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Data Journalism

The Latest Trends in Data Journalism — What Digital Publishers Should Know

When launching a new data journalism project, consider these trends and the strategies news reporters and editors are using to expand the way they cover events and publish content on the web.

Data journalism has taken a number of steps forward in the past decade, but 2019 is set to be the year that innovation and collaboration between digital news outlets really takes hold.

We’re less than two months in to 2019, and already a number of news publishers have announced new data journalism initiatives. For example, the Associated Press announced in January that it is using data journalism to help bolster local news outlets. Using funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the AP is growing its data team and increasing data distribution to local newsrooms.

The AP’s use of data journalism inside local newsrooms is just one point in some larger trends we’re seeing throughout the industry. Here’s a peak at what’s really going on.

Data Journalism Trends in 2019

Publishers are turning to automation to facilitate large-scale projects.
Manual research can be too time consuming for an individual reporter, or even a team of reporters, depending on the project. With automation, news reporters can query individuals and conduct high-level research without dealing with the most mundane elements of the project.

For example, Bayerischer Rundfunk and SPIEGEL, in Germany, put ample resources into a story about discrimination in the German rental market. It would have been difficult, if not impossible, to interview thousands of rental tenants about their experiences, so reporters turned to automation. Journalists sent 20,000 applications to roughly 7,000 apartment advertisements and then analyzed their responses.

Artificial intelligence is making work easier for reporters.
In the past, data journalism has been thought of as a complicated endeavor that requires extensive time, knowledge, and skill on the part of reporters and editors. In 2019, artificial intelligence (AI) will finally reach the point where its use in newsrooms is seamless.

While AI technology used to generate news stories has been available for some time—the Washington Post’s Arc project and Quartz AI Studio both come to mind—data journalism platforms are being designed in a way that makes the technology easy enough for everyone in the newsroom to use. Machine-generated stories will finally free up reporters’ time. Achievable AI projects will take precedence, as reporters use AI to manage story tips, track incoming data sources, and keep published stories up-to-date on the web.

Publishers are developing their own data journalism tools.
Frustrated by the limitations in what’s currently on the market, large media organizations are spending more on the development of their own data journalism tools. Although some of these tools are for internal use, a growing number of publishers are opening up access to other media organizations, as well. For example, the AP has seen 1,400 downloads from 300 local newsrooms on its data.world platform, which catalogs data and serves as a type of social networking website for data teams. Another example is the RADAR (Reporters And Data And Robots) project, which came out of a collaboration between the UK Press Association and the London-based startup Urbs Media.

You can read about some of the other data journalism tools publishers are using in this guide.

More digital publishers are collaborating.
Data journalism projects can be expensive, given the resources involved in these types of large-scale initiatives. One way that digital publishers are managing these costs is by partnering with other publishers. The nature of these collaborations can vary. In some cases, publishers are simply sharing the financial costs. In other situations, publishers might be dedicating a certain number of reporters or editors to the collaborative project. These reporters and editors are working cohesively in an online environment to put together the puzzle pieces involved and create a final product that both publications can be proud of.

Data skills will become a non-negotiable for digital reporters.
Can you imagine a reporter who couldn’t email or use a telephone? Basic data skills are on their way to becoming non-negotiable for reporters and editors in the digital publishing industry. As this happens, the field of data journalism will morph into simply journalism, as data-driven stories becomes a part of every newsroom and data visualizations are published alongside nearly all stories to bring information to life.

Interested in learning how other digital publishers are planning to use data in 2019? We’ve got the information, and we’d love to chat.

local news automation

Can Local News Automation Save Digital Publishing?

Digital news publishers need content, and to produce that content they need reporters. But staff reporters don’t come cheap, making local news publishing a challenging business to be in right now. Could local news automation be the solution that digital publishers have been looking for? The answer depends on who you ask.

For the companies creating the latest class of local news automation solutions, the answer is a firm yes. Technology vendors are leveraging openly available government datasets and artificial intelligence tools to help digital news reporters quickly construct locally focused stories.

The Reporters And Data And Robots project, known as RADAR, is one example of a solution that relies on data-driven templates with fragments of text and ‘if-this-then-that’ rules, designed to translate data into location-specific news stories.

For example, an article written with a RADAR template might begin with a paragraph like this:

“U.S. Department of Transportation records show that [NUMBER] people were killed and [NUMBER] people seriously injured on [CITY]’s roads in 2017.”

The template can easy be adapted based on the location, with the number of accidents and the city name going straight into the text.

