Real local news revenue experiments (That aren’t advertising)

Mizzou students Abby Ivory-Ganja and Marlee L. Baldridge are at the Online News Association Conference to cover tech and innovation sessions for RJI. Visit our ONA page to see all the coverage. 

Story by Abby Ivory-Ganja 

Finding new revenue paths requires thinking outside the box. In an ONA session called Real Life Local News Revenue Experiments (That Aren’t Advertising), four speakers shared their worldviews and some case studies that generated new revenue. 


“If you’re not reaching the audience you want, it’s your fault.” Kim Bui, Director of audience innovation at the Arizona Republic

“Journalism should be more entrepreneurial.” André Natta, Editorial director, Lenfest Local Lab

“We need ‘journalism thinking’ like ‘design thinking.’” Christopher Wink, CEO, 

Case studies 


Project Text gives subscribers direct access to reporters via text for around $4 a month. Texting is intimate and easy to monetize, says David Cohn, of Advance Digital, noting the conversion rate is around 4-8% with good retention. Texting is the opposite of social media, allowing news organizations to cultivate 1,000 true fans around niche topics. 


Wirecutter uses the expertise and research of its staff to create product recommendations, making money on affiliate links, which Kim Bui sees as an opportunity for local news orgs. Bui’s takeaways are to start small and iterate often.

Questions to consider: 

What does this audience need that it can’t get? 

What’s the easiest way to get that information to them?   

Philly Eats 

The Lenfest Local Lab created an app called Philly Eats, that leverages the food review coverage archives of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Users can search for restaurants based on the Inquirer’s existing reviews and filter by cuisine, neighborhood, price, etc. André Natta says the app represents the opportunity to explore possible revenue streams like subscriptions and a standalone app. 

The session’s main takeaway is simple: create a product that solves a community problem. 

More info on the session here or follow along with #ONA19experiment on Twitter.

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