As the UNC Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media gears up for the second meeting of the third cohort of the UNC-Knight Foundation Newsroom Initiative in October, participating media organizations share what challenges they face and hope to conquer during the yearlong initiative designed to foster innovation, sustainability and success in today’s rapidly changing digital media climate.
In 2019, this metro Atlanta daily celebrated its 150th anniversary, part of a history that includes bearing witness to vast agricultural, industrial and civil rights changes in the booming Southern city. Two of the newspaper’s famous editors, Henry Grady and Ralph McGill, helped shape the very future of Georgia, said AJC Managing Editor and Senior Director Mark A. Waligore. “It was, after all, Grady’s lobbying efforts that set the stage for the South’s agricultural and industrial growth. And in the early days of the civil rights movement, it was McGill’s passionate voice and personal essays that helped create a new journalistic form.”
By the numbers:
Owned by Cox Enterprises, the AJC publishes a print edition seven days a week. The newspaper’s website ajc.com, draws 213 million sessions annually.
Why the AJC wanted to take part in the UNC-Knight Foundation Table Stakes Newsroom Initiative:
The AJC already has digital success stories, such as a hyper-local community news digital initiative that generated 17 million page views in 2018, but Waligore believes there’s more work to be done. “If we are to continue to provide the strong and steady voice our community deserves, we must develop digital products that will retain long-time print readers—and attract new ones,” he said. “We must identify a viable plan to grow local revenue, transition advertising dollars to digital and increase the number of digital subscribers. Above all else, we must rebuild the relationships and trust we have lost through staff reductions and other changes to our products—changes driven by financial pressures.”
A weekly newspaper founded in 1878, The Charlotte Post’s roots are in the AME Zion Church, where The Messenger, a precursor to The Post, was launched to provide a faith-based forum for newly-emancipated African Americans during the Reconstruction period. Henry Houston was The Post’s first publisher, launching the eight-column secular newspaper in 1927. After various changes in ownership, Bill Johnson, who started at the paper as a sportswriter, bought The Post in 1974. His son, Gerald Johnson, serves as The Post’s publisher and CEO. In 1999, thecharlottepost.com was launched.
By the numbers:
The Post has a weekly print readership of 44,000 and a monthly reach of 1.4 million on social media and digital platforms, including audio and video.
Why The Charlotte Post wanted to take part in the UNC-Knight Foundation Table Stakes Newsroom Initiative:
“We want to seek help with issues we face being a part of this industry and get suggestions and advice from people outside the operation on best practices,” Johnson said. “We also hope to learn how to take financial advantage of our expanded readership.”
Part of the growing movement towards local nonprofit news organizations, Charlottesville Tomorrow was founded in 2005 to provide coverage of land use policy in Charlottesville, Virginia, and its surrounding areas. Over time, the organization’s coverage has expanded to include K-12 education, climate change, government and other local policy topics, using in-depth reporting, human-focused storytelling and creative online formats.
By the numbers:
Through a weekly email newsletter, website and social media channels, Charlottesville Tomorrow reaches more than 25,000 readers each month. It is supported entirely by contributions from readers, foundation grants and individual philanthropists.
Why Charlottesville Tomorrow wanted to take part in the UNC-Knight Foundation Table Stakes Newsroom Initiative:
This year, Charlottesville Tomorrow doubled the size of its newsroom and expanded its editorial scope in an effort to provide an independent alternative to the traditional daily newspaper model.
“We are in the midst of the transition from a niche-focused hyper-local nonprofit watchdog to a standalone hyperlocal news organization with general news value,” Executive Director Giles Morris said. “The core challenge is how to maintain our strong base of large donor support as we expand our audience and diversify our revenue with the aim of growing our impact. We have to navigate an intense local policy landscape focused on equity issues and earn broad-based community support for our mission-driven approach to nonprofit journalism at a time when our community is intensely divided on local policy issues in areas like housing, public health, policing, land use and education.”
Duke University’s student-produced The Chronicle was founded in 1905. The Chronicle became an independent nonprofit in 1993 and remains an officially recognized student organization on the Duke University campus. In addition to The Chronicle, parent company Duke Student Publishing Company produces dukechronicle.com, welcome.dukechronicle.com and nearDuke.com, a housing site.
