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Feb. 27, 2018, 12:27 p.m.
Audience & Social
LINK:  ➚   |   Posted by: Christine Schmidt   |   February 27, 2018

After testing subscriptions in Instant Articles and prioritizing local content in the News Feed, Facebook will now be coaching local news publishers on “unlock[ing] strategies that help…build digital customer acquisitions on and off our platform” in its pilot Local News Subscriptions Accelerator.

The $3 million, three-month-long pilot brings in 13 metropolitan newsrooms: the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Boston Globe, the Chicago Tribune, The Dallas Morning News, The Denver Post, The Miami Herald, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Omaha World-Herald, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Seattle Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, The Tennessean, and Newsday.

These publishers will gather in person once a month, complete weekly trainings on digital subscription marketing, and design their own project for putting the trainings in action (supported by grant funding). But additional newsrooms across the country will also get access to some of the strategies through the Lenfest Institute, the Local Media Consortium (1,600 individual publications), Local Media Association (3,000 newspapers, TV stations, digital news sites, and radio stations), and the News Media Alliance (2,000 news organizations).

“The Accelerator has been designed by publishers for publishers,” Jim Friedlich, the Lenfest Institute’s executive director, said.

Of note: The News Media Alliance also just formed a political action committee to push U.S. lawmakers to focus on the “news media business and newsgathering interests” on behalf of the trade group’s members. Those interests indubitably include vying for audience and advertising dollars against Facebook and Google — as Facebook encourages publishers toward subscriptions in the accelerator.

“We’re saying, ‘Thank you, but we’re not there yet,” said NMA president and CEO David Chavern, in response to Facebook’s efforts.

Media heads have called for regulators to take a closer look at Facebook and other platforms. “In a Google and Facebook world, monetization of digital and mobile continues to be more difficult than we would have expected or liked,” CNN’s Jeff Zucker said yesterday. “I think we need help from the advertising world and from the technology world to find new ways to monetize digital content, otherwise good journalism will go away.”

Axios’ Sara Fischer pointed out that these “increased calls for regulation to curb the dominance of Google and Facebook make it easier for NMA to argue for repealing existing media competition laws that prevent news organizations from working together to negotiate better deals with major internet platforms.”

Mark Zuckerberg posited in January that if Facebook focuses on “concrete local issues, then we’d all make more progress together.” With the accelerator, Facebook is investing in that claim. The test for subscriptions in the Instant Articles included some local news organizations, such as The Boston Globe, the Houston Chronicle, the San Francisco Chronicle, and then-Tronc properties the Los Angeles Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune, as well as the (still-Tronc) Baltimore Sun.

Meanwhile, if you want to read up on recent subscriber behavior, a report was released Tuesday from the Media Insight Project from the American Press Institute and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Drawing on more than 4,000 new subscribers to 90 local newspapers (though 65 percent of respondents were over age 65), the report found that 60 percent of respondents cited wanting access to local news as a factor in signing up. Twenty-five percent of respondents followed the news organization on social media before subscribing. Another key finding:

Print and digital subscribers are different. Digital subscribers in this study tend to be younger, male, and more educated than print readers. Digital readers are more often attracted by good coverage of a particular topic than are print readers (38 percent vs. 25 percent), and by noticing especially useful or interesting content (47 percent vs. 36 percent). Half of digital subscribers are triggered to subscribe by hitting a paywall meter, and they are more likely than print readers to be motivated by a desire to support local journalism (38 percent vs. 29 percent).

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