Key insights from the News Industry Mega-Conference


America's Newspapers, a North American newspaper industry body, convened a number of publishers from across America in Dallas, Texas, for two days of riveting discussion around the state of the news industry in the region. The topics discussed were vast and plentiful, all centered around the theme of digital transformation.

Below is a recap from our team members who attended the conference on the key themes discussed throughout the event:

The importance of local news

Greg Watson kicked off the conference with an insightful session sharing highlights from America’s Newspapers' most recent national study. According to the study, 66% of Americans access local news every month, with their key reliances on it being for insight on civic involvement, to feel a sense of community, and to access entertaining and helpful content. Consumption trends continue to diversify away from print, with the under-40s demographic keen to consume their news on social media. Ultimately, the key takeaway from this session was that readers do not define a newspaper by how the news is delivered, but rather by the medium that creates the content. This emphasizes the importance for local newspapers to continue producing region-specific news that provides value to their audiences and ensure they deliver the content through the relevant channels.

Image by Tom Fox, Credit: Staff Photographer, Copyright: The Dallas Morning News

Print to digital transition

As many papers are going through the necessary transition of reducing their print editions, it is important to remember that most audiences have already transitioned to digital. It is about understanding where these audiences are and how to best reach them. As this transition can be arduous for many publishers, the overarching message must be steadfast — to continue the dedication to the mission of journalism and to serve the communities today, regardless of the medium.

The importance of pricing

With the average digital subscription in the U.S. being $7.78 per month, versus $30.34 per month for a print subscription, publishers have to convert four digital users to achieve the same revenue as a print subscriber. The real magic here is encouraging digital subscribers to stay for as long as possible, and with advances in data capabilities, publishers know what features are holding on to their subscribers for longer — e.g. newsletters, app downloads, etc. By promoting these features to their digital audiences, publishers should be able to increase the lifetime value of each subscriber, increasing their overall revenue.

Digital transformation

Scaling digital subscriptions is key to a publisher's success, and often the hardest task can be simply creating a clear three- to five-year plan. Establishing such a plan will create the foundation for digital transformation efforts, clearly exposing what changes and investments need to be made to succeed. Having a singular focus will drive a plan and allow publishers to identify what they prioritize. These were the principles discussed throughout the conference, which happen to also resonate with the Financial Times' tried and tested North Star Methodology. Read more about it here and learn how the FT utilized this process to successfully achieve their digital transformation journey and continue to use it to this day for their transformation needs. Getting the price right and using a step-up model will attract an audience that will form a habit, rather than isolating them from the onset with a price that may be too high initially.

The power of audience data

This topic reverberated throughout the conference, whether it was in the context of first-party data or leveraging data to create audience segmentation to enhance engagement efforts. It is clear that publishers have more data than ever at their fingertips and it only takes a few simple steps to start putting it to work. The Dallas Morning News uses data throughout their newsroom to understand — from a content perspective — what is encouraging readers to subscribe. By reorganizing their newsroom around the topics that most matter to their audience, they're able to increase revenues to fund the newsroom.

The tone of the conference was overall positive, and whilst there’s still a long way to go for many local publishers to understand their audience, provide timely news alerts, market themselves better, adapt to digital transformation and publish the right content, they can continue to thrive.

Newspapers have been around for centuries and have been a trusted source of information for people worldwide. In the United States, 218 million people access news via newspapers every month, and contrary to what you might think, it's not just the older generation who still enjoy the feel of a physical newspaper in their hands. However, the way people access their news has changed dramatically and local newspapers need to adapt to keep up with the times.

In a recent study on local news by America's Newspapers, it was found that people defined a newspaper as an essential source of community news but didn't necessarily care how it was delivered. 67% of people access their news through a newspaper's website, with social media coming in second. It seems the days of waiting for the paperboy to deliver your news are long gone, and people want their news fast and at their fingertips.

Earlier this month, FT Strategies travelled to Dallas to hear from local publishers and experts at the America's Newspapers News Industry Mega-Conference. Over two days we heard many great insights from speakers and attendees alike, whilst sampling some of the great cuisines of Texas! Here are our top takeaways from the event.

Top 5 Takeaways

Takeaway 1: Local News is Trusted by Americans

The America’s Newspapers study shows that local news is the most trusted source of original news for 43% of Americans. The data emphasizes that local newspapers are essential for delivering accurate news and promoting transparency in communities.

Takeaway 2: Different Age Groups Prefer Different Platforms

The study also revealed that people aged 40 and above are more interested in community updates via newspaper websites, while those under 40 prefer social media platforms. This data suggests that local newspapers should tailor their marketing strategies to meet the unique needs of each age group.

Takeaway 3: Newspapers Need to Market Themselves Better

Local newspapers need to focus on marketing themselves better to attract more readership. The study shows that newspapers need to provide more timely breaking news alerts and more breaking news in general. By doing so, local newspapers can provide their readers with the latest news and updates from their communities.

Takeaway 4: Pricing Strategy is Critical in Digital Transformation

During a panel discussion on print to digital transformation, Aaron Kotarek of Ohau Publications in Hawaii emphasised that pricing is critical in any digital transformation strategy. The average U.S. price for digital newspapers is $7.80, while print newspapers cost $30.44. Kotarek suggested that local newspapers should focus on finding a sustainable price that will attract an audience that will form a habit of reading their newspapers. He also emphasized the need for personalization and engagement strategies for onboarding subscribers.

Takeaway 5: Align Resources in the Newsroom with Pathway to Conversion

Katrice Hardy of The Dallas Morning News emphasized the need to re-energize newsrooms with audience data. She suggested aligning resources in the newsroom with the pathway to conversion or top page views by section. Additionally, beat structures should be aligned around four quadrants: mission-based/public service, mass appeal (top of funnel), premium content (bottom of funnel) and under-performers.

There are ways to make your newspaper stand out from the crowd. Personalization is key, and understanding your readers' habits is essential to building long-lasting relationships.

But let's not forget the importance of good old-fashioned journalism. In today's world of fake news and clickbait headlines, local newspapers have a duty to provide accurate, trustworthy information to their readers. So, let's give a round of applause to the journalists and editors out there who work tirelessly to bring us the news we need.

In conclusion, the world of newspapers is changing, but that doesn't mean it's over. Local newspapers play an essential role in their communities, and by understanding their audience, providing timely news alerts, marketing themselves better, adapting to digital transformation and publishing the right content, they can continue to thrive.

Daisy Donald, is principal and head of Americas with FT Strategies.  She joined FT Strategies from Reuters where she was director of global customer experience overseeing their website and reader revenue.

Before that, she spent over eight years leading customer research teams in London and New York at the Financial Times and beyond, working closely with the B2B sales and product teams to define key strategic research initiatives. She has an EMBA from the IE Business School, Madrid.