Local Media Consortium Signing 6 Revenue Partners, Adding More TV Stations

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The Local Media Consortium is making major strategic changes and more are on the way as the group seeks to strengthen the revenue power of its members, who represent a big chunk of the embattled digital local news industry.

In its earliest days, the Consortium, which was founded in September 2013, heavily promoted the reach of its 50 members, the majority of which are daily newspaper groups : 4-plus billion monthly page views, 470-plus million monthly pageviews and 156 billion yearly advertising impressions. But when the principal share of those numbers are multiplied by often-low cost-per-thousand ad rates of programmatic national advertising, they don’t seem so big. Smaller, local numbers have a much richer yield in CPMs.

Today’s Consortium appears to be on path that points toward surer monetization. To find out what’s happening, I went to Executive Director Rusty Coats with these questions:

Very shortly, McClatchy and other LMC members will be providing an array of content, including political, sports and “evergreen” stories, to the new distribution platform Headlines Network formed by the Chicago-based aggregator Aggrego. Why did the Consortium decided to become a strategic partner in this network?
Headlines Network uses our own content and monetization mechanisms. With the network, we direct more traffic into our quality content, rather than sending traffic off-site on a cost-per-click basis that brings in some revenue, but not as much as we can ourselves with a partner like Headlines Network.

Facebook, in part because of dissatisfaction by local and other news publishers with what they get out of distribution by the social media giant, has created the “Facebook Journalism Project.”  One aim of the project is collaboration with publishers to produce digital journalism that will make stronger connections with users. But the project will also consider “monetization options” for publishing partners. Is this good news for LMC and its partners?
We’re talking with Facebook on a very strategic level. We hope to find a great path with them moving forward.

So you’re encouraged by this new Facebook Journalism Project?
I’m encouraged, but being a journalist, if your mother says she loves you, check it out. Our talks with Facebook are early on. We’re just now heading down the path with them.

What is the LMC doing about more and better monetization?
We have a half dozen new monetization partners in the works. I’m hoping to have them all signed by the time we have our first LMC board meeting, in early May.

The New York Times last week published a manifesto called “Journalism That Stands Apart” that said the paper, for all its strengths, too often does a poor job in digital storytelling, and pays the price in how it well it connects with users. Do the Consortium’s members worry about this too?
Digital storytelling is on the menu at the Consortium. It’s just not evenly distributed. You will find pockets that are “digital first” and pockets where “digital first” is lip service. I’m encouraged that some of our very small media companies are the most innovative.

The Consortium’s position paper on fake news, published last week, had harsh words for your members’ partners on the revenue side of publishing, saying: “We implore advertisers, marketers and the ad tech community to refuse to reward news from untrustworthy sites. The industry and advertisers have a duty to stop paying click-through commissions to these sites, as well as to content ads and ‘chum.’” Your comment?
The paper was a callout that we all have some culpability in this. The ad-tech companies and the advertisers themselves don’t know where their ads are landing, and they’re landing next to specious content. We can’t be harsh enough about that.”

Where is the Consortium today in its evolution since its founding in September 2013?
The first year, it’s proving the point. In the second year, it’s making sure the first year wasn’t a fluke. We’re going into our full third year and have posted $100 million revenue for our members. Three points make a trend.

We know where we’re going. The real growth for us this year will be filling out the broadcast side of our membership. We now represent 70% of [daily] newspapers in the U.S. Shortly, we’ll be able to announce we also represent 50% of TV stations. At that level, you’re not proving the point any more. You’re standing taller but a little humbler and getting out there and making a difference for the Consortium’s member news companies.

We’re going to spend a lot of time making sure people understand the value of local news and the value of local advertising, even while we pursue programmatic and other large national strategies.

Tom GrubisichTom Grubisich (@TomGrubisich) writes “The New News” column for Street Fight. He is editorial director of hyperlocal news network Local America, and is also working on a book about the history, present, and future of Charleston, S.C.