RADAR’s in-house team of data journalists brainstorm new angles and storylines for the project, and then puts basic information into each story to give it some local context. In RADAR’s project, local news automation is considered a “production assistant,” quickly adapting basic text in the template to localize individual stories. Reporters and editors working for digital publications can still adapt stories to make them more relevant to local readers.

With a solution like this, just think of the possibilities.

When Jeff Bezos purchased The Washington Post back in 2013, local news automation was still in its infancy. Since that time, his newspaper has become a leader in the space. In 2016, The Washington Post debuted its own news bot — Heliograf. Heliograf is considered to be one of most sophisticated uses of artificial intelligence in news writing to date.

Heliograf can auto-publish stories about basic news events, like Olympics coverage and political election updates, but it does require some handholding from human editors.

Editors using Heliograf must write templates for stories, making sure to include phrases that account for different potential outcomes. Then they connect Heliograf to a reputable data source. (In an election, that might be a data website like VoteSmart.org.) The software identifies relevant data, matches it with the phrases in the template, and publishes the article across multiple platforms. If Heliograf finds any anomalies in the data, the bot will notify reporters, so they can investigate and potentially update the article.

While it might seem like Heliograf requires a lot of handholding, the bot is actually capable of generating a huge number of articles about local topics. For example, Heliograf could churn out articles about the results of every local election race in a state in an instant, as soon as the results are released. Compare that to the length of time it would take a reporter to manually put together the information and publish it to the web, and you can see why local news automation is such a fascinating space for digital publishers.

Heliograf is available to clients of Arc Publishing, which is a digital platform and suite of publishing tools built by The Washington Post. However, it’s not the only local news automation solution available to publishers today.

Let’s look at some other popular options for publishers interested in local news automation.

Wordsmith
Wordsmith, by Automated Insights, is a natural language platform that turns data into narratives. The self-service platform allows for total customization of the content it’s creating, along with real-time updates, and an API for larger publishers that need a bit more flexibility. Wordsmith can be setup to create stories out of nearly any type of dataset, including earnings releases.

Quill
Using a similar method to produce stories as Wordsmith, Quill relies on datasets and algorithms to generate local articles for newsrooms around the country. For an example of how the platform can be used, check out ProPublica’s investigation into the U.S. Department of Education. ProPublica used automation tools to generate individual narratives for each of the 52,000 schools in the U.S. Department of Education’s database.

MediaCentral | Newsroom Management
Another company selling news automation solutions is Avid, a media technology provider. Avid’s MediaCentral | Newsroom Management platform provides automated content indexing to help reporters find media assets from any location and ultimately turn around stories faster across multiple publishing channels. Avid’s MediaCentral | Newsroom Management platform was designed for newsrooms of all sizes, including local and regional publishers.

Have you considered using local news automation tools at your publication? If you’re interested in learning more about the latest strategies in digital publishing, and how automation fits into the equation, give us a shout.

sponsored content

What Are Advertisers Looking for from Sponsored Content?

Clicks, comments, shares — when it comes to sponsored content, any form of engagement is a positive. But as brands get more selective in deciding where to run their sponsored content, publishers are asking more questions about what their advertisers really want to see.

Sponsored content, branded content, and native advertising are all terms used to describe roughly the same thing. That is, advertisers paying for content that looks like traditional editorial content, but is actually being paid for as a way to drive traffic to the advertiser’s website.

How much traffic advertisers expect to generate from sponsored posts and videos depends on how large of an audience the publisher has and how much the advertiser is paying for the content. It can be difficult to track how much advertisers spend on sponsored content because of the way sponsored packages are sold, but it’s fair to say the practice is picking up steam.

According to a report from the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism, more than half (51%) of local online news sites now sell native advertising or sponsored content, as publishers across the board experiment with new advertising formats.

The controversy over sponsored content has dissipated, at least for the most part, as the practice has gone mainsanatream over the past decade. Well-known digital publishers like HuffPost, The Atlantic, and Business Insider have been running sponsored content for years. Smaller hyperlocal publications and regional publishers are finally adding sponsored content to their advertising packages, as fewer people click on banner ads and the revenue being generated by display advertising continues to decline.

What Advertisers Want from Sponsored Content

When advertisers decide where to run their sponsored content, they look at more than just the size of the publisher’s audience. Advertisers care about who the website’s visitors are, and how closely those visitors align with the targeted demographics they’re trying to reach.

Publishers who are hoping to sell advertisers on their sponsored content packages should be sure to track basic metrics, like the number of monthly website visitors, the number of times their content is “shared” each month, and the number of fans commenting on their social media posts.

