June 2, 2017

As more local print newsrooms try to figure out how to become digital, a digital site in Charlotte, North Carolina did exactly the opposite — it turned to print.

Charlotte Agenda’s put out its first printed product, City Notes, on Friday. The newcomer’s guide to Charlotte has already brought in more than $100,000 in revenue, said Ted Williams, Charlotte Agenda’s publisher. Ten thousand copies are ready to be distributed for free at area apartment complexes, through realtors, and around town. They’re also available for purchase for $20.

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Earlier this year, Williams spoke with Poynter about closing the Raleigh version of the Agenda and how the site would bring in money, including with the newcomer’s guide. Charlotte joins a few other local publications that have focused on a premium print products this year.

Williams spoke with Poynter via email about the new guide, how it’s different than the competition and what not to do if you’re doing to try something like this.

There’s a real blend of editorial tips and advertising here. They’re kind of woven together in a way that’s not exactly native advertising but not the traditional magazine approach of separate real estate, either. Have you all tried anything like this before?


How’d you navigate that?

Local advertising can be beautiful and useful. We don’t do crappy ads. It’s important to us that if we’re going to ask business for money, we better have an ad product that’s outstanding. We turned away advertisers that didn’t want to do ads according to our plans because it would be bad for the reader and bad for the advertiser.

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Does Charlotte have anything else like this?

The Charlotte Observer does an annual guide, and I’m honestly not sure about other media.

Why was the Charlotte Agenda the right place to create City Notes?

It’s our most popular user problem to solve — “I just moved to the city, what do I need to know?” We love solving problems through media products.

This is a product that has some shelf-life, as you described it to Poynter previously. Should other local newsrooms consider projects like this? Any tips?

Yes. Don’t do it half-way. Most newsrooms don’t commit resources (time, money, talent) and end up with a half-baked product that’s unremarkable.

We’ve talked about this before, but how did you approach this print product differently than what you all do online?

It had to be much more polished. We made material investments in photography, design, printing and distribution. It’s a different muscle, but Cristina Wilson on our team has print experience and knows how to create remarkable products.

You can peruse this online for free. Any signs people will spend $20 to hold it in their hands?

No, I have no evidence. But online sales revenue is not material compared to ad revenue.

What can Charlotte Agenda do that Yelp or Yellowpages can’t?


You all had some fun with this, too. I spy an Elle Woods quote and some great neighborhood illustrations. Can you tell us about that, and the voice you all took with this?

It has a conversational tone that fits with our product.

What’s next?

We’re a very disciplined media company (as you have to be if you like profits), so we’re still modeling out new initiatives for 2018. Most local media companies are super busy, but not productive — that’s not us.

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Kristen Hare teaches local journalists the critical skills they need to serve and cover their communities as Poynter's local news faculty member. Before joining faculty…
Kristen Hare

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