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How Automation Will Save Local Journalism

Advertising has long been the economic engine responsible for keeping the newspaper industry chugging along, but it’s in terrible danger of careening off the rails. The main culprit? Ad revenue plummeting from $65 billion in 2000 to less than $19 billion in 2016.

Advances in content automation now allow publishers to create high-quality local news for a fraction of the cost. This means forward-thinking publishers can drive better margins, increase profits, and retain more journalists. 

Akin to a music industry that stubbornly believed consumers would shell out hard-earned cash for plastic CDs until the end times, newspaper publishers failed to adapt when free advertising platforms like Craigslist gained steam. To put it more succinctly: When was the last time you bought a newspaper instead of visiting Craiglist to track down used products like cars and furniture?

To create an equitable efficiency that counters this loss of revenue, some papers moved to subscription models that proved to be unviable, especially for local news outlets. The most promising solution is incorporating automation to improve the breadth of coverage, margin profiles, and journalist efficiency.

Why Local Journalism Remains Important

Despite the dramatic decrease in advertising revenue, readers still possess an insatiable thirst for news, and even more so at the local level. 

Local journalism is a conduit for local communities, especially smaller neighborhoods typically overlooked by national news outlets. A perfect example is the community-bonding nature of high school football. Writers and editors in this space are practically nonexistent due to layoffs, but communities love reading about players, coaches, and matchups, which makes this content a prime opportunity to capture new subscribers and sell more papers.

Undercoverage at the local level can be dangerous as well. Coastal cities need to understand the impact of rising sea levels, parents must know if there are recent medical outbreaks, and residents need to be aware of crime sprees or dangerous individuals. These types of stories must make their way into the hands of local citizens despite newsrooms that continue to experience massive layoffs.

Local stories also have the power to galvanize communities. Readers want up-to-date news about sports stars, council meeting coverage keeps residents informed regarding changes in their neighborhoods, constituents can better understand and be informed about the positions and policies of their politicians, and more.

All of these scenarios have two things in common: They’re vital to communities and are solvable with content automation.

Current Market Conditions and Challenges

Before we dive deeper into the saving grace that is content automation, let’s explore a few market conditions that challenge publishers.

As the precipitous decline in revenue has shown, advertising cannot sustain budgets, which is ironic because reports claim that U.S. digital ad spend went over the $100 billion mark in 2018. Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, and OfferUp are just a few leading platforms in a crowded space that connect local buyers and sellers, a domain historically dominated by print and online ads.

Along with rapidly changing market conditions, loss of advertising dollars means publishers are forced to lay off journalists despite a higher-than-ever appetite for local news. This means there are more stories than available resources, and some outlets have no choice but to consolidate news sources even at the risk of jeopardizing a local-first approach.

Finally, how do local publishers know what to write about in the first place? Sure, a local earthquake or state championship is a no-brainer, but what about the 30-50% of locally focused Google searches?

Enter automation to play the role of conductor to get this publishing locomotive back on its tracks.

How Automation Solves Publisher Problems

With local journalism as relevant today as ever before, automation is the answer to the industry’s problems.

Automation enables local publications to produce copious amounts of content at a fraction of the cost of traditional writers, and the increased content inventory opens doors to more significant income opportunities at a better margin profile.

Content automation is utilized to produce data-driven news to free up journalists to perform deeper and more investigative-type stories. By automating portions of local news, publishers can generate more profitable stories, which means maintaining and growing editorial teams. 

Another invaluable trait of automation is knowing what folks in the community are searching for to help publishers better understand what to write about. Automated intelligence can tell editors and writers about the topics they need to address. More targeted articles mean more web traffic, subscriptions, and papers sold. With more engaged readers on board, publishers can quantifiably show advertisers the growing readership. In turn, advertisers finally have a reason to flock to media publishers again with outstretched wallets.

It’s been a long and winding path for the publishing-industry train, but with automation’s ability to recognize what readers are searching for and craft captivating content, media companies can navigate the railway to profitability.

Author avatar
Jordan Nilsen
Jordan is a co-founder and Chief Marketing Officer of Data Skrive. He's spent the last 15 years in digital marketing and is always willing to debate the merits of the oxford comma.