Day 3 of Mega-Conference Tackles Reader Retention, Legal Issues Affecting the Industry

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Close to 550 news professionals attended the 10th annual Key Executives Mega-Conference in Fort Worth, Texas, which concluded this morning with two sessions focused on two engaging topics.

The first session “How Hanging onto Digital Readers Can Keep Local News Hanging On” was moderated by Tim Franklin of the Medill School of Journalism. Franklin shared insights from his Local News Initiative project which examined why people are paying and not paying for news. The study featured statistics from the San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Tribune, USA TODAY Network, Newsday and Advance Local.

Using data/analytics and a few numerical formulas, Edward Malthouse, a research director at the Medill IMC Spiegel Research Center, shared what factors could become a newspaper’s “north star” for retention rates. He started with by studying the regularity of reading.

“The key is that content is still king,” Malthouse said, adding that “retention begins right at acquisition” usually at trial offers. He advised papers against starting offers at low rates, such as 99 cents, because it trains readers to think that’s how much the paper is worth, and once the price jumps after the offer ends, that’s when papers can start losing subscribers.

Malthouse looked at 19 news organizations (12 small markets, seven large ones) to study what drove retention. One of the most important factors is the user’s digital experience especially where advertising is place. For his experiment, he found that readers who had an ad blocker experienced a better reading experience. His study also found that the more local the content, the better it is for retention.

Malthouse shared three points to drive home his message: Communicate your value; pay attention to user experience; and not all page views drive retention.

Also on the panel were Christine Taylor, managing editor of audience of the Chicago Tribune, and Amalie Nash, vice president for local news of the USA TODAY Network/Gannett, who both shared how the project helped them build better user experiences and create more engaging content for their audiences.

The last session of the day featured attorneys from Seyfarth Shaw LLP who shared updates on the legal issues affecting all aspects of the industry. These legal challenges include the rising number of union-organizing campaigns at newspapers and at digital news outlets; the legal issues with categorizing independent contractors, including freelance journalists, as employees; and workplace harassment claims.

“I am certainly happy about the Mega-Conference this year," said Dean Ridings, CEO of America's Newspapers, who hosted the event along with the Local Media Association and News Media Alliance. "It was great to be in so many sessions where I was able to learn about the innovative practices and changes that taking place at newspapers around the country. The opportunity to be with so many industry friends, to recharge and to explore new ideas is more important than ever.”

According to Ridings, the location and dates for 2021 will be announced in the next few weeks.

For more information and a complete list of sessions, visit mega-conference.com.

Editor's Note: Story has been updated to include quote from Dean Ridings and 2021 announcement.

Mega-Conference

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