May 31, 2018

Jonathan O’Brien’s media habits probably aren’t that typical for 18-year-old recent high school grads.

He starts his day catching up on local news with Atlanta’s WSB radio station. Then he reads CNN, Politico and Fox News.

“I like to read a little bit of everything,” he said.

Oh, and he’s a digital subscriber to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which he reads every morning. He loves the politics coverage.

“I think it might have been a Christmas present,” he said.

We’ve spent the past month talking about what the newsroom needs to know about building loyal (and paying) audiences. Jonathan, even at 18, is both of those things.

The AJC’s paywall, set at five stories a month, encouraged the frequent reader to pay for access. (Remember, hitting paywalls is one of the paths that American Press Institute credits with turning users into subscribers.)

“I wanted to be able to see the stories all the time,” said Jonathan, who ends his day watching “World News Tonight” with David Muir.

The AJC subscription is worth it, Jonathan said, and he couldn’t think of anything he’d change about the product. He does subscribe to a politics newsletter but hasn’t interacted with the AJC at any events.

“…If you really want the good, in-depth stories, if you want a story that’s actually going to give you more information than just the surface … then subscribing is definitely worth it.”

The journalism is informative, he added, and often about things he wouldn’t even have thought about.

So what's the newsroom's role in the funnel? As we've talked about, it's a lot of things – reaching new audiences on social media, understanding people's habits and making it really easy to subscribe. But in this case, it seems like their most powerful and effective role was creating great, original content that this young man thinks is worth paying for. 

All of this may be good early training for Jonathan, who hosted a morning headlines show at his high school (like in “Grease,” he said,) and tried to share three big stories a day with his classmates.

Even though he was president of his student government and loves political news, he’s headed for Georgia College and State University to study communications.

He thinks he’d like to do radio news. And he may already have a good in with the business. At his graduation, Jonathan was surprised to get the AJC Cup, which recognizes Atlanta high school students.

“I said, well they probably just did it because I’m the only one in the room who’s a subscriber,” Jonathan joked.

I asked him if, as a subscriber, he wanted to tell the AJC anything?

His reply: “Keep it up.”

Thank you, Jonathan, for taking the time to talk with us! Next week, we're starting a new conversation on how to scale big ideas down. Until then, why is your newsroom so hard to contact? Facebook's Journalism Project is coming to Cincinnati and Tampa Bay. You still have time to apply for this fellowship program. And come hang out with me on Monday at this Webinar on Lessons from Local and the reason I spent too much time photographing my kids' Legos will become much clearer. 

See you next week! 

(Photo by Kristen Hare/Poynter)


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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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