera, and we used online research and technical means, such as looking at the EXIF data. Now, the verification methods are much more sophisticated because the techniques for misinformation disinformation are much more sophisticated.

One of the stories making the rounds this week was how The Messenger was starting to circle the drain. It was launched by The Hill owner Jimmy Finkelstein, but for anyone working in digital media over the past decade, the entire premise sounded very unlikely to work. The audience development goals and plans were grounded in the market more than a decade ago in which social media could deliver tremendous scale. The editorial strategy and poor management alienated staff almost immediately. This comes from Techdirt so expect it to be full of snark.

AI this week: Gannett accused of using AI to generate reviews, more AI coming to Facebook

Unionised workers at Gannett’s review site have accused the parent company of using AI to generate reviews after they walked off the job on a busy shopping day earlier this year. It now looks like the reviews came from a marketing agency, which has been used by both Gannett and McClatchy. But the question still remains of whether the marketing firm used AI to generate these really quite poor quality reviews.

I am seeing AI everywhere. We use Hubspot at work to send out our newsletter, and they have AI writing tools included. They aren’t too bad, and I have been using it to root out some bad writing habits that have developed over time.

Meta is bringing AI tools to profile pics and post writing. Is this like the moment when calculators became widespread and students started using them in math classes? Something to ponder on the weekend.

Betteridge’s rules for surviving the coming collapse of search

Ian Betteridge, he of Betteridge’s Law of Headlines, has some very timely advice for publishers on how they can handle the end of SEO (see below for why this is important). Google is constantly tweaking its algorithms, and the third major update this year has hit some news site hard. Ian is taking a long view and offering up some solid advice on how to manage not just the collapse of SEO but the arrival of SGE - search generartive experience - in which search becomes the destination and the infinite source of answers. It might be good for users and lazy students, but it could be incredibly damaging for publishers.

Ian is right that publishers need to prepare for this future becasue it isn’t that far away. I am in violent agreement that publishers need to focus on direct relationships and not just traffic. Research is full of data points that show that building up a loyal audience that has developed a habit of coming directly to your site is really the way forward. You can achieve that through newsletters, podcasts and apps, with their powerful push notifications. Leaning into newsletters still makes heaps of sense, and I also agree that AI-generated content will not save publishers from the coming collapse of search. AI can help surface content that is more relevant to individual users, and that can help build that loyalty and habit. But that is an entirely different use case. Read on, there is a lot in his post.

Oh, that is why your traffic from search has dropped. It’s another data point in the theme of this year, which is the end of the Platform Era. This isn’t a huge structural change but simply the every so often algorithm update that whacks traffic from search. It really is just an extension of what Google has been doing. The key issues are really around ‘helpful content’, and I think that this is part of their ongoing cat-and-mouse game with content farms that churn out low-grade content. And I wonder if this will work to keep them from surfacing too much low-grade, AI-mass-produced garbage. One can hope. The moral of this story is that helpful, original content wins..

Off the back of news that the New York Times is considering raising its subscription price, Thomas Baekdal looks at when publishers should consider hiking their rates. The simple answer is when you have a mature business and not before. I think that subscription businesses like the New York Times and Netflix, which Thomas also references, are more than just mature businesses, they are - in the words of the Reuters Institute Digital News report, the winners who take most in the subscription economy. Others do not enjoy the same pricing power. But that is effectively what Thomas is saying.

This one goes in my bookmarks because measuring impact is one of those challenging goals that many publishers have. It’s important to motivating their staff, and for the increasing number of publishers that get some of their money from foundations and other sources of philanthropy, measuring impact is an important.

This is an interestig move from a major group in the US that has been a powerful incubator for local indie news publishers. They are not going to become a funder but rather help their members to fundraise. It’s super smart, exactly what I expect from their leader Chris Krewson.

The Manchester Mill, a newsletter-first publisher in the UK, is expanding. It is another example of why the humble newsletter is the MVP of local news start-ups these days.

This move by podcast shop Wondery fascinates me on a couple of points. Some podcasters have found tremendous success on YouTube so the lines are blurring between audio and video. For Wondery now to launch podcasts on a FAST (Free Ad-supported Streaming TV) platform - Amazon’s Freevee - seems to lean into this trend. We’ll see how successful it is.

