It feels like this is the problem with the "old" versus "new" media platforms: We (old) can do it better than they (new) can. And that may be true.
However, it feels as the new media community is beginning to come of age, there's more focus on creating a business model to succeed and thrive for the next hundreds of years. If there wasn't a business reason for getting into the Carolina market – including (likely) healthy margins and (likely) more digital-first customers – I don't believe the Athletic would be looking at Carolina (and other sports-thirsty cities) as an expansion opportunity.
And this isn't just a media problem. This extends into any organization who isn't willing to look at itself and ask the hard question:
What do we need to change today to be more relevant and to deliver a better customer experience tomorrow?
I don't know much about The News & Observer, which might make me the right type of individual to provide some honest feedback. I don't live in the Charlotte/ North Carolina area, although I do have some friends that live there and we've been out there a handful of times to know what a beautiful part of the world it is.
Here are two tweaks to The News & Observer's website to help them answer the question above.
Example one: Give them something for free
Instead of having a "Subscribe" button, have a 'free' button: Subscribe for free or Try The N&O for free. This is a great way to get folks - even those not quite ready to plunk down on a paid subscription - to become involved in your reporting. Hint hint: Even better, they are great candidates for an upsell campaign (assuming you are delivering the right experience).
"Wait, nothing is free" you might say. That's true. Hire a kid from one of the many local Universities and:
- Build an automated email campaign that's triggered by the daily top five most popular articles
- Split your "to be subscribers" list into two segments: AM and PM
- Over a two-week period, send the same auto-generated list of articles to each group at two different times: One at 5:00 AM and one at 5:00 PM
- See which one performs better over the two week period - send all to the winner
- Start testing other options: All text vs. image heavy; Full articles vs. excerpted articles; A/B test subject lines; A/B test sender names, etc.
This certainly isn't free, yet I bet the insights you gain from this experience will be far greater than anything you'd pay for. It shouldn't take more than 48 hours to complete example one.
Your goal should be to get your articles in front of as many people as possible. Then, give them a reason to pay for reading your articles.
Ps: Give the kid free lunch, a tour of the facility, a paper pulled right from the press and a great recommendation.
Bonus tip: You can make the "Free" button a brand color. Double w00t.
Example two: Give them a better experience
Egad! What's with all the tracking scripts?
My guess is you can't name what each script does. Or better yet, how does each script deliver value to your customer/reader?
See if you can live with out 50% of them this week. Just turn them off and see what happens. My guess is that you won't know the difference. My other guess is that your customers will notice a difference – your website will load faster, delivering a better experience.
Here are a few questions to ask:
- How many visitors are viewing my website on a mobile device?
- Of those, how many are on a cellular service when visiting my website?
- Of those, how many are in rural/non-metro communities?
- Of those, what is the average load time for your home page? Your five most popular pages?
If that's a substantial number, did you realize you are charging those visitors to view your website? Non-wifi access to your site costs people money. Right from their pocket via their cellular plan.
Another option – Why not poach one of the digital folks at The Athletic that will have a hand in building their Carolina-focus team? You might not have a salary that will get them excited however I bet if you offered the right blend of ownership and incentive, it wouldn't be hard from them to write their own "Some personal news to share" article.