Ken Herts

COO, Lenfest Institute for Journalism

Ken Herts is COO of the Lenfest Institute for Journalism. He spent 29 years at Dow Jones in a number of roles, including General Manager of Dow Jones news wires. He also worked at Empirical Media, supporting news websites and other media clients.


Newsletters are there to encourage repeat visiting and loyalty, which then you monetize through a subscription.

I’m not sure I fully understand the difference. … I think that if you’re the African American radio station in Philadelphia … people listen to you not because they really have to hear what’s on but because they like the idea that there is such a thing. If you’re mission-based, you do membership, if you’re product-based — you can be mission-based for profit, too — but it’s a marketing choice that I don’t fully understand the distinction between myself.

Fifteen or so years ago, The Wall Street Journal did a lot of studies of its readers and found there’s like seven types of readers and one type just wanted to be seen carrying The Wall Street Journal.

I think that the better chains understand that you need a local loyal audience, and local’s maybe too strong a word because retired Eagles fans in Florida are part of the local Philadelphia audience. It’s not fully geographic, but if you don’t have that audience you’re not going to be reader-supported and then you’re gonna need to be advertiser-supported and that’s a really hard fight.

If you’re a 200-person newsroom, you have people to assign the newsletters, you have some resources that you can reassign. If you’re a 20-person newsroom, unless you have a, for lack of a better term, I’ll call a young techie person … or are part of a chain which provides resources, it’s a really hard transition to make … new revenue sources. That said, if you’re a 200-person newsroom you may be $20 million in revenue to support that at $100,000 a person and that may require 100,000 digital subscriptions. If you’re a 20-person newsroom you only need $2 million a year or less if you’re in a small, less expensive market. You need a million and a half dollars a year in digital subscription revenue to support your newsroom, maybe three million total, you only need 30,000 digital subscriptions. Does your market support that? To me the question is not how does the organization survive. How do the newsrooms survive? How do you have a 200-person newsroom in a major American city, how do you have a 30-person newsroom in a smaller city in some part of North Carolina?