What should a local news app look like? Charlotte Agenda’s answer: Stories, events and jobs

July 21, 2016
Category: Tech & Tools

Until today, Charlotte Agenda hadn’t yet launched a news app for a very simple reason: The company’s founder, Ted Williams, didn’t want it to be bad.

“One of the things we didn’t want to do is launch an app early on, when we were going to launch a crappy one,” Williams said. “We waited a year and a half, even though a lot of the coverage we do feels very app-y.”

Earlier Thursday, Williams announced the debut of CA Today, a news app that accompanies the 17-month-old local news startup dedicated to covering Charlotte, North Carolina.

The layout of the app is relatively straightforward. It has four tabs: The first (farthest to the left) is a traditional vertical news feed, another is a calendar of events, one’s a jobs board and the last allows users to tweak their preferences.



The simple configuration is, well, by design, Williams said. The baseline principle was to build “a fast, clean app that gets out of the way” quickly and allows users to find what they’re looking for. Each tab represents a different section of the website that has been particularly popular.

Longtime observers of local media might be scratching their heads at the decision to bring job ads to a local news app: Didn’t tech titans like Google kill classified advertising a long time ago? And what about local events? Don’t people have Facebook for that?

By and large, yes, but Williams says that job ads are a significant draw for advertisers, comprising about 5 percent of the company’s overall revenue. Events comprise another 5 percent of the revenue pie, as does a membership program. The bulk of the revenue comes from sponsorships, which comprise 85 percent. Ads and events are popular with readers, too.

“People really like it,” he said. “We just look at what’s been successful on the web and brought it to the app.”

Since its launch in April 2015, Charlotte Agenda has attracted attention for attempting to forge a sustainable for-profit model for local news. It’s in the vanguard of startups that are trying to make a dent in markets that were once dominated by traditional newspapers. Recently, Charlotte Agenda launched an expansion site, Raleigh Agenda.

Why launch an app when more and more readers are getting their news from social networks such as Twitter and Facebook? Done right, Williams says, local news apps can foster “a direct relationship with the customer,” no matter the alternatives.

“I get the trends,” Williams said. “But I think there’s always going to be room in the market for media players adding daily value.”

Williams says he’ll evaluate the success of the app after three months and figure out whether it’s working for the company. If it proves popular, he’ll consider launching a similar product for the Raleigh site.

“If there’s one certainty in media, it’s that you never know what you’re going to look like in a few months,” Williams said.