EX-Twitter’s ‘bot tax’ will fackfire and X as a rebranding exercise has failed

Musk has been obsessed with bots on Twitter since before he bought it, and while it makes sense to try to reduce them, a good piece on The Conversation explains why the new USD1 fee won’t help the company with revenue and won’t reduce the issue with bots. One suggestion Steven Vass, The Conversation’s business and economics editor, has is to increase human moderation. But Musk blew up the moderation and safety teams at Twitter so it’s unlikely he will be open to that suggestion.

And while Musk hoped to turn the page with Twitter by rebranding it with his favourite brand - X - this seems only to have hastened its decline.

The platform era is over. What comes next?

The platform era is over. The statement has so much supporting evidence that the idea is now beyond dispute. A decade ago, a lot of energy was focused on how to use social media algorithms to send torrents of traffic to your site. But let’s be honest, it wasn’t that this led to a healthy, revenue-positive business. It just juiced the traffic to both legacy sites and a raft of businesses targeting Millennial audiences of various stripes. The digital media start-ups often had rocket boosters in the form of VC funding, and many of them were never revenue-positive. The entire strategy was to become the media empires of the 21st Century, but like so much in media in the 21st Century, this was really a roll-up play. You got big and bought up the smaller, often weaker competitors.

The New York Times is a bit late to the party in writing about this, and I think that they focus on the news industry because it is the anxiety that grips their staff (and shouldn’t). Publishers like the Times began building direct relationships with audiences more than a decade ago with their metered paywall. It’s worked brilliantly, and you could argue that they are now one of the winners of the digital media era, much more so than BuzzFeed, which shuttered its news division because of the brand dissonance between news and aggregating what obsessed the internet on any given day for social media audiences and a lack of a business model for that content.

Not that the collapse of social media traffic and search to a lesser extent doesn’t have negative consequences for the Times and other reader revenue-driven businesses. They need to think about new methods of audience acquisition, but at least they have a solid business that they can build on.

It brings me little joy to highlight not just this story but the wider trend of digital media properties that were built to cater to Millennial women are in trouble. The pioneering feminist site Jezebel is up for sale. Axios highlights how this is part of a larger trend and lists all of the other sites and media properties in that space that are suffering as well.

I especially note the decline of The Skimm, which is a really smart newsletter property that I used to highlight in presentations seven or eight years ago. I think they missed an inflection point around that time. Honestly, they were Axios before it was launched - smart brevity.

However, the end of the platform doesn’t mean that this will end the pain for local news operations. Despite moving out of the newsroom in 2019 and to a media-adjacent software company in 2022, my roots are in local news, and I still think about how to solve its problems. I think that we are seeing a new on-ramp for local news micro-start-ups: the humble newsletter. It has become the MVP - minimum viable product - for a local news startup. More than social, more than a site, having a newsletter is the core MVP for someone looking to create a new, local news outlet.

However, I also like to see new policy solutions to the problem. Washington DC - where I lived on and off for almost eight years - is doing something novel: It is creating a fund that will allow its residents to support the local news outlet of their choice. It will be interesting to see how they define a local news outlet and how they will enforce the use of the vouchers, but it is interesting.

And if newsletters are the MVP, we see successful newsletter operators looking for what comes next. The folks at Inbox Collective highlight ways in which newsletters writers are adding products that extend the connection that they have with audiences with private, premium communities on Slack or Discord. As someone who worked in community media and then bringing community to larger media brands, I find this trend fascinating. It’s not a fast or easy play but for established media creators and brands, it can be an extension to deepen the relationship and hopefully increase revenue.

This is a great story from on how a Zimbabwean journalist grew to understand the business side of journalism and has been able to achieve successful digital transformation. I like the piece because it applies not only to large media businesses but can be applied at just about any scale.

And from the US, we have a few examples of how local news entrepreneurs are launching new ventures. I think that small-scale local news outlets will serve a lot of communities where the major chains and groups have retreated.

I know that there are a lot of people out there trying to get ahead in media, and these five steps are solid. I will highlight one of the five skills because it took me a while to appreciate the power of soft skills. When you’re starting in media, you are rewarded for your hard skills, but you won’t rise through the ranks by mastering those hard skills alone. And for a lot of people, that’s OK. However, if you want to rise to management, you also need to master soft skills.

Navigating the pros and cons of AI in editorial organisations

A thoughtful piece to reflect on during the weekend. Of the insights, managing and navigating trade-offs is one that really resonates with me. There are rarely perfect solutions in life, and it’s important to measure, weight and consider the pros and cons of any decision.

