This blog post is one of several written by attendees of the Philadelphia Innovation Mission, Oct. 16-18, 2019, which focused on consumer revenue and digital transformation. We asked recipients of the Google News Initiative Innovation Mission scholarships to provide insight into their experience. Mariah Craddick, product manager for audience at McClatchy, found six emerging trends worth noting from the trip. 

Mariah Craddick

The winds of change are blowing in Philly. During this Innovation Mission, which lasered in on consumer revenue and digital transformation, we witnessed firsthand how Philadelphia’s local news organizations are shifting to audience-centric digital businesses – and how it’s paying off.

As I left, I felt deeply inspired and hopeful about the future of local news and the role it plays in our communities. Here are six themes that emerged from the trip to leave you feeling inspired, too.

1. Culture is everything. Or to quote The Philadelphia Inquirer’s VP of People and Culture Lauren Kauffman: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast … and lunch … and dinner.” Transformational change requires buy-in throughout the organization. And a strategy is only as good as the people who execute it. This point came up a number of times throughout the IM, from the GNI Subscriptions Lab findings that strategic direction and organizational alignment were two of the most crucial components for success, to learning about the iterative restructuring The Inquirer continues to do to set itself up for a digital future. It was abundantly clear how crucial a role culture must play in our transformations.

2. Collaboration is the new wave. We don’t have to go it alone. Finding ways to partner up with other local news organizations, associations, etc. for coverage opportunities and even funding is part of “what’s working” in local news. The Resolve Philly initiative, a partnership of 24 news organizations across Philadelphia that “develops and advances journalism built on equity, collaboration and the elevation of community voices and solutions,” shows how much more impactful we can be to our communities when we band together.

3. We all have to adopt a more experimental mindset. No one has it all figured out. And what might work for one organization won’t work for all. From the content we create to how we deliver it to how we get people to pay for it — times of great disruption calls for experimentation. As we dived into case studies from the GNI Subscriptions Lab with The Baltimore Sun and the Houston Chronicle, it was clear that both were finding success in growing the top of the funnel by adopting this type of mindset.

4. Can local news organizations find financial sustainability without pricing out the people and communities we serve? This was a question we discussed in depth during the IM. As we introduce higher price points, subscriber-only content, and the like, how do we make sure we don’t price out those who need us the most? We didn’t walk away with the answer, but figuring out ways to provide access to those who can’t always afford it is something we should all be thinking about.

5. We all have to provide better user experiences digitally. Readers expect good digital experiences and won’t tolerate less (for long). This includes better page load times and frictionless reading experiences, payment, and cancellations (sorry ’bout it!).

6. Local news isn’t dead. Nor are people’s appetites for it. There are so many bright spots to look towards, whether it’s the phenomenal work happening at The Inquirer or how WHYY and Beasley Media Group are finding success in adapting their business models to meet new audiences where they are. This is an exhilarating time to be in this business.