Tech Talk

What does the future local website look like? Part 2


In last month’s column, I outlined the headwinds that news media publishers will face in the very near future. The list is not short, but this discussion focuses on digital opportunity. But let’s face it: everything is about digital opportunity.

The three big areas entirely out of your control are 1) the emergence of artificial intelligence, 2) the de-emphasis of news publishers by Big Tech and 3) the demise of the third-party cookie. In this month's column, I'll share some thoughts on what the future local media website looks like and how local media publishers can thrive in the new environment. As you read my thoughts, consider that any local presence that has the legacy trust can take this playbook and run with it. It could be the two largest television stations in the market, the public media company, the big university or the local chamber of commerce. As I’ve mentioned before, there are no swimlanes anymore, and local media 3.0 will be a winner-take-all race.

 What does the future local website look like?

The local media website of the very near future needs to be the community hub — where all local consumers come to start their news and information journey. Don't read that as you need to create all that information. It’s just the opposite; you need to aggregate and curate that information. You are the single trusted source in your community; the community expects you to aggregate the information from trusted sources. Those sources include TV stations, business journals, government websites and local universities. Your role should be to inform and vet sources. Your posting of the content tells your audience that the source is accurate and trusted. This is something that social media will likely see as a backlash. The democratization of distribution is not always a good thing.

Social media is filled with filtered thoughts and content marketing. There is nothing wrong with content marketing, but it is quickly becoming the “new news” — doubly so in search engine results.

Community data exists on hundreds of websites across your market. It lives on national websites about your market. You must be the “one-stop-shop” where your community can find data. Whoever does it best in your market will get the audience. It might be you, the television station or the university, but it needs to be done. 

In today’s environment, it is too easy and requires too much motivation to create community data sites with less than authentic data.

Today, content is abundant, and time is scarce. Make it easy for your users. Whether weekly or monthly, you need more information to build a digital business. Ten stories a month or week will not give people enough reasons to visit your site — curate content to give them a reason to return regularly.

Use AI and RPA to scrape content sources and aggregate events and the marketplace (auto, real estate, jobs, general offers). You may be scratching your head, saying no one's coming to our classifieds now. How many of you are posting the 20 paid ads you have from print in your digital marketplaces or directories? The goal is to aggregate from multiple sites to build an audience. Work backward and sell premium positions in categories. Back those into your print marketplace if the economics work.

Give them a reason to visit every day — early and often.

Who doesn’t love a sale? An expiring deal? Create scarcity deals on your site — 24-hour/countdown sales from local businesses, sweepstakes and contests.

Create a way to show the velocity of content. The reason we are addicted to social media is that it is designed to create FOMO — the fear of missing out. Our social media feeds continuously update information. Most websites today are not designed that way. Most still suffer from “lift and shift” design, meaning they look like a newspaper on a screen. Even mobile versions are littered with sections that make users decide to go to a section or select a story. See my article about how mobile apps generate 10x as much engagement as a website. I just saw a newspaper website homepage that had 144 stories. That is not a user-friendly experience. 

Reader revenue?

I’ve spoken to many publishers recently, and they say, “So you’re opposed to paywalls…” Hmm. I am for anyone who is not a specialized business-to-business publication, The New York Times or has the budget, commitment and expertise to do it well. Also, you must have something special and unique enough to justify subscriptions. Reader revenue requires effort to acquire a subscriber; most publishers’ strategies are going for a trial offer. You need to convert them from trial to paid, retain them and then win back the expires. How many publishers have developed a budget for acquiring a user? My budget for the e-edition at The New York Times was in the mid-three figures — 20 years ago. 

Speaking of The New York Times, they just passed $1 billion in digital subscription revenue from 10.4 million subscribers. If you do the math, that’s $96 per subscriber or $8/month. Nearly half of those, 43% or 4.2 million, were bundles, which included Games, Cooking, Wirecutter and The Athletic with the news product. Even the greatest news product in the world with the largest newsroom had to bundle other products to break through their subscription ceiling.

I hope publishers will look more heavily at registration walls in the future. There is a value for your content, and that should be customer information. Some publishers are getting 60-70% of their active users registered. Most get email capture as a good start. The more information, the better. If you can capture the elusive G-A-Z-E (gender, age, zip and education) as part of your data set, that’s even better. I’ve seen multi-step capture forms that do it very well. If you’re using a CDP (customer data platform) and can enrich the data, that’s better yet.

Capturing first-party data is critical to your future, but while many smaller papers struggle with the value vs. effort of reader revenue, consider building your first-party data infrastructure as a longer-term solution rather than chasing reader revenue.

Sell holistic solutions for local businesses.

Print still works for local businesses, but it must be considered part of a holistic solution. Consider how you can make it easy for local business owners to enter with print and give them a digital solution. Companies like BLOX Digital and Smartico provide solutions for local businesses that start with print ads. 

I’m a huge believer in understanding where publishers worldwide are finding success in today’s media world. Smartico, based in Europe, has worked with over 600 international publishers to bridge the print-digital gap.

I’m going to say it with love. Your owned and operated digital inventory is not very valuable in the digital landscape as a revenue tool — i.e., you likely don’t generate enough page views to sell on a CPM basis, so stop trying to chase programmatic for the $50 check. The demise of the cookie is probably a good thing from that perspective. Remember, in the programmatic digital world, your valuable content competes with an AI-generated website, possibly using your content.

Using first-party tool sets that include a CDP (customer data platform), you can sell your advertisers additional digital advertising on premium platforms, including connected television platforms like Hulu, Amazon and Tubi, just because they passed through your website. There, you’ll get more impressions at higher rates.

Ask me anything

As a publisher or editor, do you know what your readers want on your website? Do you routinely review your website search queries? Do you have a mechanism to see if you are writing the right length, too long, not long enough? All readers are different and have different reading preferences.

The biggest change to readers’ expectations is the concept of personalization, not only in content but in delivery.

One of the great things about AI large language models or LLMs is training data off of a “unique dataset.” As we look for our new moats in Local Media 3.0, your publisher dataset is your best asset — if you include all your data — articles, reporter notes (assuming they are correctly structured), community data, business directories, local price lists from local businesses (easily ingested with a Google Sheet) and so on. A user can ask a simple question, resulting in a news summary, a recommendation for a restaurant, or the best places to buy something. All your data should be tied together. You are the master of your community. 

The digital monetization question

We have to say to ourselves as publishers that local businesses (i.e., advertisers) don’t want to buy a print ad; they don’t want to buy a TV or a radio ad. They don’t even want to buy a search or social ad. They want a way to get a new customer. You’ll hear consultants and marketing experts say they want to spend their money lower in the purchase funnel. They want to be at the point of the buying decision. There are two things marketers want: 1) a demographic, which is a proxy for purchase intenders, and 2) search intenders, which is a proxy for purchase intent.

In the future, using content curation, community information and data, and a CDP to manage users and GAI (generative AI), your website can be the center of local discovery and all the financial opportunities it brings. Maybe the value of your uber-local discovery engine is worthy of a subscription fee because the value is so great. Perhaps it becomes the ultimate ad vehicle. Maybe it’s both. 

Perhaps I am the ultimate local media optimist, but the future is bright for those who understand and embrace the opportunities ahead. Don't lose the value of being the trusted resource in the market.

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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