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As I read stories about the state of our industry, it seems as though I could link to death of newspapers here and here and here. While not hard to find stories on our demise, I actually don’t want to link because it hurts my heart.
I had kept this post in my drafts just to have something to go back to, to remind me of why I love this industry and why I am so excited about the new press we are building here in Texas. But hiring a new Chief Content Officer recently, who is a pretty amazing talent has me thinking a lot about the future of local news. Plus the reality of what is happening in our new state-of-the-art plant is a daily reminder of the risk. Digital Strategies Consultant Judy Sims’ recent talk also motivated me to post this. As Judy points out so clearly, the stakes are high. John Oliver also makes some pretty dang good points about the importance of local newspaper coverage.
First though, you should know a little about my company, Community Impact Newspaper. We are the fastest growing news organization in Texas, with free distribution to over 1.6 million through Austin, Houston, and Dallas/Ft Worth. We are 11 years old and have 21 newspapers, with number 22 coming in a few weeks. We believe in strong community journalism that is useful and informative. And we believe in owning our own technology and fate.
With that as a back drop, here are 5 reasons I couldn’t be happier about our future:
- People love our newspaper and our future is bright. Most of our readers don’t even know we have a website, which is pretty amazing in today’s environment. We want to raise our digital presence for sure but the love for the print product is huge and makes me so happy. I could bore you with the research, point you to the independent studies, or just tell you to call a friend who lives in one of our markets and ask him what he thinks of the Impact. I live in Round Rock, close to the burgeoning technology hub in Northwest Austin, and over and over again people tell me that our paper is the only thing they read. When I traveled this summer with my family to a camp, a bright young executive reached out to tell me how much he loves the paper in The Woodlands. Turns out the printed word isn’t just for “old people.” These are young tech professionals. Men and women. It’s awesome to hear this constant feedback and it goes a long way to encourage me and our hard-working staff. Readers love it because it’s balanced and provides them information that helps them out in their everyday lives. Usefulness is at the forefront of every piece of content we produce.
- Our growth depends on our printing plant. Our current printer is a great partner, but we have begun to outgrow them. They are running out of space, and as we surveyed the printing company landscape that could do our job, we found that there were few options. The local daily here in Austin announced they were shutting their printing plant down the day we got back from checking out new presses we purchased. One of the reasons we can compete in the media space, regardless of what platform someone needs is we have built a robust targeting system for local businesses. We don’t just print newspapers. We target local advertisers’ messages in a way only we can do. We found it difficult, if not impossible, to have an outside printing company learn these systems and also have the equipment and technology to handle our future targeting needs. Which leads me to reason #3:
- Our competition is really good, and we had better get better. Facebook and Google are closing in more and more on local. How do we compete? Most of the newspaper gurus say to sell others’ digital services. Chasing technology platforms has been brutal. You sprint to get on every platform you can because you have local relationships, and then Google and Facebook reward you for placing ads on their site instead of your own newspaper with $0 commission. These companies don’t have a monopoly on local news and information. What matters to advertisers is eyeballs. With our new printing equipment we can target at the household level. I call it a battle of the Coffee Table vs Mobile. I can’t compete on the mobile platform (yet) — but I can get inside that home and with a quality and useful product I can be sitting on their coffee table. If my prospect wants to reach someone in her 30s with a good household income who lives near their store, I can compete with and beat Facebook and Google. This new equipment I’m buying combined with our homegrown targeting technology is great at household targeting. But if my prospect only wants to reach someone in her 30s, good income, and who drives a red Ford and likes Metallica, I will lose that one. The good news for our future is that most of Main Street businesses and local advertisers need to reach those around their stores. We can win with this goal. And any large advertiser that understands the importance of community marketing wants to be where local is.
- Digital is part of our future but doesn’t pay the bills. For the last 20 years the internet has been here for newspapers to figure out, and yet we can’t develop our own robust digital platforms nor find a revenue model that pays for the reporting. Google Ad Words is the old yellow pages. It’s a dang good product for local businesses and they are a really tough competitor. What I’ve learned is that developing, deploying, and maintaining technology is just as expensive as the production and distribution costs of print. I can’t build our entire digital future on another company’s platform because the platforms are so critical to our future. This path is on the way to slavery on their platform. The fact that we have the relationship with the local advertiser is not a compelling enough reason for me to go sell a bunch of digital services on other platforms. Just because we have the relationship with the business owner doesn’t mean we should sell digital solutions we don’t own. I don’t understand this reasoning. Do we sell them toilet paper? If we have the relationship, why not sell them toilet paper? Because someone else is better than us at selling toilet paper. Owning our own printing plant shows me how important owning your own platform is. When you own the platform, you own your future.
- The most important reason to me to invest in a new printing press is that I believe firmly the power of the Press is the actual press. The newspapers who have made cost-cutting production decisions haven’t bet their future to outsourced printing plants. No, they have bet their future on a different printing press. They don’t own any other presses. If you build your news organizations on other digital platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Google and Apple — you don’t own the press. So who should own the press? I believe it should be the Press. This trend is a real threat to community journalism. What’s really cool for me is to know we will be producing plates at our new printing plant. Good, old-fashioned plates. Platemakers that can’t be hacked into or have content on them that can be stolen (“fair use” of course.) Plates that will be put into a machine that will make sure ink is distributed correctly on a printed product that we can get out with information that helps our readers know their communities better. It’s all right there sitting on the coffee table. We just have to make sure our content is relevant and useful.
Now about building that printing plant… I feel great about the investment.