December 2, 2020

Podcast: Mike Orren of The Dallas Morning News on The Pivotal Year for Local Media

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Mike Orren is the Chief Product Officer at The Dallas Morning News and has called this the pivotal year for local media. Dallas Morning News has been undergoing a digital transformation, using the revenue generated from the print operation to invest in the online business through a CMS change, more advanced data collection and more.

In this episode, we discussed many topics, but a few things jumped out to me…

On print going away

The New York Times’ former CEO, Mark Thompson, has said he thinks print will no longer be a thing in twenty years. Mike Orren thought print would be dead years ago (and has since realized why that’s not the case).

But there are no new subscribers coming in print, so at some point, the math doesn’t actually make sense. Orren was clear to say that DMN has not come to any conclusion about whether they would cut back on, but he’s done the research.

In conversations with European papers that have already cut to 6 times, there was no material impact on churn. People didn’t mind, which meant the cut just meant more profit. But cutting to 4-5 days a week does have an impact on profit.

On giving the right product to the reader

Print readers will never like a web version. And digital readers are never going to suddenly subscribe to a print product. But as papers start to cut back on the print product, how can they keep their high margin print readers engaged?

One idea that Orren has warmed to is the ePaper. Readers treat it like a newspaper, so they spend over 20 minutes per day engaged with the product without the heavy print costs associated with it.

But, as Orren said, he’d like to see them get more interactive than they have been in the past. “I think of them like the Harry Potter paper,” Orren said.

On the right psychographic for a local reader

Orren spelled out the perfect psychographic for a local subscriber: people that own homes, pay taxes, vote and have children. That is the psychographic.

And yet, everyone always tries to find ways to get the younger generation is pay for news and, according to Orren, it never works. And that’s okay because while they’re not ready now, they may be in the future.

But this points to a problem in the industry. “We [local media overall] messed up and lost the current, say, 40-50 something generation because they were the hybrids and we didn’t give them a great experience in print or digitally. We left them hanging on both ends and so, that market, is drastically underrepresented in our industry subscriber roles.”

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