Lessons from our first Community News Summit

“It’s hard being tiny on the internet,” S. Mitra Kalita, URL Media founder and former CNN Digital vice president, said during the inaugural Google News Initiative Community News Summit. “What it takes for me to get a dollar on local news versus a dollar in national news [is] so different.” 

Google was thrilled to bring together such a diverse and insightful group of community news leaders from the U.S. and Canada many of whom echoed this sentiment from Mitra during the two-day event (Aug. 17 – 18), which focused on the challenges and opportunities local publishers face when growing and monetizing their audiences. 

“Local news is where the rubber meets the road,” said summit host and GNI director Olivia Ma, in her opening remarks to a virtual audience of 495 publishers. “Those of us working on news here at Google take our responsibility to help people find trusted, authoritative local journalism very seriously.”

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the need for community news outlets to diversify revenue streams and innovate to find sustainable business models. “The reality was, I needed to get on the digital game plan or die,” Sonny Giles, CEO of the Houston Defender Network, said during a session on mythbusting digital advertising. 

Rebekah Monson, the co-founder of Letterhead and Where.by.us, built on that thought in a conversation about entrepreneurial strategies for maximizing audiences. She noted that local news entrepreneurs have to rally limited resources to succeed. “I don’t know any news orgs that hustle and embrace innovation change and interaction faster or more totally than local news outlets,” Monson said. 

Over the two days, publishers also talked about the wins and lessons learned from connecting with their audiences. While figuring out pricing structures for The Juggernaut, founder Snigda Sur said she was so afraid to charge a subscription fee at first and when she did, priced it too low. “What I wish I had known is (to) ask and ask for more,” Sur said. “Some of your earliest users are your biggest champions and your biggest ambassadors.”