From the theoretical and managerial to the tangible, The Fix looks at how newsrooms are developing AI guidelines. When I was a journalist and then editorial leader, I often said that I was a traditional journalist who used cutting-edge digital tools. That meant that my decisions were always grounded in core journalistic values. They provided me with principles to assess the trade-offs of new technologies in my work.

This week in Twitter: New subscription plans coming

Musk has always said that he wants to build Twitter into a super-app. Here is the problem with what he is doing with his new subscription plans: He’s trying to charge for activities in the app that have been free up to this point such as commenting, bookmarking and posting. And subscription products shouldn’t be used to manage abuse on a platform - Musk’s obsession with bots. He should use some of that technical brilliance that his fanboys constantly talk about. Sure, it’s just a $1 annual fee, but it feels like a really bad, desperate way to fight bots.

The response has been uniformly negative. It’s a bad idea along with a lot of the other bad ideas. Musk definitely seems to be living the Silicon Valley mantra of “move fast and break things”. He has succeeded in breaking a social media brand. That much is sure. /

How India’s Jagran New Media is using AI to increase engagement

Jagran is an innovative Indian publisher that has used new technology and change management to drive its business. As part of a Google News Initiative-funded project, they rolled out new data tools that helped their entire organisation make more informed decisions that drove higher levels of content engagement. And now, they are leveraging AI to accelerate their progress. It is an excellent example of how AI can be used responsibly and effective to drive editorial success.

AI in the media industry has created a new pathway for optimising ad, subscription, or service revenue through tools like predictive analysis, recommendation engines, customer journey mapping, audience segmentation, and avant-garde advertising and subscription models.

A really interesting overview of how local broadcasters in the US are driving revenue with new OTT streaming services. One local TV group in the US went from zero in 2019 to 25% of its digital revenue by 2022. And again, AI is playing a role. It is really undeniable that AI is playing a huge role in media operations.

This outdoor ad campaign by Guardian Australia reminds me of my days at the BBC. In 2005, we had a write-once publish to six platforms CMS that delivered headlines to video billboards in mainline train stations such as London’s Victoria station. It is really stunning what that kind of presence can deliver.

This piece struck me because I was just having a conversation today with a member of the team at the Blue Engine Collaborative about the challenges of local journalism, particularly on the revenue side. The News Revenue Hub advocates a free-to-all, no paywall method that works to build trust between local news providers and their audiences so that readers become members. One point I will very much agree with them is that it requires experimentation. You need to try things and learn what works, and those learnings then need to be scaled up across the organisation.

This week in platforms

Ok, this quote grabbed me. Ben Smith, one of the founders of Semafor, talks about the changes at EX-Twitter. And the quote in the headline isn’t the only one colourfully describing the social media landscape now: “social media is now like walking through a nuclear wasteland searching for radioactive nuggets.” Read this. It’s fun, entertaining and bracing. But this is the most important point in the entire piece: “If you keep costs very low, yes. You can make money and build a traffic-based media business. But everything has to be very cheap. So you can’t do journalism.”

There are still wealthy investors who will buy a title like The Telegraph in an effort to influence politics and society.

Watching the battle between the platforms and news outlets, especially smaller ones, in Canada, has been heart breaking. Facebook turned off the spigot all the way, and for so many outlets, their traffic has taken a major hit. Now publishers are aligning themselves with the platforms in an effort to reverse their traffic losses.

Speaking of how platforms can throttle traffic, this report outlines how EX-Twitter under Musk is engaging in anti-competitive censorship by limiting links not only to news publishers but also rival apps. If Twitter had that much market power left, it would be hauled into court. But Musk is driving his clown car into the ditch so it just doesn’t matter anymore.

This was something that caught me a bit by surprise. Of all of the platforms, I find myself spending more time on LinkedIn these days. But the cuts show how soft the ad economy is right now and how much it is impacting media.

Rethinking Retention: It’s about relationships management not churn management

Retention is one of the major themes for publishers this year. In a report launched at the beginning of the year, Minna Technologies and FT Strategies found that among 50 subscription businesses, 68% said retention was their top priority. It’s why the Media Collective - Pugpig (where I work), Manifesto Growth Architects, InDigital Marketing and Piano - decided to take a closer look at retention. With Laura Graham of Manifesto Growth Architects, Jonny Kaldor, our CEO and co-founder at Pugpig, James Kember, Pugpig’s digital growth consultant and I spent a lot of hours putting the report together.

