Tech Talk

What does the future local website look like? Part 1


As we quickly move into 2024, I want to address the most polarizing media vehicle at the local level: the website. I’ve often referred to it as “neo legacy.” Virtually every mid- and small-market publisher I’ve spoken to in the past 10 years complains about how it’s an expense that they’ve never been able to justify from a revenue perspective. For others, it’s their core business. Love it or hate it, it’s table stakes today. You must have one.

For the sake of this discussion, I will take the position that it is where all your focus needs to be in 2024 and beyond. It is the connection to your local audiences — both consumer and business. It won’t go away, so how do we make it the best and most profitable it can be?

You need to be aware of three external factors and two realities of the industry and their effects on your digital business moving forward. 

  • Generative AI
  • De-emphasis of news publishers by Big Tech
  • Demise of third-party cookies
  • Struggles with reader revenue
  • Digital monetization challenges

For the external factors, I’ll address the positive and negative aspects and the opportunities they present for local publishers. I’ve spoken to several CEOs of media tech companies in the CMS and audience management space to get their takes on what the website of the future looks like. 

Generative AI (GAI)

While GAI like Chat GPT, Claude, Midjourney and Eleven Labs has changed the media landscape,  the buzz has been around eliminating jobs and trust in news sources. Also, while we talk a lot about GAI, another technology often compliments it called RPA or robotic process automation, a sub-category in no-code development. Some names you might be familiar with are Zapier, IFTTT or Make. The combination of the two will be game-changing for the industry in some very positive ways.

  • Positive

GAI’s most significant benefit will be allowing publishers to do more with less. The biggest is doing things you couldn't do because jobs were eliminated. AI will make the newsroom workflows more efficient, allowing you to use GAI for editing, headline writing and fact-checking. However, the more considerable benefit will be the elusive COPA (create-once-publish-anywhere) holy grail. Imagine inputting reporters' notes and quotes and outputting print articles, web articles, charts, social posts, newsletter summaries, audio scripts, voice recordings and video shorts — just from notes, written in a format specific to the medium with your tone.

On the video short output, according to a recent Pew Research study, the share of U.S. adults who regularly get their news from TikTok has grown from 3% to 14%. Forty-three percent of TikTok users get their news there — up from 22%. That growth happened between 2020 and 2023. Video shorts are growing as a news deliverable.

As storage technologies become easier to set up and more affordable, you’ll be able to use all your archived content, reporter notes and content from your own trusted data repository and not the 300 billion words scraped from the open web that powers ChatGPT and other platforms — no hallucinating or creative content.

GAI can be used to create media plans and proposals on the ad or marketing side. It can optimize media campaigns based on advertiser results. The uses in marketing, financial modeling and propensity modeling will be extensive.

GAI will help personalize user content based on the audience segment to which the user belongs. 

  • Negative

Anyone can do what I just mentioned. GAI makes once-difficult tasks very easy. The pendulum shifts from companies with moats like big printing presses and FCC licenses to those who can leverage the tools. There will be a huge gap, not between the haves and the have-nots, but between the early adopters and the laggards. Three people in an organization using GAI and RPA can do the work of 20 in a non-GAI company.

GAI is being used to replace search on major platforms. Google and Bing are experimenting or at least giving the option for users to get an AI-generated response to a question, taking in multiple, credible sources to deliver a well-structured response with the ability to ask follow-up questions and rate the appropriateness of the response, i.e. training the AI.

That is in contrast to SEO or search engine optimization, which attempts to find the web pages which most closely match the word sequence of the query. The implication is there will be little value in going down the search page in Google as the answer has been summarized for the user, sourced from a number of trusted sources — probably yours. 

People don't want drills; they want holes. The consumer doesn’t want to read your article; they want the answer to their question. The expectations will change quickly.

  • Opportunity

Embrace GAI, learn it and use it! It can be an enormous competitive advantage to reduce expenses, increase productivity and create new user experiences not seen before as the technology evolves.

De-emphasis of news publishers by Big Tech

It’s been well-documented how big-tech companies like Google, Meta and X (formerly Twitter) have moved away from emphasizing news content in their streams. Similarweb, a data and analytics company, stated that, in September 2020, 11.5% of traffic to the leading news sites came from social media. By September 2023, the traffic had dropped to 6.3%.

  • Positive

I’m not sure there is a positive. I was never a fan of publishers sending their content to search and social. However, the industry did such a great job creating that user expectation for news that, according to Pew Research’s News Platform Fact Sheet in 2023, 58% got their news from digital devices vs 27% from television and 5% from print. Among those getting news from digital platforms — 67% often or sometimes got their news from websites or apps, 69% got their news from search and 50% got their news from social media. Good job, Big Tech; we know you’re here to help.

  • Negative

At a time when Big Tech is pulling back on promoting news publishers, they are leaning into the creator communities. A creator or local influencers often have more followers than the local media company. Local creators have no rules, no filters and often no journalism training. At the same time, they are your competition for local marketing dollars.

  • Opportunity

Think and act like a creator, but bring the brand and the journalism rigor to delivering on these platforms. At a time when a creator can make more money than a local newspaper, it’s not hard to reframe the problem. 

Demise of the third-party cookie

The term third-party cookie refers to a text file with a small data set that sits in your browser, which in turn is used as a unique identifier for your computer. Advertisers use this cookie to target ads as you're known to them by this identifier. Ad tech makes you known while you are at other sites, which is why you keep seeing that same golf club set you were looking at on all the sites you go to.

Google is initiating the killing of cookies as a way to “protect your privacy.” The initiative is for the Google Chrome browser only. Unfortunately, Chrome represents 64% of the worldwide browser market share. For now, cookies are still enabled on Firefox, Bing and Safari. 

  • Positive

The biggest area to be affected will be programmatic advertising, which affect the big media chains from the aggregation of many sites and larger publishers. For the long tail of news media sites, it will emphasize even force them to focus on direct-sold advertising. 

  • Negative

For advertisers relying on programmatic advertising, the impact will be felt in a drop in filled inventory and lower revenue. 

  • Opportunity

This will hopefully accelerate the urgency to collect, enrich and make addressable first-party data.

Now that we’ve looked at the three biggest external factors that will impact your business, we will take a look at how to take advantage of these changes to create a digital business that will create the new moat for local media companies.  

In next month’s column, we’ll detail how to do it with technology that’s available to media companies of any size. We are entering a period of disruption like we’ve not seen since the emergence of social media 15 years ago. As we’ve learned, with great disruption comes great opportunity.

Special thanks to Brad Ward, CEO of BLOX Digital, Thad Swiderski, president of eType Services, and Joel Pape, CEO of MediaOS, for generously sharing their thoughts for this piece.

Guy Tasaka is a seasoned media professional with a 35-year track record of leading change in the industry. He has collaborated with renowned organizations such as Macworld Magazine, Ziff-Davis and The New York Times, where he honed his expertise in research, strategy, marketing and product management. As the former chief digital officer at Calkins Media, Guy was acknowledged as the Local Media Association's Innovator of the Year for his work in advancing OTT and digital video platforms for local news organizations. He is also the founder and managing partner of Tasaka Digital, specializing in helping media and technology companies navigate business transformations using his extensive experience and forward-thinking approach. Guy can be reached at


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