On Wednesday Route Three Productions, which owns The Southside Light News announced the end of all print products within their portfolio. Of the six publications, three were clinging to print and three others, including The Southside Light News have been producing a daily digital product since late last year. The company also announced consolidations among their publications to focus on more aggressive media involvement.
The news came in a conference call with advertisers and stakeholders on Wednesday and managers noted that the changes will be effective immediately. Whether the online-only papers can survive remains to be seen, however, the plans for the future that were laid out by Route Three Productions seems to position them for what might be ahead.
Like print media in general, local newspapers have been squeezed by readers and advertisers moving online. Most of the revenue, even for those with a cover price, has come from advertising. This has been eroded by the likes of Google and Facebook.
“Businesses are focusing heavy on Facebook and Google,” said Matt Pierce Briscoe, Publisher of The Southside Light News. “We have been working on some ideas and we believe that they are going to allow us to move more into the full-spectrum of where we want to be.”
He explained that integrating more professionally produced video content, podcasts and dedicated local content is part of the stream. He also said that while the overhead remains very low, the news organization must focus their resources on producing quality products for their end consumer.
“Take the Light News for instance,” he told stakeholders and managers on Wednesday. “We have always been free for the consumer and our goal is to keep it that way. The worst part about it is that it still takes money to produce content and pay legal expenses associated with producing news content.”
“We are exploring subscription based products,’ Pierce Briscoe said. “You will start seeing political advertising but because memberships are so far down we still had to have a way to pay the bills.”
With the obvious declining revenue for traditional print, and the cost of printing, moving to digital-only platforms was perhaps inevitable.
The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the move companywide by killing off advertising from local businesses such as restaurants and bars. Pierce Briscoe said that the organization had to define just how online advertising works. He also said that they had to define how readers in places like Corpus Christi relate to the news, and their willingness to pay for online news.
A key characteristic of the historical readership and advertising markets for local newspaper is their ability to playoff off their longevity. But Pierce Briscoe says that the defining characteristics of online news and advertising is “scaleability”.
Once all newspapers could largely dictate prices to advertisers. This was particularly the case with local papers and television stations. But the game has changed. What they can charge for online advertising is a fraction of what they once could for traditional advertising.
“We hear it from advertisers every single day that they have been burned by the paper and by television,” Pierce Briscoe said. “They tell us that they feel as if they were conned into spending a bunch of money and not getting anything in return on that investment.”
“We believe that our willingness to work with the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) and the Texas Association of Broadcasters (TAB) is a big part of us setting ourselves apart when it comes to accountability,” he told stakeholders on Wednesday’s call. “I live by the philosophy that a high number of likes and follows on social media doesn’t mean that you are good at what you do, it only means that you appeal to a certain market and we are not part of that demographic.”
The call ended with the announcement of a a few other minor changes such as creating mentorship programs, working with academia and designing a new structure for stability.
“A lot of you on this call are long term advertisers who buy space on our website,” he said. “What we are doing is creating new ways to give you more exposure without breaking the bank and still offering our news consumers a product worth their time.”