Rural Journalism Business Models

Increasingly, outlets and analysts argue that news business models will be poorly served by relying heavily on traditional advertising. These challenges are especially prevalent in hyperlocal rural news, where the total potential audience for an outlet is often relatively small and the number of interested advertisers (and their budgets) equally so. At the same time, local outlets serve a purpose that can’t be tackled on a broad scale: there remains community interest in staying connected to what’s happening at the most local level, in a way that regional coverage cannot provide. How do local outlets in rural places capitalize on the strength of their embeddedness and their connection to the community in a way that is sustainable?

Even as we see indications that events and community engagement efforts have a correlation with people who are willing to pay to support the news, few have had opportunities to test whether and what kinds of engagement efforts have an influence on the success of subscriber-based local news. A few niche media studies have suggested that engagement initiatives do have the potential to increase subscription. But what would that look like for hyperlocals serving small towns and rural communities—often the outlets that face the most precarious financial futures?

This project takes a deep dive into how various strategies influence the subscription business model, using one rural hyperlocal as a case study. Over the course of 3 months, this project will work with Ohio County Monitor—a locally-owned hyperlocal digital publication in Ohio County, Kentucky, that has just converted to a subscription model and has participated in our ongoing “Polarization to Public Sphere” project—to conduct a series of engagement and outreach activities and monitor the corresponding subscription rates and subscriber opinions over the course of this process.

Project leads: Sam Ford

Team member: Andrea Wenzel

January 01, 2018