Reports of print media’s demise may be greatly exaggerated

Posted On October 4, 2018

Is print media dead?

Rumors of its demise abound. Distrust of media in general is high. Readers can find content free on the internet. And Craigslist has killed off the cash cow of classified ads.

Many once-thriving dailies have slashed their staffs, reduced their editions and turned their focus to the web. But look beyond the headlines and you’ll find smaller, independent weeklies still serving their communities with the news of the day in good, old-fashioned newsprint, and some are even thriving.

One such independent paper here in Mobile, Alabama, is Lagniappe. Joining us for this episode of “What’s Working with Cam Marston” are Lagniappe’s co-publishers, Rob Holbert and Ashley Toland Trice, who share with us the secret of surviving in print during the digital age.

Lagniappe was founded in 2002 as an alternative paper focused mainly on arts and entertainment coverage. The newspaper industry had already begun its downward spiral with the ascent of Craigslist, but Trice says it oddly may have been better to jump into the ring after the haymakers had already landed.

“I remember we got several calls from trade magazines saying, ‘Why on earth would you start a newspaper now?’” Trice recalls. “When you don’t have the (classified) revenue to lose — we never had it — it was sort of a blessing in a way because we had to find other ways to get advertising.”

Lagniappe weathered the recession of 2008 and, when Mobile’s major daily laid off much of its staff and reduced publication to three days a week in 2012, seized on the opportunity to ramp up to weekly publication and expand its focus to harder news coverage, including the in-depth investigative work for which it’s become known.

It has since grown into a major news source for the Mobile community, with a circulation of 30,000 and upwards of 80,000 readers a week. “We grew in double-digit numbers through all those years,” Holbert says. “I guess a lot of it was we were small to begin with.”

Part of it, however, was also learning how to survive in the digital age. The key, Holbert says, is similar to how local retailers must compete with internet sales – by providing something the internet doesn’t.

“You have to produce local content that can’t be found on the web,” he says. “All the articles in Lagniappe are produced by us. Even our staff psychic writes the horoscopes.

“If you’re starting something, you’ve got to have a niche locally. You need to be hyper-local.”

In a wide-ranging discussion, Holbert and Trice share their thoughts on the misconceptions of “fake news,” the importance of branding in media, the challenge of finding and retaining talent, the travails of dealing with public officials, things they might have done differently, and what happens to a community that doesn’t have strong news coverage.

Join us to learn why reports of print’s demise may be greatly exaggerated.

Categories: Podcast, What's Working with Cam Marston