In another challenging year, local news outlets teamed together to strengthen and expand coverage
I feel like a broken record when writing about the state of local media in New Mexico. The pandemic feels like it will never end, and business prospects have been a roller coaster ride for many local news outlets. As small businesses curtail hours or close, that means less advertising revenues for local publications. And many of the publishers in our Local News Revenue Initiative had big plans for in-person events in the fall that had to be cancelled or postponed.
And yet, there have also been stories of resilience and success, with local news publishers launching new websites, starting membership programs and creating ad hoc collaborations to help strengthen their news coverage.
We had bi-weekly meetings of this year’s cohort of publishers, and invited last year’s cohort to join us as well. While the meetings were mainly focused on topics such as email newsletters, audience surveys, and creative advertising ideas, they also included an element of networking and sharing knowledge — which led to many of these collaborations.
Here are a few of those collaborations that happened during this year’s program:
- The Santa Fe New Mexican helped produce an online panel for Downtown Albuquerque News related to the stadium vote in Albuquerque.
- Publishers such as Sierra County Sun and Columbus NM News worked more closely with Searchlight New Mexico on running Searchlight’s content.
- Sierra County Sun and Searchlight are in talks to partner on reporting on Southern New Mexico.
- Columbus NM News has been partnering with Camino Real Media to help distribute its Spanish language newspaper.
- Radio KTAL has been working with Searchlight and Columbus NM News by having reporters as guests on air.
The 10 local news publishers who were part of this year’s cohort did a great job in such a challenging year. Yes, there were times they lost advertising or had to cancel events, but they also took big steps toward long-term sustainability. Here are some of their accomplishments this year:
Camino Real Media (Spanish-language newspaper in Southern New Mexico):
- Increased circulation by 12.5% with more distribution points.
- Helped create a Spanish version of the League of Women’s Voters Guide for the election.
Columbus NM News (online news startup)
- Increased the number of editorial contributors and started collecting emails on its website to launch a newsletter.
- Received funding to run photo essays about child welfare in partnership with the Center for Sustainable Journalism.
Downtown Albuquerque News (subscription email newsletter):
- Produced in-depth coverage of the stadium vote in Albuquerque, including the online panel discussion.
- Hired freelancers to help cover more topics and give the publisher some time to focus on the business.
Hidalgo County Herald (weekly newspaper in Lordsburg):
- Launched a new website to promote subscriptions, and increased reach and engagement on its Facebook page.
- Bought a new camera to live-stream high school sports and candidate statements before the election.
KTAL Radio (community radio in Las Cruces):
- Partnered with New Mexico State University’s Center for Community Analysis to produce audio reports called “Data Deets” based on data points about Doña Ana County.
- Planning an online and on-air fundraiser later this fall, having to pivot from their usual in-person fundraisers before the pandemic.
Questa Del Rio News (monthly newspaper in Questa):
- Launched a new website with all its stories, and the ability to donate or subscribe online.
- Hired a reporting intern over the summer and hired a social media director, who has helped increase traffic and engagement online.
Santa Fe New Mexican (daily newspaper):
- Created a new content studio to give advertisers rich sponsored content.
- Produced online and hybrid events, building a new line of business during the pandemic.
Searchlight New Mexico (online nonprofit):
- Launched a new tiered membership program with help from the News Revenue Hub.
- Plans to boost newsletter subscriptions through calls-to-action on its story pages.
Sierra County Sun (online nonprofit in Truth or Consequences):
- Hired an editorial intern to help expand reporting.
- Working with Searchlight New Mexico on a reporting partnership.
The Independent (weekly newspaper in Edgewood):
- Produced an in-person panel discussion and art show in its office.
- Launched a new membership program with perks for members, including local businesses.
Cohort Meetings & Media ECHO
During the six month Revenue Initiative program, we had bi-weekly meetings of the cohort of publishers, with outside speakers sharing tips on topics of interest to the group. More than just trainings on Zoom, these meetings were part of our new “New Mexico Media ECHO” experiment to use the principles and tracking software of Project ECHO. That project has been a huge success in health care by bringing together experts and practitioners out in the field. We have been trying out that “all teach, all learn” model, along with the iECHO tracking software this year.
This year, the meetings were a big success at helping publishers share knowledge, network and collaborate. We surveyed attendees after each meeting, and they suggested improvements and shared their ideas with us along the way.
“The cohort members were very helpful to us,” said Christian Marquez of Searchlight New Mexico. “I found the group discussions to be tremendously valuable. It was refreshing to see like-minded news people from our region discussing the problems that we all face, as opposed to the national conversations around these topics.”
Unfortunately, the iECHO software remains more focused on health care and is more difficult to adapt for use for local news outlets and tracking their outcomes. We look forward to a new iteration of this software in the future.
Starting next year, the Local News Fund plans to expand the Revenue Initiative to include 25 to 30 newsrooms. Our plan is to have monthly ECHO meetings with the entire group, and breakout groups depending on business and editorial areas of interest. We might also start monthly happy hours so more publishers can have informal discussions, leading to more ad hoc collaborations.
It was very inspiring to see the hard work of so many publishers around the state, and their spirit of openness, sharing and collaboration. I look forward to seeing what they can accomplish next year. Especially for smaller publishers in smaller communities, this program has made a lasting difference not only at the newsrooms but in the communities they serve.
“You have been incredibly supportive, and we are grateful beyond words for the investment you made in our business,” said Brenda Hood of the Hidalgo County Herald. “This grant benefited not only our newspaper and two staff members, but it directly improved coverage of important news in our county, and it provided voters and readers with more information than they would have otherwise received.”
Mark Glaser is the Innovation Consultant for the New Mexico Local News Fund. He is also an Associate at Dot Connector Studio, and was the founder and executive editor of MediaShift.org.