Publisher should also conduct research, either via visitor surveys or using advanced analytics tools, to uncover demographic details about their audience. How old is the average visitor? Where do visitors live? Do they have pets? How much money do they make each year? Advertisers love knowing the answers to these questions, so publishers should make sure to have the data available or to publish the data publicly on their websites.

Once an advertiser decides that the publisher’s audience aligns with its own demographics, the next question is, what kind of sponsorship packages does the publisher sell?

Some smaller publishers run one-off sponsored articles, while others require a commitment of five or more articles, which get published at regular intervals for a pre-determined period of time.

Articles and blog posts aren’t the only form that sponsored content can take. At Business Insider, for example, brands can pay to sponsor slideshows that run alongside editorial content. Other publishers have found success with sponsored videos, email newsletters, and podcast episodes.

Some brands are looking to create sponsored content themselves, and others are looking for media partners who will handle the heavy lifting. Small and mid-size digital publishers will often hire freelancer writers to create sponsored content for advertisers. That sponsored content needs to be vetted by the advertiser before it goes live on the website. But that back-and-forth can sometimes gum up the process, and brand advertisers that run sponsored content on a regular basis often prefer to create articles and blog posts in-house.

Some brands have no interest in putting together their own content. These brands would rather sponsor editorial articles that involve certain themes, like technology or innovation. Rather than featuring a “Paid Post” header, these articles usually include a highlighted paragraph that lets readers know that the article is “presented” by a certain company. However, brand advertisers usually do not want to see the names of their competitors mentioned in these editorial articles.

How much latitude advertisers have when putting together their content depends on the publisher. Large publishers, like Forbes, have strict guidelines that prevent advertisers from making direct pitches to customers in their sponsored articles.

Unlike editorial content, which usually lives on a publisher’s website for eternity, sponsored content can be setup to disappear after a certain length of time. Whether that happens, or how long the content lives on the publisher’s website before it’s deleted, depends on the deal that’s struck between the brand advertiser and the publisher’s sales staff.

Here are three examples of sponsored content, to give you an idea of what’s possible when you sell sponsored content to advertisers:

BuzzFeed, “10 Lifechanging Ways To Make Your Day More Efficient”

Forbes, “Get Ahead Of Your Competition By Researching Them”

Mashable, “30 Overused Buzzwords in Digital Marketing”

Automatic Transcription Tools for Digital Newsrooms

5 Automatic Transcription Tools for Digital Newsrooms

Every minute counts in the fast-paced world of digital news publishing. Every dollar counts, too. For publishers running lean operations, automatic transcription tools are a game changer.

The best automatic transcription tools are just as accurate as manual transcribers, and they cost a lot less money. They also require less time to complete than manual transcription, which means reporters and editors can get their stores online faster and move on to the next breaking news events.

Here are our picks for five of the top automatic transcription tools for digital newsrooms.

1. Trint
Trint is often cited as one of the best automatic transcription tools for journalists, and that’s for good reason. Trint offers automated transcription of audio and video files, powered by artificial intelligence. Reporters upload files into Trint, and the service converts those files into searchable, editable interactive transcripts. These transcripts are “glued” to the audio, which makes it easy to verify the accuracy of any part of the transcript without leaving the online editor. A vocabulary builder tool provides a way for reporters to upload custom lists of words—like brand names, uncommon names, or technical terms—for Trint to learn. The service can also be setup to account for multiple accents in audio files. Trint offers a pay-as-you-go service for $15 per hour or a Basic subscription that costs $40 per month for up to three hours of uploaded content.

2. Otter
Otter bills itself as a “smart note-taking and collaboration app,” but it’s the 600 minutes of free transcription each month that digital publishers really appreciate. Otter’s transcriptions are very accurate, and for reporters with fewer than 10 hours of recorded interviews per month, the service is totally free. Interviews can be recorded on a phone or computer, or they can be imported from another service into Otter. Some things to remember: Otter transcribes captions of audio recordings within a minute, but you’ll have to wait a bit for an even more accurate version of the transcript. Heavy users of the service can “train” the app to recognize voices and learn special terminology, which improves the overall accuracy of transcripts over time. Otter’s service is available via an app and through a website.

3. Happy Scribe
While Happy Scribe’s online transcription software isn’t perfect—and the company warns users to avoid uploading files with heavy background noise or heavy accents—it’s still one of the most useful automatic transcription tools on the market today. Happy Scribe converts audio and video files into text, which can then be exported into Word, PDF, TXT, and a number of other formats. Happy Scribe doesn’t limit the size of the files that users can upload, and completed transcriptions are usually ready within minutes. Once those files are ready, text documents can be edited and collaborated on from within Happy Scribe’s Interactive Editor. One of the more unique features is “heatmap mode,” which shows where the algorithm struggled and where users might want to compare the audio recording to the finished transcript. Pay-as-you-go pricing starts at $12 per hour, and monthly subscriptions start at $30 per month for up to three hours.

