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Articles

Local News Pubs: It’s Time to Future-Proof Your Retention Strategy

By Kristen Dunleavy

For local news publishers, sustainability could not be more important or urgent than it is right now.

Before COVID-19 ravaged local newsrooms—leading to 11,000 layoffs in just the first 6 months of the pandemic—1,800 daily & weekly newspapers had shuttered since 2004.

Local news publishers play an integral role in the communities they serve. It’s critical that they find a way to drive long-term growth and sustainability by growing and maintaining a loyal audience. It may sound like a tall order, but it doesn’t have to be.

The key to thriving both now and in the future is through direct audience relationships.

At OpenWeb, we’ve seen firsthand what happens when local news publishers prioritize building these relationships: more engagement, more registrations, more loyalty. One powerful way to achieve this is by giving your readers the opportunity to comment and interact on your website

That community interaction is the foundation of building direct audience relationships—and local news publishers shouldn’t overlook it.

Future-proof your first-party data strategy—stop relying on social media

Without giving your readers the opportunity to interact on your website, all of the conversations about your content happen on social media. 

Why is this dangerous for local news publishers? Social media giants serve as a gatekeeper to your audience, limiting your access to your readers at their discretion and absorbing ad revenue in the process.

When social platforms own the relationship with users, it’s a losing game for all publishers, but local news publishers suffer the most. Facebook and Google gobble up 77% of the digital ad revenue in local markets, leaving you with scraps.

And those who rely heavily on social media see little value in return. One survey found social media was responsible for an average of only 7% of publishers’ digital revenue, and a quarter of those surveyed reported seeing no revenue at all.

In Simon Owens’ piece, Publishers That Closed Their Comments Section Made a Colossal Mistake he writes that publishers who continue to rely on social media instead of forming direct audience relationships ultimately place more distance between themselves and their users. 

He writes:

“When it comes to unforced errors, the decision many publishers made to close down their comment sections should be considered one of the industry’s worst blunders.”

And now, with the end of the third-party cookie less than a year away, it’s even more important to focus on building direct relationships that provide you with the first-party data you need to thrive in a cookieless world. When readers register on your website, they provide you with insights like behavior, interests, engagement, trending topics, and more—helping you align the right advertisers with your audience and inform your editorial decisions.

Build reader relationships in a safe and civil environment

Engaging with readers is a critical part of local news journalism—doing so helps build reader trust, leading to a loyal audience. But journalists who engage in these conversations on social media platforms are frequently subject to trolling and harassment

Effective moderation makes your website a much healthier place to engage with readers by creating higher quality conversations. That means journalists can have valuable interactions with readers without fear of trolls taking over.

But there’s more: at OpenWeb, we’ve seen that when editorial teams get involved in the conversation, engagement goes up and so does the quality of the conversation. Readers engaged in conversations on your website spend more time on-site, and they’re more likely to register and keep coming back. All of this leads to the stronger, lasting audience relationships that are critical for a sustainable future.

Knowing your readers is key for the future of local news

Local news publishers are devoted to the communities they serve. But without really knowing your readers, it’s impossible to serve them to the best of your ability. Direct audience relationships lead to increased reader loyalty–and that’s key for the sustainability of your business.


OpenWeb helps hundreds of local news publishers build direct relationships with their audience. Learn more here.

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