CEO, Advance Local
Randy Siegel is CEO of Advance Local, which operates in more than 25 cities. Siegel was formerly President and Publisher of Parade Publications and an executive with The Washington Post Company.
We were probably the first company in America to double down on digital in 2012, when we relaunched our entire company, sold off our newspaper buildings, hired hundreds of new people. Made some challenging layoffs, and even cut back on some of our home delivery days of the week, because we knew what the future was going to look like. The question, I think, for us at the time was ‘Are we going to move fast enough to find that sustainable model for local journalism in an all-digital age?’ And we’re obsessed with that question. Now, we made a lot of progress. We still have a lot of challenges like everyone else, but we’re very excited about where we’ve been, but also very mindful of where we need to go.
There’s a time, I think, when people go through disruption in any field where you don’t want to believe it’s as significant as it really is. And you get conservative pretty fast, and you try out a more incrementalist approach.
I think what we did in 2012 without having a robust digital playbook ready to go was to rip the Band-Aid off, jump into the pool head first, then really test and learn, try a lot of things. Instill a culture where people are not afraid to share new ideas and insights, and try new things, even if they’re not successful, because it’s a very humbling experience to work in a field like local media that’s been disrupted so tremendously.
I learned early on in my career that the best innovations, the most profound insights, come from people who are actually out in the field and the market and in the community every day. And, we’re a company that has several thousand people, spread around 10 markets, but for us, at corporate, at the enterprise level, we don’t come up with the best ideas. We recognize really great ideas when we hear them from being out and about, and talking to our people. So, innovation is really a shared responsibility, but there is a decided bias that those great ideas are amongst our people. We have the obligation to go find them and empower people to share.
One of the things that folks in local media, whether it be Advance Local or elsewhere, can’t forget, is you’ve got to cover real issues that affect real people, living real lives. And that’s where the social listening, it’s being out and about, this is, where engaging with your audiences, plural, and this whole diversity issue, really all come together. Because it’s all about relevance. No one has a civic obligation to consume our content. Question is, is it good? Is it quality? Is it meaningful for them?
We’re always looking at things that are growing and things that are contracting, weighing them against what our core journalistic values are, and what our mission is, especially when it comes to public service reporting. It doesn’t always get the biggest audiences, but it’s a big part of our DNA, and it’s why we do what we do. It’s one of the messiest, hardest balancing acts that anyone working in local media has to grapple with.
Our organizations don’t reflect the diversity of the communities we’re trying to serve,” said Siegel. “And I think, as we think about the future, that’s one of the things we’re spending a lot of time thinking about, trying some new strategies with, and trying to be really creative, because that’s the one thing in addition to all the disruption we face, that will ultimately, I believe, decide our trajectory, the level of success.
The good thing is, you get instant data on what people are consuming. We don’t let the data drive all the journalistic decisions, nor would we ever, but if you’re too heavy on just statewide news, you lose the local connection. If you just focus on local or hyperlocal ... a lot of these issues, a lot of people’s identities are tied into their states.