4. Descript
Combining both automatic and human-powered transcription, Descript boasts incredible levels of speed and accuracy, at a much lower price point than comparable services. Reporters drop their audio files into the Descript platform, and those files are uploaded to the server and immediately transcribed. Descript grades its accuracy with each file. While most transcriptions are nearly perfect, newsrooms can pay extra for White Glove service, which promises 99% accuracy in an average of 24 hours. Once files are transcribed, reporters and editors can comment and collaborate on the documents from within Descript’s cloud-based system. Basic plans are free, with 30 minutes of transcription and pay-as-you-go transcription that costs 15¢ per minute.

5. Sonix
Powered by AI, Sonix’s automatic transcription software offers reporters a straightforward way to transcribe, organize, and search through their audio files. The web-based system works very quickly. A 30-minute audio file can be transcribed within three to four minutes. Because it’s difficult to achieve 100% accuracy with automatic transcription tools, Sonix has developed its own editing studio where users can polish their transcripts and compare them to the audio recordings. Every word that’s transcribed through Sonix is automatically indexed, so editors can refer back to specific interviews at any point in the future. Pricing for single users starts at $10 per month. Newsrooms with multiple users can sign up for subscription plans that start at $15 per user, per month.

nonprofit model for journalism

Is the Nonprofit Model Sustainable in Digital News?

With the news that BuzzFeed is laying off 15% of its staff and Gannett is cutting jobs across the country as part of a cost-saving measure, the digital publishing industry is looking for a path to survival. Many are wondering if the nonprofit model might be the long-term solution that publishers are looking for.

Dwindling digital advertising rates are often blamed for the financial challenges that digital publishers face, but with many publishers now reporting slight drops in subscriber revenue, as well, it’s becoming clear that the for-profit news industry might be really be in trouble. As the debts mount, publishers are taking a closer look at the nonprofit model for digital news, and asking themselves whether the model might actually be sustainable in the long-term.

We covered the basics of nonprofit publishing in articles last year. In the time since those articles were published, even more for-profit news organizations have adopted the nonprofit model. What does this mean for the digital publishing industry as a whole?

The nonprofit model fits well with the niche that hyperlocal news publishers have built for themselves. Since they are not beholden to advertisers, nonprofit digital publishers are free to sharpen their focus on the kind of detailed accountability reporting that really benefits their communities.

National reporting organizations like ProPublica, Mother Jones, The Associated Press, Consumer Reports, The American Spectator, and National Geographic tend to generate a great deal of buzz when people talk about the nonprofit model for news. ProPublica, the Center for Public Integrity, and the Center for Investigative Reporting took in $185.4 million between 2009 and 2015, and the 20 largest nonprofit media groups amassed more than $423 million. But funding totals don’t tell the whole picture.

A number of local publishers have found great success with the nonprofit model. The Texas Tribune, Minnpost, and New Jersey Spotlight are three examples, but there are dozens more nonprofit media organizations that work to fill the gaps in local reporting that are left when daily print newspapers go out of business.

According to a study by the Institute for Nonprofit News (INN), funded by the Democracy Fund and the Ethics & Excellence in Journalism Foundation, single-subject news is the fastest-growing sector in nonprofit media. Hyperlocal publishers fit this bill, but so do niche digital publications that focus on specific topics or areas of interest.

Of course, building a nonprofit news publication is incredibly challenging, and there can be even more frustrations when setting up a nonprofit than a for-profit business.

For starters, publishers generally need large donations from charitable foundations or wealthy philanthropists before they can launch their nonprofit news outlets. Most of us don’t know any billionaires looking to give us millions of dollars to launch our own ventures, and winning a large grant from a national foundation is the exception, rather than the norm. All that to say, getting a nonprofit news organization off the ground can be a challenge.

Another issue that’s stymied some digital publishers is crackdown by the IRS on nonprofit news organizations. The IRS is determining whether news outlets fit the definition of “educational” institutions. Fitting that definition is a requirement for an organization that hopes to fall into that 501(c) category. Although the IRS approved hundreds of news organizations in the past, it started adopting a narrower view at the same time the nonprofit model was taking off in digital publishing.

What’s the Solution?

We all want to know which business model is going to make digital news outlets successful. Survey after survey of nonprofit news publishers show that the nonprofit model works, but it also comes with significant challenges and obstacles that publishers must overcome.

