TV, online executives share innovative business ideas
NEW YORK – A panel of six online and television news leaders provided a vibrant cross-section of ideas on developing and working toward profitability for news aimed at niche markets—many for ethnic and cultural minorities—that are becoming more accessible in the digital age. The panelists expressed enthusiasm about the ability to innovate to reach targeted audiences in new ways.
NEW YORK – A panel of six online and television news leaders provided a vibrant cross-section of ideas on developing and working toward profitability for news aimed at niche markets—many for ethnic and cultural minorities—that are becoming more accessible in the digital age.
The panel was moderated by Mei-Mei Chan, president and publisher of The News-Press Media Group in Fort Meyers, FL, who was serving as the principal facilitator for “Leadership in Diversity: New Models for Growing Audience, Talent & Revenue” at the New York Times Conference Center.
Overall, the panelists expressed enthusiasm about the ability to innovate to reach targeted audiences in new ways.
Tonja Brown, senior director for strategic integration at CNN, highlighted the importance and power of brands. She gave an example of how a mainstream news organization could work with a well-established source of news aimed at black women. CNN partnered with Essence Magazine, another Time-Warner property, in an effort to leverage its credibility in general news with that of Essence in the black community and sell that collaboration to advertisers.
They worked together to produce the “Black in America” series and sought to get sponsorship for the broadcasts from McDonald's, which generally does not advertise on news shows but does target diverse audiences. “McDonald's has that reputation, but few knew that a significant portion of the CNN audience is African American” she said. McDonald's wound up as a sponsor of the broadcasts.
Brown said that news organizations too often become hesitant to launch efforts in communities of color when the ventures evolve as more complicated than initially thought. She mentioned, for instance, concerns and indecisions about how to reach out to a Latino community that is internally diverse because its members come from different countries. “That challenge often curtails progress,” she said. “You have to be agile in how you execute your goal.”
Maritza Puello, executive editor of NY1 Noticias, explained the workings of a double-barreled news operation with the same basic brand, but a market within a market. Noticias was launched by Puello in 2003 as the first 24-hour cable news channel in Spanish and the companion to the English-language NY1 News.
The Spanish content is a combination of news that is important to New Yorkers of any language, such as traffic and weather; Latino takes on general news; and some stories that are primarily of interest to Latinos, who make up about one third of the city's population. In many instances, she is covering the same stories side by side with NY1 News. The two-person approach may be more expensive, but also is more effective in drawing her targeted audience. Simply translating one story to the other language would not be as effective, she said.
A single sales staff sells advertising for both channels, but unfortunately, Puello said, there is no one on that staff intricately familiar with the Latino communities in the five boroughs of the city.
Two members of the panel were veteran mainstream journalists, both black, who are now leading online only websites aimed primarily at African Americans—one who had chosen to go it on his own and the other working as a relatively small entity of a Fortune 500 company.
Glenn Burkins was an award-winning reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Wall Street Journal and deputy managing editor of The Charlotte Observer. He is now editor, publisher and owner of Qcitymetro.com, aimed at the more than 731,000 African Americans who comprise about one-third of the nine-county metropolitan area around Charlotte, often referred to locally as the Queen City.
Burkins said the three-year-old website has 30,000 unique viewers each month and a reach among black residents second only to that of the Observer. So far it is moderately profitable. “Some months we do very well,” Burkins said, “and then others, not so well.”
Like many start-ups, Burkins has a minimal full-time staff to support because he uses mostly part-timers and freelancers. Most of his advertising sales have been traditional banner-type ads, but he is now working to obtain content-related sponsorship of regular features on personal finance and health and wellness from, respectively, a bank and a health care insurance company. It's important to focus on the revenue from day one, he advised the audience.
Joel Dreyfuss, managing editor of theroot.com said his website, owned by The Washington Post Company, has about 2 million unique viewers each month, and is “on track” to become profitable. He said 2011, so far, has been a good year—in fact, competitors seemed to now be on the prowl.
Dreyfuss said that although theroot.com reaches an audience that is 20 percent to 40 percent white, advertisers appear to be interested primarily in the black viewers rather than the entire multicultural community the site attracts.
Jan Schaffer, executive director of J-Lab, the Institute for Interactive Journalism at American University, said that one way to launch news and information websites for such targeted audiences was to develop hyper-local partnerships with community groups, perhaps through local journalism schools.
She cited a foundation-funded Philadelphia project that provided seed money for 14 community sites that produced 300 stories that most likely would not have been told by mainstream media. “This is an exportable model to seek and partner with community,” Schaffer said.
Another foundation-funded start-up discussed was “Our Chinatown,” a five-month-old hyper local website that is a pilot project of the New York chapter of the Asian American Journalists Association. It covers Manhattan's Chinatown in English and currently attracts 7,000 unique viewers each month, according to its developer, Paul Cheung.
Plans are in the works, he said, to grow the users when the site goes bilingual in an expansion that will cover the sizable Chinese-American communities in Brooklyn and Queens.
Some 80 news leaders and executives and diversity advocates attended the two-day session focusing on revenue potential for reaching markets of different types. The sessions were planned and coordinated by a broad cross section of news industry representatives and news-related institutes with financial support from the ASNE, Ford, Gannett and McCormick foundations, the Philip L. Graham Fund and The Times.