By the numbers:
The Chronicle delivers 8,000 print editions Mondays and Thursdays. The website dukechronicle.com publishes new content daily and receives 600,000 average monthly page views.
Why The Chronicle wanted to take part in the UNC-Knight Foundation Table Stakes Newsroom Initiative:
The Chronicle has already been compensating for print revenue declines with fundraising, new digital products and cost-saving measures. The editorial team has also been making progress moving toward digital-first news gathering. “But now what?” asked General Manager Chrissy Beck. “We have essentially outgrown our original strategic plans and crave new direction. Though we are holding our own, we are not progressing in the same ways we did the first few years of our digital transformation. I see Table Stakes as a great opportunity to push us forward and to help us find new paths.”
A daily founded in 1874, Greenville News is based in Upstate South Carolina, in an area booming with population growth. “Our mission is to inform our community about the many interesting people, places and organizations that are making a difference. We seek to uncover and shine light on the problems and ills in our community with the hopes of making it better,” said Katrice Hardy, executive editor and regional editor for the southern region of USA Today, Greenville News’ parent company.
By the numbers:
The newspaper’s circulation is 43,000 daily and 64,000 on Sundays. The newspaper also has a website, greenvilleonline.com.
Why Greenville News wanted to take part in the UNC-Knight Foundation Table Stakes Newsroom Initiative:
“There is no more stressful, but exciting time to be a journalist and in particular to find new ways to grow our audience and to prove how valuable our work is to our communities and the future of those who we serve,” Hardy said. “We must get smarter with our time and our money and tailor our quality work to fit the mission and goals that our readers and communities see the most value in to survive.”
North Carolina Health News is an independent, nonprofit, statewide news organization that covers health care in North Carolina. Rose Hoban, founder of North Carolina Health News, came to health reporting from a background in medicine. After spending a decade as a nurse, she enrolled in the University of California, Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism. After relocating to the East Coast, she spent more than six years as the health reporter for North Carolina Public Radio—WUNC. Hoban founded North Carolina Health News in 2011.
By the numbers:
In September 2019, the North Carolina Health News website received 90,000 page views. The organization regularly has articles published in the NC Insider. The organization publishes between five and eight stories per week on its website.
Why North Carolina Health News wanted to take part in the UNC-Knight Foundation Table Stakes Newsroom Initiative:
“I’m really looking forward to having someone other than me thinking about the business side of our business. I worry a lot about sustainability, about funding streams, about diversifying our revenue, basically about having more business expertise as part of our mix,” Hoban said.
Since 1873, the North Carolina Press Association has supported North Carolina newspapers, readership and advertising. NCPA works to protect the public’s right to know through the defense of open government and First Amendment freedoms, and the organization helps maintain the public’s access to local, state and federal governments. NC Press Services, a wholly-owned subsidiary, works with clients to provide on-call advertising solutions (online, mobile and print) and press release services in North Carolina and nationwide.
Why the NCPA wanted to take part in the UNC-Knight Foundation Table Stakes Newsroom Initiative:
The NCPA wants to keep pace and stay relevant with its members as they continue transformation from print to digital, and the organization hopes to gain insights from Table Stakes coaches on ways to better mobilize the 150-member organization’s transition from traditional print revenue to digital revenue in order to grow and serve our industry. “We have faced challenges in staying relevant to our members in their transformation, providing service to our advertising clients in print and digital, and increasing non-dues revenue opportunities to continue our mission at a high level for the newspapers of North Carolina,” said Executive Director Phil Lucey.
PoliticsNC is a blog and news site developed by political consultant Thomas Mills in April 2013 after years of watching what he considered dwindling political coverage as North Carolina news outlets shed staff and cut positions. “There’s been an incredible loss of institutional memory,” Mills said. “I started writing the blog mainly out of frustration.” PoliticsNC has garnered statewide and national attention, and Mills deals with national media outlets calling for his take on North Carolina politics on a monthly basis.
By the numbers:
The site’s monthly page views have grown from 500 people in July 2013 to its current 15,000. The site became a subscription service in 2018.
Why PoliticsNC wanted to take part in the UNC-Knight Foundation Table Stakes Newsroom Initiative:
“I’ve been trying to figure out how to make this more profitable,” said Mills, who counts only one other person on PoliticsNC staff. Mills still works other jobs besides PoliticsNC to make ends meet. “I want to provide better journalism. How are we going to survive in a digital age when nobody’s making money off these websites?”
