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Journalists Are Trading Newsrooms For Newsletters

Email puts it right in front of them and meets people where they’re at.

Angel James

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“Brevity is the soul of wit.” -William Shakespeare

In other words, say more with less. 

We all know a long-winded Polonius from Hamlet, who will take five minutes to tell you what he could have said in 30 seconds. In 2020, where attention and time are money, where there is constant noise coming at us from all different directions, one digital news startup is banking on brevity.

BANKING ON BREVITY

axios.com

Axios is putting its money on “smart brevity,” its motto and registered trademark.

In a sea of layoffs, furloughs and newsroom closures, the three-year old startup is poised to make a profit this year in spite of the pandemic that has shuttered newsrooms across the country with
smart, efficient news worthy of your time, attention and trust.”

The company is on track to take in about $58 million in 2020, up more than 30% from the year before, according to The Wall Street Journal, thanks in large part to its sponsored newsletter business, which makes up more than 50% of the company’s total revenue.

Now, Axios is now positioning itself to fill a gap that is widening by the day in local news. Early next year, Axios plans to launch local newsletters in four local markets:

  • Minneapolis
  • Denver
  • Tampa, Florida
  • Des Moines, Iowa

Axios was founded by Jim VandeHei, Mike Allen and Roy Schwartz after they left Politico. They’re not alone. Journalists are leaving newsrooms and becoming their own media companies.

theskimm.com

The Skimm was founded in 2012 by two former news producers who launched it from their couch. A brand which now includes newsletters, an app, podcasts, video social and community reaching an audience of 12 million people across platforms.

morningbrew.com

At the end of August, the Morning Brew hit one million unique daily opens. Alex Lieberman and co-founder, Austin Rief, were two bankers, who launched the Morning Brew to liven up traditional business news reporting and make it more conversational and fun.

Instead of focusing on subscribers, the word that makes for great headlines, The Morning Brew focused on metrics that matter: Open rates.

Similar to social media, a lot of attention is paid to follower counts, but it’s a vanity metric—things you can measure that don’t matter. As entrepreneur & author, Tim Ferris, puts it:

“Vanity metrics: Good for feeling awesome, bad for action.”

A subscriber that isn’t opening an email isn’t a valuable metric.

So, The Morning Brew hyper focused on engagement and for email newsletters, that’s open rates. 

As co-founder, Austin Rief, tweeted, The Morning Brew would stop what they were doing to see at 11am every day to see the open rates, then they’d write it on their “great wall of opens.”  

A daily reminder of what really matters.

They also hopped on Instagram Stories early and benefitted greatly from that. 

Other journalists are leaving newsrooms and using tech companies such as Substack to reach an audience.

Emily Atkin, a former reporter at the New Republic, told the Washington Post that she got into a position I believe many journalists, including myself, do at some point or another, asking herself: “Is this publication giving me as much as I’m giving it?” 

heated.world

Soon after, she launched “Heated” a four-times-a-week newsletter on the climate crisis. It’s now one of Substack’s top paid publications.

substack.com

Substack describes itself as “A place for independent writing. We make it simple for a writer to start a paid newsletter.” 

The platform handles the technical end of the newsletter process in exchange for ten percent of the subscription revenue. 

Some journalists have left their publications to write on Substack full-time, including Matt Taibb, who left Rolling Stone & Andrew Sullivan who left New York Magazine to resurrect his blog, “The Dish.”  

Ten years ago, many declared “Email Is Dead,” as they turned to the next shiny new thing, Facebook. But algorithms are a tricky thing, deciding who sees your content and who doesn’t. Email puts it right in front of them and meets people where they are. 

I resigned from my TV producing job a few years ago, after 20+ in local television. It’s hard to leave the only thing you know whether you do it by choice or it’s a choice made for you. I had no plan. I wasn’t even on Facebook at the time. So, I wrote, started a blog… 

It’s that writing that connected me with my next opportunity.

I turned on the local news the other day for the first time in a long time. Same format, same way we were doing things 20 years ago. Nothing has changed.

I looked up their Instagram accounts. One of them hasn’t posted since the First Day of Fall. That was September 22nd

Today is October 12th

A lot of news happened in that time…

Seems like a good time to remind you of another Shakespeare quote, “Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.”

