You read that headline right: A long-serving print and digital news outlet is expanding, hiring 10 new reporters and adding coverage to a new area of its state.
The story of the launch of the Shreveport-Bossier City Advocate offers hope — and repeatable lessons about sustaining local news — that can be a roadmap for all local news outlets looking to serve undercovered communities. This is a story about not just how to survive but how to thrive as local news providers.
Georges Media Group is the largest local media company in Louisiana, serving New Orleans and Baton Rouge via The Times-Picayune and NOLA.com/The Advocate. In July, the company launched a new 10-person digital-first newsroom in northwest Louisiana to serve Shreveport, the state’s third-largest metropolitan area.
The company enabled this newsroom expansion, at a time when so many communities are seeing contraction in trusted sources of local news, through a combination of community listening, philanthropic support, and commitment from traditional advertisers, along with a digital-first distribution strategy.
It starts with community listening
The opportunity to expand started with listening to the community. “One of our statewide reporters was covering the Mayoral race in Shreveport and kept hearing from local officials and sources that there was a void in local coverage in the market,” said Judi Terzotis, publisher of Georges Media Group. Terzotis and the editor followed up, and what they heard was “compelling enough for us to launch a listening tour.”
Over three months, leaders from the news organization met with more than 90 community leaders, business owners and concerned citizens. Terzotis said gatherings ranged in size “from small coffee chats to 30 folks in a meeting hall.”
“We heard many of the same stories about how people got their news,” said Terzotis. “A common theme was, ‘There’s this guy on Facebook that sometimes goes to meetings.’”
The listening tour confirmed the community’s need and interest. The next key was designing a newsroom built for sustainability, both in terms of revenue sources and distribution strategy.
Modernized content strategy and distribution
The Shreveport-Bossier City Advocate newsroom launched with an editorial staff of 10, focused on key issue areas that surfaced during the community listening tour, like city hall, local business, safety and school beats.
The Advocate also has a decidedly digital distribution model.
A daily email newsletter, distributed each morning, is its core digital product. There’s a news website, an evening newsletter update, and a weekend Best Of edition, with more newsletters planned.
Diversified funding model
“We were clear from the beginning that to fund a 10-person newsroom we’d need a combination of grant funding, traditional advertising and digital subscriptions,” said Terzotis.
Philanthropy was a key pillar, so the team partnered with the Community Foundation of North Louisiana to launch a local journalism fund. “Without philanthropy, we could afford only a small newsroom of 2-3 reporters,” said Terzotis, who noted that the concept of for-profits raising grant funds was new to just about everyone the team talked with on the listening tour.
“We spent the time explaining how it works and sharing our history of grant-funded reporters in other markets,” said Terzotis.
It was also essential to get more traditional, local advertisers on board. In the listening tour, Terzotis said, she wasn’t shy about asking local business leaders to “come to the table” if they wanted to see this kind of coverage in their community. Before launch, the Shreveport-Bossier City Advocate already had commitments from key local businesses like Ochsner Health, Red River Chevrolet and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana.
The third component of funding will be subscriptions to the site’s newsletters and website. Readers can sign up at no cost for the daily email newsletter, which includes a daily note by the city editor. Those who pay for full subscriptions to ShreveportBossierAdvocate.com can also access news from NOLA.com and TheAdvocate.com.
Terzotis said no other option in the state offers subscribers access for one price to all four of Louisiana’s largest markets, and added both free and paid subscriptions paced ahead of their goals for the first month.
“We are excited to get very involved in the community and host events that celebrate the unique culture of north Louisiana.”
NOLA.com / The Advocate is a graduate of the LMA Lab for Journalism Funding and the LMA Advanced Fundraising Lab, The company is a participant in the LMA Family and Independent Media Sustainability Lab. All three labs are made possible with sustained support from Google News Initiative.