Jason Murray

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. Jason Murray, director of audience and visuals for Syracuse.com, shares his top learnings from the trip. 

The to-do-list and notes I brought home from the Innovation Mission filled plenty of pages so it was hard coming up with just five takeaways.

But I’m in the news business and I know a thing or two about a challenge, so here’s my take at what to think about as all of our organizations continue down the road of digital subscriptions.

1. Who’s your champion?

I was one of the few members at the Innovation Mission on the content side as opposed to product.

While the product side is committed to the mission of digital subscriptions, I’m not so sure content teams are all the way there yet. For years, most content teams have been focused on page views.

In order for a digital subscription model to truly work, the content side needs someone as their champion to lead the effort and work with the product team. In order for the organization to fully function, all departments must play a role and it can’t just be up to the product team to get it done.

2. Access for all

One of the surprising reactions during the trip came during the first session, when I said our list price is $19.99. Pete Doucette, who was leading the session at the time, replied that we should be charging more. There was universal agreement in the room that our content has value and we shouldn’t be afraid of charging the right price for it.

However, that brings up another question. While part of our mission as news publishers is to run like a business and make money, we also have a responsibility to uphold democracy. If we’re charging high prices, will our content only be affordable to those that can afford it and will everyone else get left behind?

There isn’t a perfect answer to this question, but balancing our need to be a viable business and serving the role defined in the First Amendment will be something we all need to reckon with.

3. How do we talk to our reporters?

We spent the better part of a day at The Philadelphia Inquirer and one thing that stood out was how every department was pulling in the same direction when it comes to digital subscriptions.

A fascinating part of their operation is the individual indexes for each reporter. No, you can’t define anyone’s work by numbers alone and that isn’t the point. But it does provide a way for reporters to see how their work can affect subscriptions. Those numbers provided to reporters with context about things like visitors per post or conversions per post can be great starting points for conversations about how to further the mission of the newsroom.

4. The relationship doesn’t end once a reader hits ‘Subscribe’

We talked a bit about the value of membership and subscriber benefits. Daniel Williams of BlueVenn brought up an interesting point a couple of times about how we should be viewing our customers.

I probably can’t do Daniel’s point justice, but the basic premise is that when someone buys a subscription we should be thinking of that possible household and all of the possible paid relationships we can make with the people in that household. So in addition to that subscription, we’re trying to understand everyone that’s part of that subscription (mom, dad, kids) and come up with different products that meet the needs of everyone there.

In short, the possible revenue stream is not just customers paying for a subscription. There’s much more potential revenue waiting for us.

5. Everyone is still trying to figure this out

One of the great things about this Innovation Mission is meeting a bunch of talented people and getting great ideas to bring back to your newsroom. From The Philadelphia Inquirer to The Venture Café to Beasley Media Group to WHYY, we were bombarded with new approaches and innovative people trying to figure this out.

While it’s a challenge that no one has completely solved, it’s also a little refreshing to see that no one has completely solved it. It makes it feel a little less scary that you and your organization haven’t figured it out as well.

Bonus takeaway: Find yourself a Fab Cab

This really has nothing to do with digital content, but we were assigned to Uber groups for the Innovation Mission. It was my great fortune to be assigned to the same group as Darya Ushakova, Mariah Craddick, Ben Smith and Nancy Lane. Nancy (I think it was Nancy) dubbed us the “Fab Cab” on the first night and even though one or two of us always somehow ended up cramped in the back of a big Uber, we had a great time riding through Philadelphia.

Read more: Philadelphia Innovation Mission attendees share biggest lessons

Mariah Craddick, product manager for audience at McClatchy, found six emerging trends worth noting from the trip