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from Atlantic 57, the creative and consulting division of The Atlantic.

Five quick takes on media and tech trends from the past seven days,
distilled and contextualized to power your work.

Digital lessons from a North Carolina newsroom

Need to make a change, but scared of what your audience might think? Take a note from The News Reporter of Columbus County in North Carolina. After seeing a decline in print circulation, the Reporter knew it needed to make some major changes. But, before going ahead with any updates, the paper talked to its audience. What it heard helped inform its new digital-first strategy—which included a website redesign, the launch of two newsletters, and a revised social media strategy. The results? Web traffic doubled, and social followers grew by 4,000 in the first year, giving the Reporter enough confidence to launch its digital metered paywall in February 2019. For organizations looking to make some big changes, Jenny Clore, director of marketing for The News Reporter offers this advice:

  • Test, test, test. The News Reporter spent a lot of time talking to its audience, both through focus groups and surveys. “Through that process, we gleaned information about our readership that helped affirm our decisions,” Clore wrote. “It also helped us realize where we needed to adjust or communicate differently.” 
  • Share your story. Let your audience in on your process. Explain why you’re making these changes, what it means for your company, and the value it will have for the community.
  • Don’t let fear hold you back. Leadership agonized over what the response would be to changes in subscription pricing and delivery days, but the Reporter found “Once we pulled the trigger, it turned out there was much less pushback than we had anticipated; in fact, there was very little.”

Podcasting powers Slate
Fifty percent of Slate’s overall business came from podcasting in 2019, up from 28 percent in 2018. A significant amount of its revenue comes from Slate Plus, its podcast membership program, which boasts more than 60,000 subscribers.

Source: Digiday (requires subscription)

Content management for all

A major newsroom is branching out of journalism this week. The Washington Post has finalized a deal with BP, Inc. to allow the use of its CMS, Arc. The energy company will use the platform to manage internal websites and newsletters for its employees. Earlier this year, Axios also signaled intentions of licensing out its newsletter product to non-journalism companies. The trend is a step in the right direction for product-oriented publications, says Atlantic 57’s editorial director, Jason Tomassini: “These publishing tools were always a limited business if the only customers were other publishers. Growth is only possible if the product meets the needs of a broader set of brands.”

Speak to your readers' values

Years ago, Mother Jones set a lofty fundraising goal to secure its future: $25 million over the next five years. Now, four years later, the publication is at $23 million and in the final stages of its campaign. Key to its strategy? Talking to all readers, individual givers and major donors alike, in the same way. “Before we get to the strategy or the issues, we’ve got to have this heart-to-heart about the value behind the gift and the value of journalism as a public good that is part of what makes a community worth living in,” says Mother Jones publisher Steve Katz. At the top of each page on the site sits a “Dear Reader” note from the publication’s CEO, Monika Bauerlein, which links to a longer letter detailing Mother Jones’ mission and fundraising campaign. “It’s really inspiring how much people respond to a transparent and high level approach,” Bauerlein said. “The cynic would say you have to be manipulative to get people to engage with you. This model is much more about embracing the audience as a partner in the endeavor.”

Vox buys New York

Earlier this week, Vox Media announced that it had acquired New York Media, the publisher of New York Magazine and a range of smaller digital sub-brands. “No one had to do this,” Pamela Wasserstein, New York Media’s CEO, told The New York Times. “It’s a brilliant, in our view, opportunity, so that’s why we leaned into it. It’s not out of need. It’s out of ambition.” Moreover, the publisher of Vox Media promised that there would be no editorial changes or layoffs as a result of the merger. What are the strategic benefits of such a merger?

  • “There’s an element of downside protection. We’re stronger together. At the same time, the rationale is about growth and opportunity, and taking an ambitious view of what a media business built around premium brands could look like. … What our strategy has been—and the way Vox has built aligns with this—is to build very strong, differentiated editorial products that people respond to and are trusted, and around that build a business that is intentionally diversified for what those businesses are.” - Pam Wasserstein, CEO of New York Media (Digiday)
  • “Given that the same few verticals seem to pop up across media companies—everybody gets a tech site!—it’s remarkable how little content overlap these two companies bring. New York doesn’t do sports like SB Nation; Vox Media doesn’t do entertainment like Vulture. and New York’s Intelligencer both cover politics, but in complementary ways. … Indeed, there are a lot of elements where the larger Vox Media plugs holes in New York.” - Joshua Benton, director of the Nieman Journalism Lab (Nieman Lab)
  • “How many months (weeks?) before Vox-New York acknowledges the redundancies posed by their online sites and begins to merge them?” - Jack Shafer, columnist at POLITICO (Twitter)
  • “You have Vice and Vox Media and Group Nine and Refinery. There’s tons of them that are doing interesting work. … If BuzzFeed and five of the other biggest companies were combined into a bigger digital media company, you would probably be able to get paid more money.” - Jonah Peretti, co-founder and CEO of BuzzFeed (The New York Times)

This week in our office
A number of our colleagues attended journalism conferences this past month—NABJ in Miami, ONA in New Orleans, and SFJ in Detroit—and we’ve been soaking up the learnings they’ve brought back to our team. It's been so rewarding to see colleagues share their own knowledge and give back to their journalism communities.

The Atlantic Festival came to an end this week! We enjoyed three days of thought-provoking conversations, inspiring performances, and engaging discussions, all put together by our talented colleagues at AtlanticLIVE. In case you missed it, here are a few of our favorite moments from the festival:

  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s newsworthy interview with Jeffrey Goldberg
  • Yo-Yo Ma and Chris Thile’s musical medley, featuring Julia Ward Howe’s “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” to open the festival 
  • Atlantic senior editor Lauren Williams’ interview with Franklin Leonard, founder of The Black List

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