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Column: Wherever you read this, our commitment to local news is the same
Shannon Casas high res
Shannon Casas

You have a local newspaper with local ownership and a commitment to local news. That’s something we believe is incredibly valuable. 

I spent much of my week with industry leaders at the Mather Media Revenue Symposium down in Atlanta discussing the future of local news — and the value of our product was one of my takeaways.

In an industry that’s been transforming tremendously in the past several years, local news is still the heart of what we do. 

How do we continue that mission amid all the realities of 2023? What’s the future of the local news industry? Here are a few of my thoughts and takeaways from other industry leaders.

Journalists must serve their audience

Journalists are often high-minded professionals who care about doing something that matters. That can be a great asset to any local news organization. What has changed drastically in more recent years, though, is the availability of data that informs what actually matters to our audience.

We have tools that can give us a deep understanding of how valuable a story is to our readers. We know, for example, that a wide audience finds some value in local dining news. Those stories bring a lot of readers to us. We also know that many readers value certain types of crime reporting and we can measure which stories lead readers to subscribe. We look at these on an aggregate basis to note trends that our journalists can use to inform their coverage and provide the type of local news that readers find valuable. Those conversations are a part of the daily fabric of a good newsroom in 2023.

Print frequency nationwide will continue declining

Some of you may not want to hear that, but industry leaders across the country are reducing the number of days they print. 

Some are providing ePaper products like ours and finding that many readers learn to enjoy that experience. Many are finding that their product all along was local news rather than a printed newspaper — but making that work when it comes to revenue has been a huge struggle. While demand for the printed newspaper has dropped, it’s still a large part of the revenue pie for many local newspapers as print advertising and the average subscription rates for print outpace a digital world that undervalued local news from the start. 

That said, no one’s crystal ball is showing the print product disappearing entirely in the near future. Shifts to midweek and weekend editions like ours are common, though.

Readers will pay for digital local news 

The organizers of this week’s industry event forecasted that revenue from subscribers will make up half of what funds a local newspaper. Traditionally, advertising was a bigger piece of that pie. We have already seen significant growth in digital subscriptions in the past few years, and truly successful local newspapers may see an even bigger part of the pie devoted to subscription revenue. Exactly what that looks like is still a matter of experimentation and learning, but we and most other newspapers are continuing to look hard at this. 

Like I said, we have a valuable product, and that is local news. If you’re reading this, I would hope you agree with that, whether your preferred format is print or digital. To continue that devotion to local news, we must rely on readers having the same commitment to it that we do so we can all invest in it together. 

At the end of the day, that investment in local news is an investment in our community.

Shannon Casas is director of audience for Metro Market Media, parent company of The Times. She is a North Hall resident.