Jodi’s Journal: An island in a sea of media change

March 17, 2019

I opened an email newsletter this week that pretty much summed up the state of things in media.

One headline proclaimed “BuzzFeed and the digital meltdown” and explored the challenges facing the once-darling of digital media. The next headline read “Decline in readers, ads leads hundreds of newspapers to fold.” It detailed a Montana community that lost its newspaper and now looks to a one-man operation for news, mostly through his Facebook posts.

Take those two examples, multiply them out across the nation, and you’ve got a glimpse at what media leaders are grappling with as they attempt to build sustainable business models.

I have a small sense of what it’s like. And while it’s not easy, it’s far from impossible.

This week marked two years in business for me, and while I didn’t set out to be part of the rapidly evolving media industry, I’ve ended up in it, and I’m glad I did.

The revenue behind my business is marketing and advertising in the form of content. I believed two years ago and continue to believe that powerful stories told effectively make some of the best marketing, and I’m grateful so many businesses have agreed with me and decided to work with us.

There’s a limit, though, to how far those stories can reach without help. So I created SiouxFalls.Business as a way to grow my own audience and deliver that audience to appropriate advertisers.

It essentially involved creating two businesses: a media outlet and a marketing company. On the media side, we report business news the same way I have for years. I use the same journalistic standards I’ve held to since I started in the industry (yikes!) decades ago.

On the marketing side, we now work with dozens of businesses to help tell their stories in a way that is transparent, yet effective. I am beyond grateful for the relationships we’ve formed, fostered and furthered in the past two years. They have allowed me to grow my business while providing media coverage that I fear would be lacking in this market if we did not exist.

These are not easy or simple times to work in the media. There’s no standard business plan to follow.

I used to half-joke when I was in the newspaper industry that, as a business editor, I had pretty good job security.

Someone would have to write the story about whenever the place went out of business, and it seemed logical the role would fall to whomever was left writing about business. By that point, it was really only me, anyway.

It became clear to me that my future wasn’t in that industry, though, during an earnings call in late 2016 when my company’s CEO was asked to “score” the opportunity for continued expense reduction. He compared it to being in the third inning of a baseball game. In other words, they saw plenty of room to further cut costs. I’m not sure where they would consider themselves at today, but I suspect they haven’t reached the seventh-inning stretch.

So I stretched instead.

While I could have focused just on marketing, I knew that locally owned media was the best kind of media for any city and that I had the chance to help bring a little bit of that to Sioux Falls. I had a hunch it was the right product at the right time.

And this city has backed me up on that from the first day we started publishing. In eight years of covering local business here, my audience has never been bigger. People stop me and write to me regularly and thank me for what we’re bringing to this community.

I often get asked how big our team is. It’s deliberately lean with full-time staff at this point, but that works only because of how hard we work. Rosemary McCoy, our full-time content manager, has grown this business with me every step of the way and is responsible for many of the most popular pieces we deliver. The rest of our team works as independent contractors, which allows me to tap phenomenal talent on a piece-by-piece basis, elevating our product and giving our freelancers the flexibility they need or want.

I don’t know if this is the future business model for local media, but it’s working so far, and it definitely can grow more. I would argue it has to in order to deliver what the community needs and deserves.

The sad irony is that, in the case of Sioux Falls, there has never been more to talk about. We’ve never had this level of development and industry change. We’ve also never encountered the corresponding challenges that growth brings to a community in quite this way. Look even at this week, when unprecedented weather demanded we have credible information-gatherers spread throughout the state.

In short, there have never been more stories to tell in this city. And it’s sad to me that there is a decreasing number of journalists to tell them. It motivates me to figure out a better way. And two years into it, at least I can say I’m on my way. Thank you so much to all who help make it possible.

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Jodi’s Journal: An island in a sea of media change

“This week marked two years in business for me, and while I didn’t set out to be part of the rapidly evolving media industry, I’ve ended up in it.”

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