30A Takes Its Local Media Success Story 5,637 Miles to Moscow

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“Think globally, act locally,” the saying goes. But Mike Ragsdale, founder and CEO of 30A, which serves the more than 20 beach communities on the Florida Panhandle’s Gulf Coast, recently decided to turn that truism on its head and act as well as think globally.

It happened at the “3D Journalism” forum in Moscow, where Ragsdale and six other foreign news executives, including representatives of the Associated Press and CNN, were invited to the stories of the organizations to an audience of Russian journalists, media executives and PR professionals.

Ragsdale and his 30A are quite the story, as this column has reported — here, here and here. Eight-year-old 30A is one of the top revenue producers among Internet news pure-plays – hitting $2.2 million last year and projected to reach $3 million in 2017. It attains numbers that elude some daily newspapers because its revenue streams include, besides advertising, everything from a radio station to events to retail shops.

But this isn’t quite the story that Ragsdale presented in Moscow, as he explains in this Q & A:

You worked on your presentation for weeks. Then you scrapped it. Why?
The conference organizers originally asked me to speak about the precise steps I took to grow 30A from a hyperlocal blog serving a community of 12,000 residents to a brand that attracts 650,000+ fans on Facebook alone.

As I began to understand my audience better, I realized my entrepreneurial start-up story wouldn’t really do them any good. Most of these professionals simply weren’t on a path that would be conducive to replicating 30A’s success. So I scrapped the presentation and sat with my wife Angela in our hotel in Moscow the night before my appearance, trying to come up with something that would help any journalist, local, national or international.

The result was this slide show.

That’s 137 slides. What was the essence of your revised presentation?
I decided the power of good news is what enabled 30A to transcend from local to global. We’re now consuming information faster than we ever have before. And most of that information is negative.

All politics side, we live in the greatest age in the history of humankind. But if you watch the news, you’d think we’re on the brink of complete and total destruction. And yet, the facts don’t support that doom-and-gloom perception.

Did you know, for example, that violent crime is currently at an all-time low in the U.S. In fact, researchers say that statistically, violent crime can’t really drop any lower than it is now?

Did you know that world hunger just hit a 25-year low?  Did you know that scientists just developed a Ebola vaccine with a 100% success rate? Did you know that as of 2016, measles have been completely eradicated from the Western hemisphere?

Media companies have become merchants of drama, stress, anxiety and negativity. They create good guys and pit them against bad guys. Because that’s how we have been taught that all stories have to be told.

People are exhausted from all the negative information they consume. Suicide, depression and anxiety rates are skyrocketing. Why? It’s not because things are awful. It’s because we’re consuming negative information at rates we’ve never burdened our minds with before. And it’s having catastrophic effects on our global psychology.

There’s a huge opportunity for journalists and media professionals who want to offer good news. “Hard news” doesn’t have to be bad news.

How do your readers and fans react to your good-news philosophy?
For the answer, let’s go back to 2010 – the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the greatest environmental disaster in American history. The blob from the spill began to grow bigger and bigger. I began to worry it was going to affect us on the West Florida Gulf Coast directly – which, in the end it didn’t. But before we knew that, I made a statement on our Facebook page about what looked like the imminence of the landfall of that disaster on our beaches.

Our audience – our tribe members – corrected me. There was one woman in particular, as I told an interviewer at the “3D Journalism” forum in Moscow. The woman said, “We know the oil spill is on the first page of every newspaper. It’s the first thing you hear on every news broadcast. Can we please have just this one place of happiness to celebrate the beach that we love?”

30A’s Mike Ragsdale (center in T-shirt, in back row) with workers who helped put together “3D Journalism” forum in Moscow.

When you started 30A, it was a blog. You say that doesn’t begin to describe 30A today. What are you?
We’re a radio station, we sponsor or support wine festivals, a golf competition and other events. We sell souvenirs, we license and sell wine, beer, coffee, books and honey, and also apparel that’s recycled from plastic bottles, film and other beach refuse. We have a newsletter. We sponsor and support charities.

News publishers are talking about their need to build relationships with their communities as the first thing to do. How important are relationships with 30A?
Local relationships are obviously very important. We are involved with our local charities and our local businesses. We do everything we can to be strong and good members of our community, even as our brand has expanded to larger audiences.

On feedback from your communities, does it mean more when it comes to your site or to Facebook — or does it matter, as long as it comes?
It doesn’t matter. Facebook is just one of dozens of way our fans interact with us every day. We have website feedback forms, messenger, 30Agear.com orders, 30Aradio.com, social media apps, personal interaction in our retail stores, and much more.

We love feedback, good and bad. When we do get the rare bit of negative feedback, our mission become to covert that person: to make whatever went wrong right again. Our response to negative feedback is “What can we do to make you happy?” If their answer is within our power, we do it. We’re in the business of making people happy by sharing our love of the beach. And business is good.

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.