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BNM Writers

How WTOP Consistently Became Radio’s Top Revenue Generator

“You can’t just go in there and present. You have to go in and have a good conversation … and uncover what their needs and where you can help.”

Garrett Searight

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Last week, BIA Advisory Services revealed the top 10 radio revenue-generating stations for 2023. In what has become as expected as the sun rising in the East and setting in the West, Hubbard Radio’s WTOP was once again the top earning station for the year.

The projections claim WTOP earned $66.3 million in revenue for the year, which is nearly $25 million more than second-place KIIS-FM in Los Angeles. It was the ninth consecutive year the Hubbard Radio all-news brand took home the top spot, and the 13th time in the last 14 years it held first place.

It would be easy to question just what the secret formula is that leads the brand to the mountain top each and every year, but WTOP Senior Vice President and General Manager Joel Oxley believes it’s a relatively simple formula.

“We’re out there trying to work out marketing solutions and find marketing solutions for clients. We do everything we can to make sure to get things that work for them,” said Oxley.
“And whether that be WTOP just on the radio, or digital, or any number of different types of events, or more sponsorable things, we want to move the needle for them. So we’ve been concentrating on results for a very long time and working with clients to do that.”

That pure, unadulterated commitment to providing solutions for their advertising partners requires the brand to be early adopters of emerging platforms.

“We have to be extremely innovative to get in front of them. Most of the clients have heard it all,” continued Oxley. “You can’t just go in there and present. You have to go in and have a good conversation with them and try to uncover what their needs are and where you can help. Sometimes there’s not a good fit, but most of the time — with all the assets that we have, meaning digital, radio, and online, our websites — there’s a lot of different answers that we can come up with that will hopefully move the needle for somebody.”

A cynic could quickly dismiss the brand’s near-constant success as simply receiving millions in agency buys as a byproduct of being one of the top-rated stations in the eighth-largest media market in the country.

But that isn’t the case with WTOP.

“We’re now over 70% direct,” revealed Oxley. “While we always want to work with agencies and love working with agencies, that situation has just changed over the years. There’s not the amount of avails that there used to be, so we’ve had to go out and be very creative and work really hard and make sure to do the numbers.

“You got to prospect well, and then you’ve got to make a lot of outreaches. Then you’ve got to get a ton of appointments to hopefully get to the proposal stage to where you can close something. And then you’d have to make sure you deliver results because we’re dealing with people or CMOs and marketing directors and business owners who need to make sure that they’re getting results. That’s what we’ve concentrated on for decades here. We just keep after it.”

Despite being mostly focused on direct sales, WTOP — and sister station Federal News Network — also benefit from being in the nation’s capital, especially from federal contract advertisers interested in reaching employees of the federal government.

“That is something that we’ve worked really hard at,” Oxley said of the company’s relationships with the different advertising audience that many stations don’t have. “The combination of WTOP and the Federal News Network is a real good one.”

Oxley was quick to praise the station’s Director of Sales, Matt Mills, for his role in leading the station to be radio’s top-billing station year after year. He credited the consistency of working together for nearly 25 years as a driving factor in the continued revenue success.

And while the brand is focused on serving advertisers, that doesn’t mean that Oxley or Director of News and Programming Julia Ziegler lose sight of the fact that they also need to remain focused on serving Washington D.C. news consumers, too.

“It’s definitely a fine line to walk and we’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure that out,” admitted Oxley. “But one of the things we’ve realized over time is that we’ve actually had to go and do fewer minutes of advertising over time. We’ve just had to because, when you look at the broader landscape well beyond radio, you got to understand that there’s an awful lot of media out there that has a lot less advertising. And we’ve got to make sure that we’re at least somewhat competitive with the other media out there.”

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BNM Writers

Bill O’Reilly Hasn’t Stopped Calling Out Media Deception

Whether on the cable television airwaves or in his current form, Bill O’Reilly continues to fight back against the spin that has persisted since the dawn of the media.

Rick Schultz

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A photo of Bill O'Reilly

Bill O’Reilly has never had much use for the typical liberal spin put forth by much of the media. And just because he now podcasts independently, rather than on Fox News, doesn’t mean he has changed his approach.

Late last week on his YouTube channel, O’Reilly illuminated viewers about some of the latest media dishonesty. 