With so much funding up in the air, and with publishers unsure of which grant programs will be renewed, more nonprofit publishers are adding membership programs and soliciting donations from readers to supplement the funding they receive from foundations and wealthy philanthropists. According to the INN survey, more than half of nonprofit newsrooms have three or more revenue streams, and one-third have four or more revenue streams.

This strategy to add multiple outside funding streams, rather than relying solely on one source of funding, is one that makes sense for digital publishers. But it may also require the hiring of a professional fundraiser or development staff, which increases overall costs.

Are you interested in switching over to the nonprofit model? Our team is available to help guide you through the process. Reach out and let us know when you’re ready to learn more.

live events

Publishers Are Using Live Events to Combat Lagging Ad Sales – Here’s How

After two years of financial struggles and employee layoffs, the women’s lifestyle publisher Refinery29 is now starting to capitalize on the success of its live events to turn things around. Here’s how the company is growing its pop-up series, and how other digital publishers can turn live events into a reliable source of revenue.

Like so many other digital lifestyle publishers, Refinery29 has struggled to grow in a tough ad climate. Rather than focusing on subscriptions and reader membership programs, Refinery29 is looking to live events as a way to generate revenue outside of online advertising.

Although Refinery29 has been hosting live events since 2015, the company recently announced that it is growing its pop-up series—dubbed 29Rooms—and expanding into international locations. The move comes at a time when Refinery29 is looking to grow its non-advertising revenue. Thirty-percent of Refinery29’s revenue comes from sources outside of digital advertising, including ticket sales for 29Rooms and other related events, but that figure could be much higher in the future.

Refinery29 isn’t the only digital publishing company looking to expand its live events programming as they decrease their reliance on other forms of online advertising. A number of popular magazines, including Smithsonian, Travel & Leisure, and Wired, are leveraging live events in the same way.

Let’s take a closer look at what these publishers, and others, are doing right and how they are making their live events successful.

Maximizing Ticket Value

The amount that a publisher charges for tickets to a live event depends largely on the demographics of the attendees. Refinery29 charges $40 a pop for tickets to its 29Rooms events, which are frequented by millennial women.

Publishers can charge more for tickets to an event geared towards corporate executives than to an event geared towards teenagers or twenty-somethings. Publishers need to understand the demographics of their audiences in order to correctly price their events.

Finding Premium Brand Sponsors

Sponsorships are one of the keys to success for live events programming. Executives will pay a premium to attach their brands to high-end events. With paying sponsors on board, publishers can decrease the price of tickets for attendees. This has the added benefit of increasing the number of likely ticket buyers, thus giving sponsors even more bang for their buck. The more prominently a publisher displays sponsor logos, and the more people who attend the conference or live event, the more sponsors will pay to participate.

Leveraging Sponsorship Deals

Most sponsors will pay to have their logos included on promotional materials, like brochures and step-and-repeats. They may also be willing to donate product, which can be particularly useful depending on the type of brand sponsoring the event. For example, at the Vulture Festival (an event put on by New York Magazine) sponsors Eli, Fiji, and Stella Artois gave away beverages to attendees. Another sponsor, the Viceroy Hotel, invited on-stage panelists to stay at their property.

Keeping Costs Low

Soliciting product donations from event sponsors isn’t the only way publishers can reduce overhead costs. In fact, many successful live events have been organized on shoestring budgets. City and regional magazine publishers will often host meet-and-greet events with readers as a way to boost engagement and promote subscription packages. Newsroom tours are another popular option that doesn’t cost a lot of money. Think of these types of events as field trips for adults. Readers pay for the privilege of getting a behind-the-scenes look inside their favorite publications, along with the chance to meet reporters and let them know what topics they’re interested in reading more about.

Turning Events into Digital Content

Looking to squeeze every ounce of juice from their live events, publishers have started recording the original programming and publishing that content in the form of podcasts, e-books, and videos. On-demand videos from summits and conferences are particularly popular right now, as attendees look for ways to share what they learned with colleagues back home.

Bundling Deals for Advertisers

Although most of this list involves strategies for decreasing publishers’ reliance on digital advertising, there are a number of ways that publishers can also use live events to strengthen their existing relationships with advertisers. For starters, publishers can offer discounted, or even free, sponsorship opportunities for businesses that advertise on their websites for a certain period of time. These types of deals are a great opportunity to sell advertisers on larger packages, as well.

