Local media is changing, fast — and the pace is only going to accelerate. Here are the media players to watch in 2018.
As legacy business models collapse, it’s a fascinating time to be in local media. Don’t forget — with death comes birth.
Recently, a few of Charlotte’s brightest young media leaders left their local media jobs. Sarah Crosland left the Charlotte Observer to join Compass Group, Hilary Burns left Charlotte Business Journal for American Banker in Boston, Bill Voth left Black and Blue Review to join the Panthers and Michael Graff left his role as editor at Charlotte Magazine to freelance.
These big-name departures create opportunity for those on this list.
Joe Bruno, Reporter at WSOC-TV
Analysis: Joe is a freaking news breaking machine. His work ethic is unmatched and his 7,500+ Twitter followers respect him. It feels like in the past six months, he’s risen as the arguably the brightest young news reporter in the city.
What to watch: Now that he’s established himself as a Spanberg-level reporter, will WSOC let him pick his beats and create a space where’s he’s in charge (ex, Dealbook w/ Andrew Ross Sorkin)?
Page Fehling, TV Anchor/Host at FOX46 Charlotte, WJZY-TV
Analysis: Similar to my man-crush Brad Panovich, Page has developed a strong personal brand that crosses over into social media. I had one media buyer tell me, “I don’t normally buy TV, but I buy Fox only because of Page.” Statements like that provide Page a ton of contract negotiation leverage. Additionally, she’s launched a podcast/video series titled Date Night where she and her husband (he’s tall with nice hair) interview news making couples.
What to watch: Will FOX46 give her digital freedom and production support? Page is talented enough that FOX46 could take a move out of the playbook of companies like BuzzFeed and Cheddar and produce a show made for the internet. Unlikely, but the suits should do it. Same with the suits at WCCB and Morgan Fogarty. Local TV news feels irrelevant and stale to young people, but owners are just making too much money to take risks with formats, resources and talent.
Davon Bailey, Founder & CEO at Eat Work Play
Analysis: Eat Work Play is the most underrated media asset in the city. The brand has over 53,000 Instagram followers and they know how to throw events. Additionally, Eat Work Play has a certain taste/authenticity that’s impossible to teach. Rich Moyer, owner of self-serve bar Hoppin’, told me, “Social media coverage from Agenda and Eat Work Play allowed us to have a record setting launch – specifically Instagram.”
What to watch: Can Davon drive revenue, quit his day job at Bank of America and build a huge platform that connects young professionals to their city/local businesses? We should see more sponsors, more events and more ad campaigns.
Joe O’Connor, GM WFAE 90.7
Analysis: As the business model for ad-supported local journalism crumbles, Joe is aggressively building out a nonprofit model. It’s brilliant. I’m bullish. WFAE is aggressively hiring. But they still feel niche, audio-centric and they need more digital talent in order to win over the city.
What to watch: Can WFAE hire the right talent and diversify from audio to reach more people — thus overtaking the Charlotte Observer to become the media company of record for Charlotte?
Brett Barter, Co-Owner of QC Exclusive
Analysis: Brett and his cofounder JP Grice have built an incredible business – just look at the thickness of their issues. Bootstrapped and able to operate with little overhead, QC Exclusive is in the position to invest while competitors retract. With the quick turnover of the new Charlotte Magazine’s publisher (he moved back to Atlanta) and Michael Graff leaving as editor, Brett can continue to win print advertising deals. Additionally, QC Exclusive throws a killer event and has under-monetized digital assets — so there’s room to grow both event and digital revenue.
What to watch: Will Brett and JP take advantage of Charlotte Magazine’s turnover to grow revenue and readership?
Jonathan Jones, Writer at Sports Illustrated
Analysis: With 30,000 Twitter followers and a strong voice that translates to print, audio and television — the ceiling is the roof for Jonathan Jones. He’s also a legit journalist. Because of his optionality, I’m more curious about Jonathan’s media career that anybody else in Charlotte. He loves/understands culture and he’s not afraid to give opinions. He reminds me of Bill Simmons — but deciding what he wants and how to get there isn’t as easy as it used to be. Additionally, The Athletic, a subscription sports site, will likely expand to Charlotte at some point and both Jonathan and Jordan Rodrigue are perfect candidates to recruit.
What to watch: Will Jonathan Jones stay in Charlotte and will he freelance to test his ability to connect on culture topics?
“The Newspaper Duo” Ely Portillo & Katie Peralta, Reporters at The Charlotte Observer
Analysis: It feels like all big stories from the Observer have either Ely or Katie’s byline attached to them. Although young, they’ve proven themselves as top 10 journalists in the city. Previously, it was easy to see the path for rising journalists (go to larger papers or into the editing ranks), but it’s now you see more and more journalists transitioning to corporate positions.
What to watch: Will McClatchy (parent company of the Charlotte Observer) give Ely and Katie management responsibilities or will they just treat them as millennial workhorses? And how long with Ely and Katie choose to stay at a shrinking regional newspaper?
Courtney Schramm, Owner of Charlotte Lately
Analysis: In just two years, Courtney has built Charlotte Lately’s Instagram account to around 25,000 followers and on February 1, she’ll be launching a new 3 times per year print magazine title: “Lately, a Charlotte publication.” Depending on how she productizes her audience, she’s got the chance to create a business like what we’ve seen with the Scout Guide and Susu Bear’s Scoop Charlotte (my favorite Charlotte media success story).
What to watch: Will Courtney grow revenue and take on the Charlotte Scout Guide and Scoop Charlotte?
Whitney Shaw, CEO American City Business Journals
Analysis: I’m in love with the business model at American City Business Journals (parent company of CBJ). The city-level economics are gorgeous. With a Charlotte newsroom of about a dozen, they’re generating material revenue from subscriptions, events, advertising and other data products. It’s a brilliant model and Whitney has done a great job staying true to the brand and diversifying revenue at their 43 business publications throughout the country.
What to watch: Now that most event revenue has been realized, will Whitney decide to bet on subscriptions or advertising? Although possible, it’s hard to serve both well. Like the New York Times, I’d strategically align with the subscriber (which will cause short-term pain), but is the best longterm game plan.
Nikki Wolfe, Community Manager at Yelp
Analysis: Nobody is more connected in Charlotte’s food and drink scene than Nikki. Her work ethic and insider knowledge are unparalleled, especially with Sarah Crosland now in the corporate world. Her local relationships run deep. But the real thing that separates Nikki from other media talent is that she’s fearless. She’ll tell you the truth and isn’t afraid to be raw. You can’t teach her voice. Charlotte doesn’t have a lighting rod columnist and our media is very bland/buttoned up, which creates a huge opportunity for somebody with the experience, fearlessness and work ethic of Nikki.
What to watch: Will Nikki continue her career at Yelp or will she get poached by a more traditional media company — or will she start her own thing?
Bonus: Sherrell Dorsey, Founder of ThePLUG
Analysis: Currently, Sherrell is enrolled in the data journalism program at Columbia University in New York. Before moving there, she freelanced in Charlotte while launching ThePLUG, the only daily tech newsletter covering diverse founders, startups, technologists, and investors. Just this past week, Sherrell helped BLKTECHCLT, a community initiative focused on black technology entrepreneurs, lease space in Camp North End for workshops and networking
What to watch: Upon graduation at Columbia, will Sherrell move back to Charlotte?