Editor’s note: The buzz about local news and the future of DecaturishDecaturish Editor & Publisher Dan Whisenhunt & Reporter Zoe Seiler set up at the Decatur BBQ, Blues & Bluegrass Festival at Legacy Park on Saturday, Aug. 14, 2021. Photo by Dean Hesse.
This article is the kickoff of our push to get 700 new subscribers by July 1. To become a paying subscriber, visit supportyourlocalnews.com
Once seen as a leader in the digital future of news, Buzzfeed News announced this month that it is ceasing operations. Reports indicated that Vox Media and Vice Media are also struggling financially.
As Axios put it, “Companies like BuzzFeed, Vox Media, and Vice Media that rapidly expanded and raised lots of cash at high valuations in the aughts are struggling in a dramatically different media landscape.”
The teaser headline called it a “digital reckoning.”
Not long after that news broke, we learned that Nate Silver is losing his job along with other employees of FiveThirtyEight as Disney looks to cut costs. The reckoning will continue as large digital companies struggle to make money and profit.
While the future for big brands and highly leveraged digital publications appears uncertain, for Decaturish, it’s a different story. On paper, we are profitable. In fact, according to our tax guy, 2022 was our best year ever … on paper.
(Speaking of paper, as bizarre as it sounds, the economics of the publishing business still heavily favor print. There’s a paper down in Florida serving retirees printing as many copies as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.)
We aren’t highly leveraged. We also aren’t making what I like to call Wall Street money, meaning our profits are in the thousands, not the millions. What we do make goes back into the company, meaning we spend it on content and operations. And we’re making progress. Decaturish isn’t saddled with unreasonable expectations or debts.
Like any digital media company, we face our own challenges. Getting traditional print advertisers to consider spending their money on digital advertising, particularly when companies like Google and Facebook charge a fraction of the price to beam ads directly into people’s brains, is a struggle.
But we have a two-pronged approach to sustainability: there are advertisers, and then there’s you. The 144,000ish unique readers visiting our site every month are the people we increasingly turn to for support. With our 2,500 paying subscribers, we’re already achieving at a high level for a small news website.
Our first full-time reporter, Zoe Seiler, is celebrating her second anniversary with us. We’ve expanded our coverage to the Clarkston, Stone Mountain, and Tucker communities. We are covering DeKalb County Schools now, but of course, we’d like to do more with that beat because it needs scrutiny.
Our readers have stepped in to save the day when we’ve faced challenges. Even though our longtime ad sales rep retired last year, and we went through a period where we had to end all freelance work while we got that straightened out, a fundraiser that saw us raise $22,000 saved our ass. We lived to fight another day.
I’m pleased to announce after months of trying to make that work on my own, we have a new ad sales representative, Anne Clarke. While I was without someone to handle advertising, I learned two important things: selling digital advertising for a local news website is harder than I could’ve imagined, and I don’t have the temperament to do it. I can handle it if needed, but I’m better off running the newsroom and overseeing the fundraising. I have a more reliable track record there.
That’s why I’m focusing on getting 700 new subscribers by July 1. We need 700 of our 144,000 readers to consider kicking in $6 a month to help us do what we do. Having more subscribers means sustaining what we have and growing the company. It’s an achievable goal, especially if readers in some of our newer communities join us. Face it: There’s really no one else covering these communities. Not like we are. We are providing a valuable service, and we are doing so without putting the news behind a paywall.
What do our subscribers get? Aside from the ongoing coverage of their communities? Starting May 1, they’ll be getting an ad-free version of our e-edition as we make our ad-supported version free to all readers. They can also access our private Facebook and Slack groups, where they directly communicate with the Decaturish team in real-time. When possible, we offer our clients special deals provided by the businesses supporting us.
We’re always looking to do more for our subscribers. They’re a critical part of what we do.
Nationally, digital media may face an uncertain future. We think the future looks brighter at the local level. Decaturish proves that you can create a sustainable digital news product if you remain focused, maintain a relationship with your readers, and have realistic expectations.
Print may be king of local news for now, but it won’t be forever. Support the digital future of local news and help continue our important work by becoming a subscriber today. To sign up, visit supportyourlocalnews.com
If you appreciate our work on this story, please become a paying supporter. For as little as $6 a month, you can help us keep you in the loop about your community. To become a supporter, click here.
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