“The late-night comedians, the three of them, are a good example of this, of what’s happening,” O’Reilly said. “So most Americans are catching on. The news industry and the entertainment industry, on television, is corrupt. Not honest.”

Bill O’Reilly began with pop culture comedians and how they don’t seem to have as much influence in popular culture as they used to. 

“So The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, the week of April 29th, averaged 1.4 million people. More people watch me,” O’Reilly pointed out. “Late Show, Colbert, 2.3 million. Kimmel 1.6 million. Those are minuscule numbers when you think about Johnny Carson, Jay Leno, and David Letterman, those people. So nobody watches them. In fact, Fallon is down 33 percent in five years. Colbert is down 23 percent. Kimmel is down 2 percent, because Kimmel never had any audience anyway.”

During his heyday while ruling cable news at Fox, Bill O’Reilly would regularly appear on television programs from both sides, especially when promoting a new book from his Killing series. These days, he says, Americans care far less about what late-night jokesters think about issues of the day.

“Now, why this is happening is because the late-night guys will only do Progressive, liberal comedy and guests. They won’t book…I can’t get on any of those shows. Even though I was on Leno and Letterman all the time.  And on Kimmel too. But not now. It’s all left-wing,” O’Reilly explained. “Here’s what happened last night on Colbert.”

The program then cut to a clip of liberal commentator and former Biden spokeswoman, Jen Psaki. 

“I think what we’re looking at now is some significant stakes for the country about the future of our democracy,” Psaki told Colbert. “I don’t think that anyone should be hiding from that, or talking around that. So, I don’t try to be anyone other than who I am and I don’t try to do anything other than present what my point of view is in an informed way. I do it with facts.”

“I have dubbed her the Queen of Disinformation,” O’Reilly countered. “But in Jen Psaki’s mind, everything she says is fact-based. Everything. Because that’s what she wants to believe. Now, would Jen Psaki report that Biden misled the entire world by saying that inflation was nine percent when he took office? No. No, wouldn’t mention it. So when she says I base everything on fact, no you don’t. You don’t report what you don’t want to report.”

With the media, choosing what not to report plays a big part in manipulating an audience. And when they do cover a story, they can tailor an angle that supports their liberal worldview. 

For example, last week an NFL player made “news” with an uplifting, traditional, pro-God commencement speech at a Catholic university. The media headlines read, “Americans voice protesting opinions on NFL player’s controversial speech.” 

From reading that headline alone, one would automatically have a default view that there was something wrong with the content of the speech. 

In fact, counter to the media narrative, much of the country – if not most  – agreed with the content of the speech. Why not run the headline, “Americans celebrate NFL players’ courageous, uplifting and truthful speech.”

As O’Reilly has pointed out for decades, the media consistently tilts their material, in addition to picking and choosing which stories to present that help them make their case. He continued to criticize Biden’s former spokeswoman.

“Anything that would make Biden look bad, you’re going to ignore it totally. And she’s on MSNBC, if you don’t know. I don’t know how anybody would know because nobody watches MSNBC,” O’Reilly said. “When you add it all up, you see what’s happening with late-night, morning programming, the news agencies that run the nightly news broadcasts. When you see it all, it’s gone. And so Americans are adrift. They don’t have anywhere to get the information.”

Before concluding the segment, O’Reilly shared another example from last week, where the media told a story that fit their narrative without providing proper context and truthfulness. 

“So on Tuesday, Indiana had a primary. Inside the primary, Trump got 78 percent of the vote. Nikki Haley 22%. So that’s a pretty big number for Nikki Haley because she’s out of the race, right?” O’Reilly asked, facetiously. “Well here’s what the left-wing press said.”

He then played three clips.

“Nikki Haley, who’s been out of the race for two months, got 125,000 votes and 21 percent of the vote,” MSNBC’s Willie Geist reported. 

“Nikki Haley, someone who’s no longer actually running, taking a substantial share of the votes. But still, what you’re seeing in Indiana is a large number. 22 percent,” NBC’s Sr. National Political Correspondent, Jon Allen, said. 

“Haley actually delivering a warning sign for the former president in last night’s Republican primary in Indiana. While Trump did win, former candidate Nikki Haley grabbed 22 percent of the vote, even though she dropped out of the race in March,” the anchor said on ABC News.

