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June 8, 2023, 2:23 p.m.
Business Models
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The Star Tribune is offering high school grads across Minnesota free one-year digital subscriptions

The Tribune set 200 graduating seniors as an “original modest benchmark” for sign-ups and has already surpassed 250.

It’s the season for graduation presents, and this year, the Star Tribune is offering an unusual gift to Minnesota’s entire graduating high school Class of 2023: a free, one-year digital subscription.

The new initiative, which was first announced in late April, is the latest experiment of the Star Tribune’s News in Education program. Just before the 2020 presidential election, the Star Tribune expanded that program to offer free digital subscriptions to all Minnesota school districts with the goal of strengthening news literacy through access.

Ken Lawrence, who leads the News in Education program as the Star Tribune’s education audience development manager, told me in an email that the graduation offer supports both the Tribune’s journalistic mission and its digital growth goals. “Our primary motivation [with the News in Education program] is to support teachers and schools in teaching social studies, civics, and current events with a credible local news source,” he said, noting that 287 educational institutions have signed up in the two full school years that free digital subscriptions have been available to them. He sees the graduation offer as an extension of that work. “In addition to aligning with our journalistic mission, this program supports our goal, we hope, of demonstrating the importance of Star Tribune, which will lead to more people making the choice for the Star Tribune — to make it part of their day and part of how they understand and engage with their community.”

The Tribune set 200 graduating seniors as an “original modest benchmark” for sign-ups, Lawrence said. “We have already surpassed 250, and momentum is continuing to spread.”

Demonstrating the value of reliable reporting to younger people, Lawrence said, is critical to ultimately grow the Star Tribune’s digital subscriptions and expand its readership. “We know that to continue our digital growth trajectory we need to connect with and attract new audiences,” he said. “A big part of that connection is to demonstrate to younger demographics the value of having a trusted news source with credible journalism.” Access, he added, is a key step to establishing that trust and sense of value, especially for younger audiences in an age of rampant misinformation.

Graduates can sign up in a simple Google form, and do not have to provide payment information — just their names, high school and personal email addresses, the high school they’re graduating from, and their ZIP code. Aside from most young people lacking the means to pay for a news subscription, Lawrence noted “we also know that they can be hesitant to make long-term commitments and to provide payment information.” By contrast, “Signing up for a free subscription is the kind of ‘micro-commitment’ research shows young people are more inclined to make.”

Star Tribune CEO Steve Grove encouraged new graduates to take advantage of the offer Wednesday on Twitter:

Grove, a former Google executive who was the founding director of Google News Lab and recently served as Minnesota’s economic development commissioner, took the helm of the Star Tribune in April following the retirement of digital news pioneer Mike Klingensmith. Klingensmith is recognized for steering the Star Tribune to a standout level of success for a legacy regional newspaper by pushing a digital subscription model earlier than most peers, succeeding at keeping revenue and the newsroom’s size relatively steady. When he retired, Klingensmith emphasized that the Star Tribune needed to turbocharge its digital subscribers even further so that they would significantly outnumber print subscribers, “along the lines of a local equivalent of what the New York Times and Washington Post have been able to do nationally,” the Star Tribune reported.

“We started with a very modest goal for [high school graduate] sign-ups, and that was surpassed within the first few days,” Lawrence said. “We’ve been surprised by and grateful for the interest.”

Photo of graduates by Emmanuel Offei on Unsplash.

POSTED     June 8, 2023, 2:23 p.m.
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