What we found is that publishers are thinking about engagement loops rather than unidirectional conversion funnels. Whether a user is unknown, registered, subscribed or lapsed, they are prioritising retention efforts on maintaining a relationship with all members of their audiences regardless of their level of engagement. For this reason, we reframed retention as an issue of relationship management rather than churn management. It is about establishing a relationship with the right users and realising that saving at all costs - usually with discounted offers - runs the risk of depressing ARPU.

In the Retention Economics report, one of our key findings was that once a user became known through registration publishers found that they could market a number of other products to them. It meant that publishers could generate revenue from non-subscribers by marketing events, e-commerce and a range of other offerings to them.

With pandemic restrictions ending, events are roaring back, especially for “professional publishers” such as Axios, Bloomberg and Semafor. After a soft start to the year with major publishers pushing back their tentpole events, events have come roaring back for these publishers. Axios had set a goal of earning $10m a year in event revenue, and they have made that already in the third quarter.

They said that it wasn’t about the volume of events but rather making sure that the right people, influential and powerful, were in the room. They also use the events to create digital content that runs in podcasts or video content after the events.

What is the future of podcasts?

Podcasts seem to be on a bumpy trajectory right now. Major podcast producers are cutting staff and cutting back on output. We are definitely in a period of transition. As The Guardian points out, one new trend about podcasts is about hosting them in front of a live audience, creating an event that can be distributed electronically afterward.

And The Economist is finding that podcasts are working well both free ones that add to their audience but are now creating podcasts just for their paying subscribers.

The largest public radio station in the US, WNYC, recently laid off 6% of their staff and cut back on podcasts. Specialist digital-to-broadcast or digital-only podcasts are being cut back. Instead, broadcast-to-podcast appears to be the new model. This is a pretty major shift, and it looks like live events and the big footprint of broadcast is going to be used to amplify podcasts rather than niche podcast creation.

The Athletic recently shuttered their local sports podcasts, and as media analyst Simon Owens says, there are few examples of local podcast success. “They often don't have enough scale to attract national advertisers, and most local businesses aren't sophisticated enough in their ad buying to target podcast listeners.”

I remember how challenging it was to make a local podcast work when I worked in public radio in the US, and it got harder over the four years I worked there. Podcasting had become much more competitive, and launching a new podcast in this crowded space became more challenging.

Bundling has become one of the major subscription growth strategies of 2023. Whether it is bundling local newspapers in Norway or the New York Times all access bundle, these multi-product bundles are proving popular, and multi-product users have higher loyalty.

The Washington Post announced that it was offering voluntary buyouts to about 240 positions this week. Their projections both in terms of traffic, advertising and subscription had been overly optimistic, Washington Post interim CEO Patty Stonesifer said. The paper is on track to lose $100m this year, and its subscribers numbers are down.

The Great Social Media Traffic Collapse: Adding nuance to the off-platform activities debate

News circles were abuzz last week with more data on the extent of the collapse of referrals to their sites from social media. As Axios points out, this is a trend that has been playing out over the last few years, which only leaves publishers with a question of what to do next.

I can attest that there has been tension in audience development. Some social media advocates have continued to push for more off-platform activity as a goal unto itself. While others (including me with some important caveats) have said that off-platform needs to be put in the context of overall editorial and business goals. The most important thing with respect to social media is that it needs to be in the service of broader goals for a publisher such as converting unknown users to know. To achieve that, you can use off-platform audience development to build awareness organically and then use paid campaigns to build subscribers to your newsletters or podcasts.

Building direct relationships with audiences is a strategy that is working. We have multiple examples of how precarious renting audiences on social media has been from the social-media-driven publishers such as BuzzFeed or Mic or large traditional publishers such as Reach in the UK. The FT, the New York Times and the Independent in the UK have all been successful in building direct relationships with audiences, and the Indy isn’t achieving success through a focus on paying subscribers. These strategies of converting unknown users to known and building up subscription businesses have built more resilient businesses. I agree with Axios when they write: “The over-reliance on social media traffic kept news publishers from focusing on building stronger consumer products of their own.”

And for many publishers, a focus on consumer social media networks have caused them to overlook networks like LinkedIn for certain kinds of content. My overall view is that the volume that networks like Facebook used to drive to publishers left them to pursue relatively simplistic social media strategies

Can local podcasts be successful?

