Insights, tools and research to advance journalism

How to build audiences with single-subject news products

single-subject-newsAs audiences gain more choices for news, they are increasingly turning to specialized sources. That represents a challenge to general-interest publishers but also creates an opportunity to reach new audiences by being the best source on a particular topic.

Topic, not demographics or habits, is now the biggest factor determining where people turn for news. Convenience also matters. These are among the most important findings from the Personal News Cycle research API has conducted along with our partners AP-NORC in our ongoing collaboration called the Media Insight Project.

Readers can now find global, dispersed communities for their passions, which creates new markets for news and media organizations to cover these narrow interests and passions in depth. By creating deep communities around topics that extend beyond geography, publishers can find new business opportunities.

There are many reasons a publisher would want to create a single-subject news site. Among them, single-subject sites can:

  • Attract a new audience and deepen the loyalty of an existing audience
  • Expand upon your existing strengths in a cost-effective way
  • Build a new, innovative product under your company’s brand, but with the flexibility of an independent sub-brand

The single-subject strategy can work well even for relatively small or local publishers. Developing a single-subject news product isn’t just for established brands with endless editorial, technical and sales resources. In this study we specifically sought examples of a wide range of news organizations — from big to small, newspapers and magazines, and examples from around the world.

By creating deep communities around topics that extend beyond geography, publishers can find new business opportunities.

We have identified key trends and ways to scale a new product so it’s less risky, with less up front resources, which can be adjusted and work for any audience or publisher.

This paper is part of API’s Strategy Studies series. While similar to case studies, API’s Strategy Studies draw on multiple cases in order to arrive at more durable conclusions. They also focus on how the examples can be used for others to develop their own products.

Throughout my interviews, I found that the publications that launched successful single-subject news sites shared three characteristics. They identified a topic by assessing what they were good at covering, what their community was passionate about, or what topics were underserved. They created content to serve their audience as fully as possible on that topic, rather than just “covering news” in a conventional sense. And they all nurtured the new brand, including a marketing plan that enabled it to grow and expand.

Accordingly, this paper is organized into three sections and can be read in full or you can jump to a section that most addresses your needs:

  1. How to choose a subject
  2. How to create and execute a content strategy
  3. How to prepare for expansion and growth

The lessons in this report are distilled from interviews with top editors and strategists from the following organizations: USA Today, Denver Post, Deseret News, The Idaho State Journal, the Treasure Coast newspapers, The Atlantic, New York Magazine, Vanity Fair, as well as Mint and Mint Asia in India. This report highlights specific tactics and strategies that have worked for them and can work for your news organization as well.

A worksheet is included at the end to help build a niche content strategy that fits your organization’s goals.

Need to Know newsletter

The smart way to start your day

Each morning we scour the web for fresh useful insights in our Need to Know newsletter. Sign up below.

Featured topics

Go deeper on…

Dive deep on everything we produce about these key topics.

Strategy Studies

The best practices for innovation within news organizations

This Strategy Study presents examples and insights about journalism innovation, offering actionable advice and methods to move your journalism and business forward.