Digital Publishing Industry

These 5 Strategies Are Revitalizing the Digital Publishing Industry

Bring together the leaders of news organizations, platforms, and foundations, and you’re bound to get some honest opinions on the state of digital journalism. Rather than focus on dire predictions for the future, the dozens of industry executives brought together earlier this year by the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard and the Lenfest Institute expressed an optimistic view of the future of digital publishing.

Publishing executives at the Shorenstein Center’s event agreed that reader revenue should be at the heart of sustainable business models for digital journalism, but they also acknowledged that newer strategies need to be explored in order for the industry to flourish. Revitalizing the digital publishing industry will require more than just the tried and true tactics for generating revenue online.

Advertising and reader subscriptions are still important, of course, but the industry group put together by the Shorenstein Center and the Lenfest Institute also came up with five new opportunities for publishers looking to grow sustainable businesses.

Let’s take a closer look at the areas of opportunity identified by this group of 63 industry leaders.

1. “Diversifying and strengthening revenue streams for journalism”

Despite the group’s instance that reader revenue should remain at the center of all sustainable business models, there was a lot of optimism around the idea that publishers can successfully drive support for their publications in different ways. There was also some acceptance among industry leaders that traditional revenue streams, including display advertising and reader subscriptions, are no longer enough to support digital publishing businesses on their own.

Diversification is something we’ve discussed quite a bit here at Web Publisher PRO. Our interest in diversifying digital publishers’ revenue streams is one of the reasons why we encourage our publishing clients to explore new opportunities, such as launching business directories, membership programs, and producing sponsored content for selected advertisers. Participants in the Shorenstein Center’s roundtable highlighted these strategies, as well as live events and direct public offerings, as potential solutions for digital publishing companies looking for long-term profitability.

2. “Field-building to grow a culture of philanthropy”

Interest in non-profit news organizations is growing, and philanthropic individuals are primed to support digital publishers’ efforts towards creating high-quality journalism. As display advertising dwindles, industry leaders are recommending that digital publishers begin exploring outside sources of philanthropic support. Accepting contributions from individuals and charitable organizations can create some challenges, and news organizations should keep a close eye on any strings that may be attached to donations from individuals that might have specific agendas.

3. “Finding and seeding growth capital for mission-driven journalism enterprises”

One of the hottest topics among attendees was about providing digital journalism startups with the resources they need to succeed.

Industry leaders say they have seen digital publishing startups struggle when they accept funding from firms with vastly different strategies for growth. One of the most substantial opportunities to come out of the Shorenstein Center’s roundtable involved the idea of an industry group creating a “Crunchbase for investors.” This website would connect investors and charitable groups with digital publishing organizations that have similar missions or goals.

4. “Growing the next generation of publishers in business acumen and leadership abilities”

Industry leaders agreed that it’s time for journalism schools to reimagine their curriculum, with a greater emphasis on business courses and financial education. One way to encourage this would be with the creation of more business-focused journalism fellowships, similar to Columbia Graduate School of Journalism’s Knight-Bagehot Fellowship in Economics and Business Journalism and UNC School of Media and Journalism’s business journalism program. Obtaining an MBA for journalism would give future digital publishers greater insights into how to turn around struggling companies and ultimately create the types of media organizations that could revitalize the digital publishing industry as a whole.

5. “Building products to increase revenue and engagement”

The final opportunity for revitalizing the digital publishing industry happens to be the one we’re most interested in here at Web Publisher PRO. That’s because we believe strongly that the key to growing this industry is introducing new products designed to increase revenue and engagement. Online directories, “best of” lists, community calendars, and jobs boards are just a few examples of the types of low-cost publishing tools that make sense for digital publishers interested in new streams of ancillary revenue.

If you’d like more information about the latest products we’re recommending for digital publishers of all sizes, we’d love to connect and offer some of our insights.

Local news reader survey

Survey Highlights Changing Reader Sentiment Toward Local News

How do readers feel about local news outlets in their own communities, what makes them want to engage, and why do they prefer certain digital publications to others?

To answer these questions, and gain a better understanding of how local news organizations can be more transparent with readers, the Center for Media Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin recently teamed up with the News Co/Lab at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Together, the two organizations surveyed more than 4,500 people in three areas in the United States — Fresno, California; Kansas City, Missouri; and Macon, Georgia.

What they discovered through their survey should be enlightening to anyone who has been tracking the local news industry in the past few years. It turns out that readers have better impressions of local news than news in general, but their opinions skew more negative when asked about specific publishers in their own communities. Here are other key findings from the survey:

Readers consume national news more frequently than local.
In News Co/Lab’s survey, “most” people said they consumed national news about once a day, on average, and local news “slightly less often.” That’s not what most digital publishers will want to hear, but it is valuable information nonetheless.