I have shared a number of posts over the past year that call into question the podcast strategies for a range of companies including audio streaming giant Spotify. I’m going to highlight this first story which covers a meeting at New York Public Radio, which recently cut two podcasts. This is the reality:

Having moved on from US regional public media in April 2022, I must admit that the coverage of this meeting sounded very familiar.

The cuts to the studio's podcast division reflects an industry-wide inflection point, as the proliferation of podcasts has made competition for sponsors brutally competitive.

That is the overall issue, but candid comments from New York Public Radio CEO LaFontaine Oliver also speak to a culture in US public media that might not be as audience or product-focused as necessary. “Oliver also bemoaned the fact that he felt that the podcast division was far too invested in creating podcasts the newsroom wanted to hear, and not what New Yorkers wanted to hear,” Rivlin-Nadler wrote. Ouch.

But US public media aren’t the only local podcasts that are struggling to gain reaction. Media analyst Simon Owen highlights how The Athletic has shuttered most of its local podcasts. As someone who is producing a lot of this research for our customers at Pugpig, I wonder what audience - both size and characteristics - are required for a successful podcast. I don’t have the answer right now, but I know that in the work that I’m doing right now knowing which question to ask is the most important first step.

Leveraging mobile tools and technques for local journalism engagement

My day job is focused on mobile in a way that it hasn’t been through most of my career, but I have always tended to think of mobile in a very expensive way. And texting - good ‘ole SMS - is a powerful tool because of its low cost and ubiquity. This piece from the Reynolds Journalism Institute has a step-by-step process on how to use AirTable, Twillio and the Forminator WordPress plugin to allow community sports supporters to submit game results. They have developed the process with low or no-cost tools so that local news outlets can replicate it. So much of my career has been about coming up with systems like this so, of course, I love it!

Continuing the theme of local, mobile community journalism, Better News has a case study with the Charlotte Observer on how their mobile newsroom has worked to engage “historically underrepresented communities”. Of the takeaways, a few stand out for me. As a former library board member, I see that they have partnered with local libraries, which I think can be an excellent way to connect with the community. Partners are so important as both entry points into communities and also as ways to amplify your coverage. One partnership that I started but wasn’t able to carry on as much as I wanted was with our local schools. Young journalists had lost their printed student newspapers so having an opportunity to highlight them in the newspaper was a way for them to get the experience and exposure that they wanted. I think local networks are critical to renewing local communities that have suffered from underinvestment and disruption. I saw the power of engagement events when I was a local news editor. It helps build relationships, and one the favourite parts of my job was being out in the community. And my own example shows why it’s important to retain these connections that you build. You can quickly lose credibility with the community if you drop in and then leave without a trace.

An interesting overview that could be said of any technology adoption process. It requires leaders who are able to cross boundaries in your organisation and understand the needs of both internal stakeholders as well as your audiences. Working as a digitally-oriented journalist, I often said that I used cutting-edge tools but remained rooted in traditional journalism values, and this piece explains how your business strategy and editorial values shouldn’t change. You need to remain committed to your North Star goals. AI will affect how you achieve those goals not the goals themselves. And one last thing, data was important and will only become even more so in the age of AI.

On our old Macs, my wife Suw said that she knew when she had landed on a news website because the fans would spin up due to the heaviness of the sites. They were overloaded with trackers and ad tech, and this review by the Press Gazette adds some data to what we experienced.

(Note, using Ghostery during some training I was doing several years ago, I once showed an Indian ad ops person how I could track each of 111 trackers that they had on their site. His jaw dropped.)

I recently was having a discussion on the News Product Alliance Slack with a person who was gathering data and anecdotes about what it required to launch a successful podcast. The editorial employee was adamant that a quality podcast would cut through and become successful with no marketing or audience development strategy. Almost everyone who weighed in had data and examples of why this wasn’t true.

Competition for attention and money in the podcast industry is only increasing, and here is another data point as Malcom Gladwell’s podcast company lays off half of its staff and replaces Gladwell as president.

DAUs and new users are down at Threads, and Meta is seeking new ways to re-engage people after a promising start. (I’ve started rotating days to use the new social media platforms. It’s Wednesday today, which is BlueSky day!)

How much will individual contributors make for allowing their content to be used to train AIs? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

This is interesting. The Telegraph is up for sale, and Germany’s Axel Springer is interested in buying it.