Directions: Insights from Media Executives in Traffic’s Network

Robert Saurer explains why papers are betting big on small-community news.

What’s the future of the newspaper business?

We know the future is digital. For our typical newspaper website, more than 50 percent of content is consumed on tablet or mobile devices. So we need products that work well in that environment and a monetization strategy for them. Overall, we see favorable trends for paid content, and we believe that unique local content is where we need to own the day. How many places can you get the latest NFL trade information? Why would you pay for that? However, at a local level, there are PTA developments, town happenings, and homegrown opinion. That content isn’t replicable elsewhere.

How can you beat the online advertising giants?

Our hyperlocal position and our feet on the street allow us to walk into your local pizza place, into your local car dealership, and sell local ads in our print products. On the back of that human capital, we also sell a set of digital services though a company we own, Propel Marketing. You can buy comparable digital services online through large national vendors, but our local presence is a competitive advantage for us, as is our ability to package print and digital advertising together.

What do you wish you knew about your readers?

Over the past year, there’s been an explosion of knowledge about the specific reading and interest patterns of our audience. We think that data is going allow us to deliver content to interested audiences in a way that’s not far off from what we once had in print, where we knew 30 percent of our subscribers wanted to grab that sports section each morning. If we can get a good segmentation of our 20-million-plus monthly readers, that will be powerful.

Is print dying?

Print is declining, but we can stabilize that business. Print is not going to be a growth line for us, but we can eke out margins from it for a good long time. Maybe we won’t have seven-day print products five years from now in most markets. But we can have a three- or four-day paper with a very robust Sunday or weekend package. Given that the majority of our readers consume both print and digital content, how we package those two together over the next two, three, four, five, up to 10 years—it’s going to be an interesting play.

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