“All of those people are lying to you. All of them,” O’Reilly said. “So that was MSNBC and ABC News. They’re all lying. Why were they lying? How are they lying? It was an open primary. Anybody could vote for anybody. Nikki Haley got 22 percent of the vote because Democrats crossed over to vote for her, just like New Hampshire. Remember New Hampshire?”

In other words, the media was lending a helping hand to liberals intent on shaping a narrative by manipulating their audience.

“Democrats wanted to embarrass Trump so they voted for Nikki Haley. Because Biden was a lock and they were instructed to do that. Why didn’t NBC News report that? And how about ABC News? Why didn’t you report that? No, no, it looks bad for Trump. Nikki Haley got 22 percent, sends a message. Totally bogus,” O’Reilly concluded.

Whether on the cable television airwaves or in his current form, Bill O’Reilly continues to fight back against the spin that has persisted since the dawn of the media.

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BNM Writers

Are The Days of Longform News Content a Thing of the Past?

It’s never been more important to get it right the first time in content, delivery and expediency.

Bill Zito

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A photo of a newspaper printing press

As usually is the case at any given time, there are several significant news stories that move along, often progressing day by day as the outlets work to keep up and turn them around for their audiences.

If you think about it, real-life events are presented almost like our current or past streaming series, The Crown, Bridgerton, Breaking Bad, or maybe The Sopranos, etc. The only real difference is we, the followers, are not allowed to binge-watch at our own desired speed. Chapters and episodes come only daily, even when what’s happening is changing minute by minute.

At present, tops on the watch lists include the Trump trial, the death of Iran’s President, and for some of you whose priorities are severely out of whack, Diddy’s apology. No matter what the community finds important, chances are they feel they are not getting enough information from their chosen news platforms on their specific stories of interest.

Radio and social media follow similar pathways, as they both lead their respective audiences to the information. The common key here is brevity. Leads and introductions are minimized and content overall shrinks to its smallest discernible size and time constraints.

Why?

The likely answer is simple. The content length is dwindling because the attention span of the current and future, targeted gallery member has as well. This is not a surprise, at least it shouldn’t be for anyone charged with tracking these things. That is not to say that that the target audiences are any less engaged or comprehend any less than the other members of society, not at all.

If anything, the targeted news consumer of the future, who are largely younger, tend to be a bit quicker, a little sharper on the uptake, and, most importantly, they know what they like and they are not going to wait around for the product to get better or to lead them where they want to go.

In other words, it’s never been more important to get it right the first time in content, delivery and expediency. That’s why more news events find themselves on Tik Tok, Instagram, or any one of the other social media go-to spots with which I possibly am unfamiliar.

Not everyone in radio gets this but some seem to be getting the message.

Okay, that’s a look at radio’s efforts but what are the other broadcast players doing to bring enough to the story table?

One brief live shot from Gaza, The Capitol, or New York followed by the overgrown panel of Cable Analysts does not qualify as extended TV coverage or storytelling. As I’ve more than inferred over time, these overblown panel presentations read more and look more like an episode of The Real Housewives of Who Cares, after one of them sits down to brunch with the others after having some work done.

But that’s mostly cable’s problem as they have hour-long shows to fill so they need unscripted time killers because like everybody else in the business, money is tight and spending resources on longer story segments, freelance crews in far away places and the overall cost of digging deeper into a story doesn’t seem to be a sensible use of the budget.

So where does the audience go for the longer form coverage? The network website? The print outlet’s paywall? How about the local TV station and their eight hours of news each day?

Nope.

You’re waiting for the answer, right? Well, I don’t know, either.

Actually, I’m guessing those who really care and who are genuinely interested in what’s going on are going everywhere. It may begin with the morning shows as they get ready for work, followed by news in the car or the paper on the train (Yes, a few still do that), leading to their phones and laptops during the day and reversing it all on the way home. Maybe that’s what’s happening.

If that is the case, they are taking a good chunk of their own time each day to do it. And while that might be good as they are technically spreading that wealth that is they, the audience around, it’s also not good for the news platforms because somebody always comes up short and winds up without a chair when the music stops.

Solution?

Everybody has to do a better job because nobody is answering polls, surveys, or focus groups saying “I get enough news from Platform A or Outlet B.”

Filling time with a diluted product gets the news station, network or tabloid to only one certain location:

Nowhere.

We just don’t know how long it will take to get there.

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