Newsrooms get nimble in a recession

Journalism in 2023 will be about super-serving your audiences, going back to the basics, and asking for help.

For newsrooms and media-tech companies, building sustainable businesses may require throwing all the “rules” out the window. Amid a recession or an economic downturn, people will be looking to save money, everywhere. This means subscriptions or donations to their favorite publications are likely on the chopping block. That is, unless you can super-serve your audience and deliver obvious value. This pressure comes when don’t have the resources we used to — between layoffs, funding cuts, and burnout. So how do you deliver more with less?

Tim Griggs, who runs Blue Engine Collaborative, has a wonderful saying. You can only do more with the same or fewer resources, he says, by doing three things:

Stop doing some things altogether
Do fewer things
Do more of the things that work

(Any butchering of this advice is on me, not him.)

By following this approach and scoping the workload down, you might surprise yourself. This is also the approach to follow to pinpoint what exactly your customers and audiences value. Is it that 10th article of the week? (Could they do with fewer?) Do they really need to see you on all the social media platforms? (Or is one channel your super channel, and you can focus on that instead?)

In economic downturns, we can’t just help but feel broken because we’re expected to do more with less. But they’re ironically the perfect time to actually do less and see if we can still deliver more.

In terms of value, this might also mean a few operational changes to the business — maybe hosting a weekly Zoom to onboard new members, or shouting out new donors in your weekly newsletter. What are small changes you can make to show your thanks?

The other thing that the Blue Engine Collaborative team, including Ryan Tuck, would emphasize is: Ask, and then ask again. Sometimes, we are so scared to ask for help. As one of the only South Asian women running a media-tech company, backed by both Silicon Valley and media execs, I’m constantly expected to run a more successful newsroom or business with less — less money, fewer teammates, just less. It’s exhausting. It might seem like we are “crushing” it because of metrics such as organic social growth, or being invited to the right parties, or being on the right lists. This is often an excuse for community members to step back — everything seems fine.

So it’s up to us to communicate the value is of what we’re creating — by talking to as many customers as possible and testing, testing, testing — and asking not just once, but often. Ryan encouraged us to try a “loyal lurker” test, emailing the people who most often opened our free newsletter but hadn’t yet subscribed. We did a weeks-long drip and were surprised that, after asking about three to four times, we started seeing paying subscribers come through. You — and your readers — might just surprise you.

For now, brace for things to get worse. Try to persist, because every day you can scope down what you’re doing to the most important things is another day you can keep fighting.

Snigdha Sur is the founder of The Juggernaut.

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