If they don’t screw it up, the Charlotte Business Journal will be our dominant local news source by 2020

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WSOC-TV, WBTV and The Charlotte Observer will dramatically decline over the upcoming years and the Charlotte Business Journal has the opportunity to become the news source of record in Charlotte.

Local ad dollars have been slow to shift into digital, but that’ll change. When it does shift, it’ll shift fast. It’s inevitable.

The fixed costs of producing television and producing print means that expense reductions will likely come through layoffs, which will accelerate the decline even more.

The big winners will be Google and Facebook. Their ad products increasingly outperform legacy media and their analytics allow buyers to easily track campaign success.

Honestly, it’s very sad.

Google and Facebook will generate extreme wealth while local media companies die. It’s a big crush for local journalism.

So what’s different about the Charlotte Business Journal? Their expenses are low and they’ve intelligently diversified their revenue away from commodity advertising.

Here’s just one example. The CBJ newsroom is about a dozen people. The Charlotte Observer newsroom is about a hundred.

CBJ’s culture and systems are much scrappier than their competition.

On the revenue side, they’ve executed brilliantly. Digital subscription revenue will prove to be king in the future (due to advertising dollars going to Facebook and Google). CBJ has built a powerful digital subscription program – and consumers can use their business credit card to pay, which is a huge advantage. Other CBJ investments that are paying off include events (ex: CIO Awards) and data (ex: Book of Lists).

erik-spanberg-charlotte-journalist

Given the decline of their competition, what bold moves can CBJ make to play offense and secure the position as the news source of record in Charlotte?

Here’s three.

Expand coverage. Go deep into education, investigations, politics, opinion and more. Acquire the top 5-10 journalists from the competition (who will be in a weak position to match salary). You could start to see a future where you have a newsroom of 15-20 well compensated editors and journalists who are producing original journalism that you can’t get elsewhere.

Go unapologetically premium. Every time I see CBJ journalists rewrite a top list story from another media outlet it makes me want to cry. Journalists hate doing this and rewriting stories happens when editors and business execs set sloppy goals. CBJ should leverage their position as the Wall Street Journal meets the New York Times – of Charlotte. All original. All premium. Simple pricing – you want it, you pay us $10/mo.

Scalable product solutions. I need to find an office. I need to find a job. I need to buy office supplies. These are problems that can be solved through scalable technology solutions. Creating business marketplaces could provide a new profitable line of business. CBJ has not invested in building world class product in these areas.

Video & audio. Brands and people still understand the idea of “shows” and CBJ should be able to get at least 10,000 people to tune into a weekly audio and a weekly video program. Leverage this to to grab radio and TV ad dollars. Instead of Spanberg going on other people’s shows, franchise him – he’s a stud and somebody from CBJ needs to produce/monetize him.

Pillar events. CBJ’s execution on events has been incredible. There’s two way to grow event revenue – make more money from existing events or do more events. CBJ has been doing more events, which cause the events to lose credibility – smart people are making jokes like “What’s the next event, Awards for Executive Assistants who work part-time at energy companies in Huntersville on Tuesdays?” CBJ has the ability to go big with their 40 Under 40 or create a local event the equivalent to the Aspen Ideas Festival.

As others decline, will CBJ be aggressive or will they play it safe?

Honestly, I hope CBJ plays it safe. That way, the Charlotte Agenda can come out of nowhere to crush them.

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Ted Williams
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Publisher, golfer, dad and magician (seriously).