QCity Metro launched in 2008 to provide news and information relevant to Charlotte’s African American community across a number of digital platforms, mainly through the website qcitymetro.com.
By the numbers:
QCity Metro publishes to its website daily to an audience of 50,000 people.
Why QCity Metro wanted to take part in the UNC-Knight Foundation Table Stakes Newsroom Initiative:
Glenn Burkins, founder and publisher of QCity Metro, was a fellow in the Sulzberger program at Columbia University in 2012. The core principles of the program, now called the Media Transformation Challenge , provided part of the foundation for the Table Stakes program. “I already knew the transformative power of the Table Stakes concept,” Burkins said. “Like most media organizations in the digital age, QCity Metro struggles to grow sustained revenue and engage with readers who, increasingly, are distracted by a host of online options. My team and I use Table Stakes to address both of those challenges. ”
The Wilson Times and The Daily Record formed the media management company Restoration NewsMedia in April 2019 allowing the two newspapers to share resources and expertise while remaining independently owned and operated.
“We believe our model can help save community newspapers and restore sustainable local coverage to cities and towns that may otherwise be in danger of becoming news deserts,” said Keven Zepezauer, president of Restoration Newsmedia and group publisher of its eight titles.
By the numbers:
The Daily Record also publishes the twice-weekly Courier-Times in Roxboro and the weekly Mount Olive Tribune, while The Wilson Times publishes four weekly papers: The Enterprise in Spring Hope, the Johnstonian News in Kenly, The Wake Weekly in Wake Forest and The Butner-Creedmoor News in Creedmoor.
Why Restoration NewsMedia wanted to take part in the UNC-Knight Foundation Table Stakes Newsroom Initiative:
“I am interested in being a part of the Table Stakes program because I think there is a tremendous opportunity for us to learn a great deal more about digital initiatives and how to capitalize on revenue from them,” Zepezaur said.
Founded in 1894 by Hubert Graham Osteen, The Sumter Item remains one of South Carolina’s oldest continuously run family-owned daily newspapers, but it is evolving from a traditional newspaper into a media distribution and production hub for the region. The organization has created a video production company, Studio Sumter, started numerous local events and is in the process of launching The Item Podcast Network.
By the numbers:
The Sumter Item prints 10,000 newspapers five days per week and averages more than 150,000 unique website visitors to TheItem.com each month.
Why The Sumter Item wanted to take part in the UNC-Knight Foundation Table Stakes Newsroom Initiative:
“We want to be a part of the solution for local media, and collaboration is a big part of that. We also spend a lot of time grinding in our day-to-day operations, so the chance to step back and observe a larger picture is appealing,” said Publisher Vince Johnson. “We hope to gain a clearer vision of our path to a sustainable and thriving media company well into the future. We’ve all read about the (Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media’s) study on expanding news deserts, and we have no interest in our communities becoming a part of that. We’ve faced declining print circulation over the years, and our digital subscription strategy hasn’t kept up.”
Since 1955, UNC-TV has served North Carolina. UNC-TV now includes in-person engagement, digital-first social and online content delivery and four over-the-air channels—UNC-TV PBS & More, the North Carolina Channel, Rootle 24/7 PBS KIDS Channel and the Explorer Channel.
By the numbers:
UNC-TV’s on-air channels connect to over 13.8 million households, while UNC-TV’s current active member base is approximately 80,000 people. There are over 2.3 million visits to the UNCTV.org website and microsites annually.
Why UNC-TV wanted to take part in the UNC-Knight Foundation Table Stakes Newsroom Initiative:
UNC-TV is returning for a third time to the initiative after taking part in the first and second cohorts. UNC-TV officials hope to continue the momentum and build off the goals of the first two cohorts: reaching new audiences, diversifying revenue and transforming the workforce of its content division to an audience-focused, digital-first cohesive team. “We hope to gain guidance and leadership to continue with our goals of transforming UNC-TV from a traditional broadcast television station to a data-inspired public media statewide network,” said Laura Kieler, director of marketing communications. “Externally, the competitive landscape is changing, and we are working to quickly adapt and deliver relevant content optimized for the channels our current and potential audiences are utilizing. There is also increased competition for our audience’s attention and challenges to reach the millennial audience in an authentic and impactful way.”