Text a Journalist, and other nontraditional revenue experiments in local newsrooms


You’ve probably heard the doom and gloom predictions about dropping revenue in journalism. The tone was more optimistic at ONA Thursday as four panelists specializing in innovation dissected case studies that have helped local news outlets generate sustainable revenue.

Experiments such as Project Text, presented by David Cohn, senior director at Advance Local, place audiences at the forefront and test nontraditional methods to bring in revenue.

Here are some takeaways from Thursday’s , “Real Life Local News Revenue Experiments (That Aren’t Advertising)”.

  1. Listen to your audience. They are real people, with real problems.
    The eight case studies examined in the hourlong session shared a common goal: To serve the people. Christopher Wink, CEO of Technical.ly, left the audience with two essential questions. “How might I, or someone else, be so valuable that someone would be willing to pay for it? What’s something people are willing to pay for and how can you do it better in your newsroom?”
  2. There is more than one approach to generating revenue.
    There is no one size fits all revenue model for journalism and how it is paid for or sold. Wink urged journalists to get rid of traditional ways of thinking and instead to be innovative, interesting and engaging. Also, take risks in responsible ways in an effort to increase revenue. “It’s always important to listen and speak to those outside of journalism. Treat [the audience] as fellow citizens, as neighbors,” said André Natta, editorial director of the Lenfest Local Lab.
  3. Constantly reexamine your methods.
    The key to experimentation is just that. Ask a question. Try something new. Try again. “If you’re not reaching your target audience, it’s probably your fault,” said Kim Bui, director of innovation at The Arizona Republic.
  4. Use your expertise.
    Natta emphasized the importance of using everything a news organization has, from its journalism talent to its archives, analytics and its ability to connect with readers and their wants. He used the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Philly Eats app as an example of how the newspaper has been able to leverage the publication’s archive of restaurant reviews for users to access.
  5. Think outside the box.
    Experiment and be bold in not only storytelling, but also in revenue creation, says Bui, who proposed an idea not normally associated with journalism. She suggested experimenting with subscription boxes, which are typically used for lifestyle items such as wine and beauty products. “Continue to test assumptions about your audience and what they might or might not want,” Bui said.

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