Last month, we conducted an exhaustive survey, asking readers for their assessment of the local media landscape, and more broadly, what media they consume. Some of the results were surprising, and we’ll get to those in a minute. First, we should point out that the biggest takeaways were that our readers want to see more decidedly local coverage, and they know we need money to do that.
With what we’ve learned, we believe our next steps as a newspaper should include adding specific kinds of reporters and editors to our staff. Increasing the cadre of news gathering intelligence seekers that serve our shared community is something people seem eager to see. To fund this increased capacity, survey respondents built a consensus about offering subscriptions, mostly in the $5 to $20 a month range.
Our print paper will remain free for the foreseeable future, as will our CitySpeak and Storytelling Open Mic events. We will also add two new options: postal delivery of our twice monthly print paper, and an emailed daily newsletter with a few select stories. The newsletter will likely increase in stories along with our capacity.
We started offering daily news on our website this year, which more than doubled our traffic — we will start requiring a subscription after a certain number of stories are read online. All of our print stories are included online, along with our extensive events calendar. Our rates will be $5 monthly for unlimited online access, $10 monthly to add the daily emailed newsletter, and $15 monthly to add postal delivery of the print paper.
We’ve been touched by all the donors who have stepped forward to help fund our improvements this last year, and we hope that if you also appreciate those changes, you’ll consider supporting us with a subscription.
Some Unexpected Survey Results
We didn’t just do the survey, we also conducted focus groups earlier this year, and dove into our online data, print audits, and event attendance.
While the majority of readers consume news online, they also stated a preference for print. In the open ended answers, it became clear that many readers will accept news online, but it’s a grudging acceptance. Oddly, this particular preference was stated across age demographics. In focus groups, we noted the preference for print was strongest among readers that engage with longer form pieces. This conflated with what we know about session time averages for news sites, generally.
Responses to the survey and in focus groups expressed almost disproportionate anger towards news sites with what are perceived as having too many ads. Other research indicates it may not be the number, but how features in the ads impede a site’s functionality. Either way, we took these sentiments as cautionary in our decisions about online ad loads.
Also in focus groups, we noted people in leadership positions state a very strong preference for print, but in practice, read more online, even if they have access to print. This may be because of their schedule pressures. The only exception, and it was decisive, had to do again with longer form pieces. Some in leadership positions stated they would schedule time to read a longer form piece rather than reading it on their first encounter, but this response seemed tied to print.
Readers Want True Local Journalism
Many respondents noted, unprompted, that they knew which media companies were locally owned, and which were not. While several respondents expressed their understanding that The Advocate is locally owned, many expressed concern over other area papers asking prospective subscribers to “Support Local Journalism” while the company is headquartered across the country.
We included some open ended questions about other local media, and readers noted they read The Advocate, many also read The Gazette-Times, and about 2 percent noted Eugene Weekly. Given a number of national polls, we assumed there would be more viewership for local television news than was expressed through this survey.
For national news, a surprising number of our readers subscribe to The Atlantic, The New Yorker, The Economist, The New York Times, and the Washington Post. Scientific American and Mother Jones also received some mentions. In focus groups, Axxios and Vox received quite a bit of mention, as did The Guardian.
After focus groups, we increased our output of longer form deeply researched pieces, putting them all into our print platform, and we noted copy uptake became more brisk. We moved most of the shorter pieces to online-only availability, and their uptake online also increased.
Ten percent of respondents offered criticism of The Advocate, while 25 percent offered criticism of The Gazette-Times. Given the survey was geared towards our readers, this isn’t surprising.
While some of the criticism towards The GT was harsh and unconstructive, it centered on a lack of local coverage, out of state ownership, and a sense that they are out of touch with the values of the area. Many expressed frustration at what they perceive to be increased subscription rates, and a decreasing amount of coverage.
Criticism of The Advocate was geared toward satire and snark the paper stopped running many months ago, though a small minority of readers criticized CA for cancelling those snarkier columns. Readers expressed interest in us making the paper easier to find.
A small but vocal group criticized the writing quality at both papers. This isn’t surprising, given most media organizations cannot afford some of the editing processes that were once in place. At The Advocate, our proposed budget allows for some enhanced editing.
Reader expectations of the two newspapers vary. The GT is seen as offering a wider variety. CA is seen as offering a deeper, more locally-focused brand of journalism. As different as the two approaches are, both seem to be appreciated, often by the same reader.
We asked if our readers believed their newspaper should share their values, and a little more than half of respondents said they did, but conversely, a number said they didn’t care so long as the paper could report impartially. Some readers commented that they like being exposed to viewpoints they may not necessarily share, while stating that a paper should also produce unbiased reporting.
Some respondents shared the view that if a publication does have an opinion, it should be plainly stated so that readers can understand what bias may exist in the organization’s news coverage.
News, So You Really Know
In focus groups, some interviewees expressed worry that less coverage means more people believing their own assumptions are probably the facts. In our survey, we noted a number of respondents commented that they just want the truth, facts, or objectivity.
After starting our online daily news coverage earlier this year, we noticed two hopeful trends in our social media, both of which happened organically over a few months: Comments became less abrasive, and shares increased. At first, this seemed most applicable to our shorter pieces that were just reduced to bare facts, but we are starting to notice this with some of our longer pieces, as well.
You can expect regular updates on our funding progress, and we hope that with subscriptions, new people can be hired around mid November.