Knowing that readers are less likely to visit a local news website multiple times a day, publishers should be looking for ways incentivize that behavior. For example, rather than publishing all of the day’s stories at once each morning, the publisher could dole out content on an hourly basis throughout the day. This publishing schedule requires readers to visit multiple times during a 24 hour period in order to stay up-to-date on the latest news around town.

Engagement has become an issue for local publishers.
Survey respondents rated local news outlets poorly when asked how they engage with their communities, giving them an average score of just three-out-of-five.

Why does that matter? For one thing, recent research has shown that engagement is tied to perceptions of bias in local news. The more engaged a digital publication’s readership is, the less editorial bias is perceived by readers. Therefore, local news outlets that can engage readers are shrinking the perception bias that often plagues the industry.

Here at Web Publisher PRO, we’ve talked a lot about reader engagement, and we know that digital publishers thrive when they have devoted audiences. A few of the ways we recommend that digital publishers work to improve engagement are by inviting readers to become active participants through commenting and guest posts, covering local stories that other outlets are missing, and adding job boards as a way to position their websites as community portals.

News literacy skills are often lacking.
Almost across the board, News Co/Lab found that survey respondents were overconfident in their ability to understand the news. Readers who showed the lowest news literacy skills were also the least interested in receiving help.

Local publishers shouldn’t be surprised by these findings. In a separate survey, researchers at the American Press Institute found that almost one-third of Americans can’t tell the difference between news and opinion articles.

Frustrating as it might be, these findings actually show us that a great opportunity exists for digital publishers. When local news outlets increase transparency and utilize tools to improve engagement, they create more informed news consumers. Those news consumers have a greater understanding of how local journalism works, and with that information, they should have an easier time pinpointing which news sources are credible and which are not.

On a smaller scale, we recommend that publishers consider web design as a tool for improving news literacy. Simple changes to a digital publication, like drop down navigation bars and a more functional layout, help readers find the content they are looking for on the first try.

Although the News Co/Lab’s findings show that trust in the local news business is low, digital publishers should remember that there are ways we can increase reader confidence. Seemingly minor changes to web design, such as adding visual breaks and getting rid of large pop-up ads from third-party websites, go a long way in changing reader perceptions and improving trust in the local news industry as a whole.

Local Websites Sell Stock to Readers

When Should Local News Sites Sell Stock to Readers?

Rather than chase investments from outside financiers, a small number of local publishers are turning inward and asking for help from readers in their own communities. But whether local news sites should sell stock to readers is still a hotly debated topic, and as of now, there doesn’t seem to be a one-size-fits all approach.

Questions over whether local news sites should sell stock to readers have swirled for years, but the topic made national headlines again this past week, when The New York Times covered Sonoma County publisher Rollie Atkinson’s decision to do a direct public offering to the readers of The Healdsburg Tribune, The Cloverdale Reveille, The Windsor Times, and Sonoma West Times & News. With the capital raised in the direct public offering, Atkinson is hoping to make necessary website upgrades and raise his staff’s salaries.

What Is a Direct Public Offering

A direct public offering is an investment technique that allows outside investors of all sizes to buy shares of a company. Direct public offers are made to both accredited and unaccredited investors, which is what makes it possible for everyday readers to invest in a local news website. Direct public offerings don’t have to cost much more than traditional reader membership programs, but they give readers a deeper connection to the publication by giving them a financial stake.

While the term ‘direct public offering’ is relatively unknown in the outside world, most people have heard of crowdfunding. Investment crowdfunding and direct public offerings are very similar.

How a Direct Public Offering Works

A local publisher’s decision to sell stock to readers is never an easy one. In the case of Sonoma West, the process started with the hiring of a broker. That broker placed a value on Atkinson’s four community publications, which have a combined paid circulation of 9,900.

Next came setting a financial goal. Atkinson set his at $400,000, with the direct public offering open until March 2019. Usually, publishers will offer a certain dollar amount worth of preferred stock as part of a direct public offering, and then they will let people in a certain group—for example, California residents—buy into their publications.

Readers need at least $1,000 to buy into Sonoma West. Shares of the company cost $4 each, and the minimum purchase is 250 shares. (A prospectus is available to let readers know what the financial requirements are to invest.)

The local news parent startup Whereby.Us started its offering even smaller, inviting readers in Miami and Seattle to chip in as little as $500. In all, the company raised $250,000 from its reader-turned-investors.

Every direct public offering is unique, but it’s not uncommon for investors to be promised a certain annual dividend—for example, a 3% annual dividend—so long as the publication continues to flourish.

