104th in a 2022 Series*
It dawned on me while sitting in a Kentucky building from the 1800s why the forced jump from fossil fuels to green energy was such a painful debate. It sounds too much like the newspaper transformation urgency that’s given us pounding headaches for at least the last couple of decades. Everyone is yelling GREEN, GREEN, GREEN and likewise DIGITAL, DIGITAL, DIGITAL. Don’t forget the HURRY UP BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE! But what’s missing is the transition plan to get us “there” — from the current chaos to the desired state. It’s supposed to happened, POOF, like now. That’s why my notes from the recent National Summit on Journalism in Rural America are highlighted and underlined the most from the sessions on business models for community newspapers. Kansas publisher and journalism professor Terri Finneman, one of the many excellent presenters at the summit, is using the lessons of history, research, surveying and experimentation to shape a proposed business model that local newspapers can move into — even if it’s only a transition. I like where she’s focused, because it’s what readers say they want. Her developing model comes as more newspapers contemplate shifting from unprofitable/making-some-money to a nonprofit organization. The model by Finneman and her collaborators is built on three pillars: membership (includes subscription revenue and donations); e-newsletters; and events. Here’s why this approach is Relevant: It stakes the future on reader support. It simplifies the digital business to a product that’s all about content and that can be diversified into niches without major technical difficulties to attract new audiences. And, it allows for personal engagement with readers at various levels and with new options. On the last score, this is where being THE Community Forum is a first step. Also, the beauty of Finneman’s model is, again, its simplicity for today and its intended interactions with customers to create pathways to future innovation. There’s a test underway in Hillsboro, Kansas. We’re watching it. The upshot: There’s a future there, with local newspaper media leading the way as they innovate their Relevance.
–Tom Silvestri, Executive Director, The Relevance Project
ADDED NOTE: Presentations at the National Summit on Journalism in Rural America prompted a series of articles on The Rural Blog, which I highly recommend. Expect more insightful follow-ups from Al Cross and the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues.
*ABOUT THE SERIES: Our goal is to share a Relevant Point of the Day (RPD) each weekday throughout 2022. Our target is at least 222. Thank you for supporting The Relevance Project. Your success is our focus.