Monthly Archives: November 2017

Smart stuff to start your thinking about #collegemedia verticals/channels

You can call them “verticals,” or you can call them “channels.” They are called both in this super-smart Nieman Lab interview with Mic publisher Cory Haik. I saw it in April, made myself a note to go through it with a highlighter aaaaaand found the note this week while cleaning out my Gmail inbox. Better late than never, I hope, here are excerpts and bullet points with college media in mind. And if this is up your alley, I strongly encourage you to read the Nieman interview.

The interview came just after Mic redesigned its website and its approach to news around nine “verticals.” They are:

  • Slay (feminism)
  • Payoff (personal finance)
  • Out of Office (food and travel)
  • Strut (body positivity)
  • Navigating Trump’s America
  • The Future is Now (tech)
  • The Movement (social justice)
  • Multiplayer (gaming)
  • Hype (entertainment)

Haik said the verticals were chosen after study “within the social sphere of where our audiences are and figuring out stories, categories, and topics that they are most passionate about and that our journalists were best to engage with them on.”

Instagram, in particular, we dove into over the summer and found some microcommunities within body positivity and feminism. We created some new teams to spend their time doing daily journalism on this beat within Instagram specifically: original motion graphics, photo illustrations, animations. Editors and story producers connected on these specific topics within Instagram and then really built out these communities.

For example, Slay grew out of a feminism Instagram channel and an email newsletter.

The thesis here was that we were connecting the audiences that we were growing organically within social and were doing our journalism and original storytelling around and then connecting that back to our own site and making those connections explicit with our audiences — so they could follow Slay, engage with Slay, read and watch our Slay journalism on whatever platform really suits them — but also to connect the dots so they know we have a very 360-approach to how we’re doing our journalism across the landscape.

Each vertical uses only the platforms where Mic thinks there’s an interested community. So the personal finance vertical Payoff launched as a podcast and an email newsletter but without an Instagram channel. Payoff also is the example Haik used to talk about making money from a vertical.

Discover sponsors Payoff across all of these different platforms. There’s sponsorship within the podcast, the Payoff newsletter, and on the channel itself — on our site, you see that. Across all the different platforms and the mechanisms by which we’re producing our journalism, there’s also accompanying sponsorship for that brand. There’s a way to really tie it across platforms for the advertiser, which is appealing because they get a very digitally focused innovative way to integrate with the channel in a way that’s not just one node on our site.

Full disclosure: Your humble blogger does not think video is the answer to all journalism problems. He thinks there is a lot of bad video out there. But he’s very proud of his Georgia Southern University students’ video operation and he has to sit up and take note when he sees this:

One of our reporters did a written op-ed that did okay, and then he did the same op-ed in video format and it reached half a million people in just a couple of hours. … if your video reaches 500,000 people, the degree to which some of them will convert to a newsletter subscriber of that columnist is pretty high. They’re interested.

More on leveraging viral success to build brand loyalty:

We are thinking about a lot of ways of connecting our very viral moments to our direct to consumer products. It’s working. Facebook has been a very good lever for us to grow our Navigating Trump’s America newsletter. Whenever there is a big story about Trump and we promote our newsletter, we can get hundreds to thousands of email subscribers. That’s a pretty great funnel.

Lastly, a branding question I suspect will be important for media college media editors. Interviewer Joseph Lichterman asked, “Going back to the channels for a minute: I’m curious how you balance their individual identities versus the overall identity of Mic. How do you want readers to think about them within the overall structure of the publication?”

Mic really is the network of all these other brands. Mic itself is actually a channel as well — that’s really our core news channel. … I don’t know that there’s a ton of crossover between Strut and something like Navigating Trump’s America. There might be. People are interested in politics, obviously, and can be interested in fashion, but we would be perfectly happy if someone just followed our Instagram channel or followed our Facebook page for Strut. We’d view that as a success. We’re figuring out how we bolster these channels on their own, but we do want people to know that they are part of the Mic family. They’re all supported by the endorser brand of Mic.


Lessons from Tow Center study for college media: Events, engagement, selling media services, community building

I read the new report out from the Tow Center on small-market newspapers (less than 50,000 circulation). These are a few quotes that stood out to me as relevant to college media.

Events and physical contact

[Local newspapers have] “experienced notable resilience thanks in part to exclusive content not offered elsewhere, the dynamics of ultra-local advertising markets, and an ability to leverage a physical closeness to their audience.”

“…Of the new, emerging sources of revenue that newspapers are engaging in, the events space may be one of the most promising. Aside from their potential as a means for story gathering and community engagement, events also offer opportunities for sponsorship, ticket sales, and other income streams.”

Media services

“One clear way that a number of publishers are expanding revenue sources is by creating, or buying, spin-off businesses which capitalize on their editorial and design expertise. Income from these services, which includes building apps and websites for small and medium-sized businesses, can then be poured back into resourcing the core product.”


“On a smaller scale, the humble newsletter is back and in vogue with sales teams and audiences alike.”

Engagement teams

“Lauren Gustus, the former executive editor at the Coloradoan in Fort Collins, Colorado, explained how her small newsroom (thirty to forty people) had been reconfigured to include a dedicated ten-person engagement team. Part of their charge, she explained, was ‘talking with readers across any of the platforms that we operate on and that our readers operate on.’”

“… As Lauren Gustus admitted, titles like the Coloradoan need to ‘demonstrate the value of a local news organization and that it goes beyond the printed product.’ To help achieve this goal, she reconfigured her thirty-person newsroom to create a ten-person engagement team charged with finding opportunities to ‘further our relationship with our readers in a meaningful way.’

“…Events, putting community members on the editorial board, and engaging with readers on and off site across different digital platforms, are just some of the mechanisms the Coloradoan and others have deployed with this goal in mind.”

Building community

“J-Lab’s Jan Schaffer talked about the importance of small-market newspapers needing ‘to figure out how not just to cover community, but to build it as well.’ That, Shaffer suggested, means papers listening to the community and looking to do more than just find a great quote or angle for a story. ‘The engagement that counts,’ Schaffer said, is, ‘wow, we helped our community fix a problem, do something better. And I think that’s still a skill to be learned.’”

“…As a former editor at a major metro and also a small-market newspaper reflected:

“‘I think there is an opportunity for small newspapers more than the larger ones . . . to actually form a relationship with the community still . . . Because you might know your neighbor, who was in the paper yesterday. And the smaller newspapers do a better job of getting more people in the paper than the larger ones as well.

“‘There are those kinds of opportunities in smaller newspapers that aren’t there at larger ones. So, I think that forming that type of relationship with the community is still there in smaller papers. And I think it’s more difficult in the metro markets.’”

Planning for the future

“How can you best focus on original reporting? … By focusing on creating content not provided elsewhere, local newspapers will be best placed to offer a proposition that audiences may be willing to pay for.”

“…We therefore encourage local newspapers to consider which beats they want to own, and which they want to approach differently, if at all.”

“…Newsrooms have access to more data than ever, but sometimes the conclusions from this can make for uncomfortable reading. Understanding which metrics matter, and what they are telling you, is a question that every newsroom needs to be asking more frequently.”