Why Readers Buy Stock in Local News Sites

In the local news business, a direct public offering only works when a publication has a strong relationship with its readers. Given the current political environment, there’s a desire from citizens to support local journalism. Publishers can capitalize on that interest by deciding to sell stock to readers now, before interest begins to wane.

More broadly speaking, direct public offerings tend to work best for local publishers in wealthy areas, with Berkeley and Sonoma County being two prime examples. The hyperlocal news outlet Berkeleyside ended up raising $1 million from 355 readers after its direct public offering, which is no small sum for a community-focused publication.

In addition to an annual dividend, readers who invest in local news sites also usually get access to certain perks, like the opportunity to meet with publishers or editors, and early access to special content and live events.

Why Local News Sites Sell Stock to Readers

Rather than chasing down funding from outside financiers, local publishers who sell stock to readers are putting control of their publications into the hands of their own communities. Major decisions, which would otherwise be made by an individual publisher or a financier with no ties to the community, are instead made collectively by that community’s residents.

The decision to sell stock to readers also gives publishers room for long-range planning. With fresh capital in hand, publishers can make any website upgrades they’ve been delaying, like mobile-friendly site redesigns or the development of mobile apps. The additional capital can also help publishers strengthen their coverage of certain areas or topics that matter to readers, like crime or education, or raise their employees’ salaries.

community calendar for local publishers

Local Publishing 101: How to Build a Community Calendar

Hyperlocal publishers sit at the center of their communities, offering a central place for people to go for the latest information on news and events around town. As publishers work to give readers more of what they want, they’re discovering that having a community calendar is one of the most requested features.

Community calendars serve multiple purposes on hyperlocal news websites. First and foremost, they let readers know what’s going on around town. When is the high school musical? When is the next city council meeting? These are the types of events that readers enjoy seeing on community calendars. But the usefulness of a community calendar goes beyond that.

A community calendar can also serve as an extra source of substantial revenue for local publishers. In addition to selling advertising against their calendars, publishers can charge local businesses to list their upcoming promotional events. This presents a win-win for the hyperlocal publisher, who is both satisfying reader demand and generating additional revenue at the same time.

Where to begin

The easiest way for most local publishers to add a community calendar to their websites is by using a WordPress plugin.

The Events Calendar by Modern Tribe is one example of a WordPress plugin that independent publishers can use to add community events calendars to their websites. These calendars are fully responsive, so in addition to a professional look, they can also be customized to fit in with any existing website themes. Calendars created with this plugin can also be organized by category, and events can be bulk imported to save time.

CT News Junkie, a local online news site that covers the Connecticut state legislature, uses The Events Calendar by Modern Tribe to power its own community calendar. Readers can search for events by date, keyword, or location, and they can export detailed event information to Google Calendar and iCal.

EventOn is another WordPress event calendar plugin that publishers can use. EventOn’s minimal and sleek looking calendars can be setup to include location maps to events, event images, and expandable details. For publishers who plan to monetize their calendars, a featured events option can make certain events stand out on the page.

Up until this point, we’ve focused on how events calendars serve the needs of local communities. But a community calendar can be an effective revenue generator for local publishers, as well.

Monetizing a community calendar

Community events calendars make money in a few different ways. The most common way is by selling advertising against the calendar itself. Events calendars tend to be popular pages on any publisher’s website. By selling display advertising that runs alongside or on top of the calendar, publishers can generate revenue from the traffic coming to their websites.

Savvy publishers will charge advertisers more to run display advertising alongside their community calendars, since readers who visit are already demonstrating an interest in coming to local events. That provides a type of demographic targeting that’s worth a premium to advertisers.

In addition to selling display advertising alongside their community calendars, local publishers can charge businesses to include their events as featured listings.

The low-tech way to handle this is to set a price for each individual event, and then ask advertisers to email event information to the publisher or the advertising manager directly. The more streamlined approach, which a growing number of local publishers are adopting, is to create a self-serve advertising portal, so advertisers can pay for and place featured event listings on their own.

Publishers can charge a premium for businesses to include their listings, while still opening up their calendars to readers for free. The most straightforward way to manage this is to let readers add standard listings to a community calendar for free, but charge a fee for “featured” or “premium” listings, which might be highlighted, bolded, or designed to include one or more images.

That’s the approach being used by the local news parent-startup Whereby.Us. The company’s publications, including The New Tropic, prominently feature upcoming events calendars, with instructions for how readers can submit their own events. Dedicated placements are available to advertisers who pay $210 for an event promotion package.

If you would like more information about how to setup a community calendar on your own website, feel free to reach out to our team of experts at Web Publisher PRO.