MassLive’s statewide strategy
Digital-first Springfield news outlet is trying to expand its brand across the state to Worcester and Boston.
A SPRINGFIELD-BASED NEWS outlet is taking a run at being the go-to source for state news in Massachusetts. MassLive, a website affiliated with the Springfield Republican, is trying to expand its brand beyond western Massachusetts by offering coverage across the state, with a special emphasis on Worcester and Boston.
Newspaper websites traditionally piggyback on their print counterparts, with stories going up on the website slightly before or after they have first appeared in the print edition of the newspaper. MassLive, by contrast, has adopted a digital-first strategy: Using a variety of elements, including print, video, audio, and interactive charts and graphs, stories are published first on MassLive’s web and mobile platforms and then later in the Republican. Indeed, the newspaper’s slogan is “ The Republican Powering MassLive.”
MassLive President Allison Werder declined a request to talk about the news website and directed her staff not to talk to a reporter. But Randy Siegel, the president of Advance Local, the company that operates MassLive, told a New England newspaper conference in 2013 that the one of the company’s long-term objectives is to prepare for the end of newspapers.
“Our…overreaching goal is to capitalize on opportunities to accelerate our digital audience and digital revenue growth so they can help offset what we believe is an irreversible print decline,” he said.
MassLive’s strategy appears to be two-fold: It wants to maintain its western Massachusetts base of readers while expanding into the Worcester and Boston metro areas. It also covers northern Connecticut and the rest of New England, according to its website.
MassLive has three (soon to be four) dedicated digital news reporters in Worcester and one in Boston. Reports from a Republican reporter in Boston also get posted on MassLive first.
The digital content remains heavily geared toward western Massachusetts, but news and sports coverage originating in the Boston and Worcester areas is gaining ground. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and Gov. Charlie Baker get plenty of attention, as do statewide issues such as casino gambling, heath care, immigration, and the push for the 2024 Olympics. Last summer, MassLive provided daily coverage of the state Probation Department federal corruption trial in Boston because the case had implications for Beacon Hill and one of the defendents hailed from Hatfield, a small Hampshire County town west of Amherst.
High school varsity sports from around the state, including football, basketball, soccer, and volleyball, occupy prime chunks of digital real estate and help bring in the clicks, especially from the next generation of news consumers. Sports fans can download apps, share links, take part in live chats, and post comments that can get pride of place alongside reporters’ stories and commentary.
Crime, entertainment, celebrity comings and goings, and, of course, photo galleries also get big play. Readers can also do more on MassLive than on comparable news sites, posting videos, photos, short bios, link to their blogs, and following other readers.
MassLive has completely taken over coverage of high school sports from the Republican.
A staff listing on the MassLive website indicates it has seven regular reporters, seven high school sports reporters, and three reporters assigned to cover the New England Patriots, the Boston Celtics, and the Boston Red Sox.
Other media observers find the digital-first strategy a tough sell for fans of the Republican. “For the public, it’s sort of you want us to go to MassLive first, read the content there, then you want us to buy the paper because now it’s deemed [to have] the most significant stories from MassLive for the print market,” says G. Michael Dobbs, the long-time managing editor of the Reminder, a weekly Springfield area newspaper. “I’m not tossing stones, but that is sort of a clumsy way to describe what you do.”
MassLive does not have a paywall: Anyone can access the content without charge or without being restricted to a few articles. MassLive describes itself as “the most popular news and entertainment website in western Massachusetts and the third-largest news website in the state,” but it’s unclear what those claims are based on.
ComScore, an Internet analytics firm, reports that MassLive attracted about 1.7 million unique visitors last October, although MassLive’s listings on Journalismjobs.com indicate the news site averages 2.75 million unique visitors each month as tracked by Omniture, another web analytics source (May 2014). By comparison, Boston.com, which has no paywall, had 8.3 million unique visitors last October, according to ComScore.
BostonHerald.com, which also has no paywall, had roughly 2.1 million unique visitors. BostonGlobe.com, which offers 10 free stories before a subscription is required, had 6.3 million unique visitors. Telegram.com, the paywall-protected website of the Telegram & Gazette in Worcester, had 1,081,359 uniques.
The MassLive website says Worcester represents its fastest growing market, with 2.7 million monthly pageviews on average. The Republican has traditionally attracted central Massachusetts readers, especially in the towns that border Hampden County. The website’s major competitors in Worcester are the Telegram & Gazette, which changed hands twice last year, and Worcester magazine, which bills itself as a “progressive local weekly.”
John Hill, a former MassLive reporter based in Worcester who now works as the communications specialist for the city of Worcester, says the website has earned the trust of the municipal officials. “When MassLive wants to come to see the city manager or city departments, it’s not ‘who is this and why should we bother with these people.’ They are treated the same as the Telegram and Worcester magazine,” Hill says.
MassLive and the Republican are part of the same corporate empire and they share content, but they operate as two separate companies. Advance is trying to create a purely digital workplace culture at MassLive, separate and distinct from the Republican. The two news organizations have their owns staffs and managers and they are housed in two separate buildings in two different Springfield neighborhoods. For the most part, the Republican’s reporters and editors are older and unionized; MassLive staff members are younger and non-union. Last September, Gov. Deval Patrick and Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno were on hand to celebrate MassLive’s move into a downtown Springfield office building crowned with the site’s logo.
Advance Publications runs the Republican. Founded by S.I. Newhouse, the newspaper and publishing magnate, Advance, an $8 billion company, is still owned by his descendants. The company also owns Condé Nast Publications, Parade Publications, Fairchild Publications, American City Business Journals, the Golf Digest Companies, and newspapers in more than 25 cities, including Cleveland, New Orleans, Newark, and Portland, Oregon.
Advance Local, a subsidiary of Advance Publications, owns MassLive as well as 11 other digital local news operations in cities such as New Orleans and Cleveland. “Digital is the focus of the operation,” says Rick Edmonds, a business journalism analyst for Poynter.org.
Advance generated controversy in 2012 when the company eliminated the daily New Orleans Times-Picayune print editions and shifted news coverage to Nola.com. In response to protests in the digitally divided city, Advance resurrected the full Times-Picayune print publishing schedule and is back to publishing seven days a week, with home delivery available on Sundays, Wednesdays, and Fridays only.
Advance has yet to make any moves to shutter the Republican. “Advance papers are usually in newspaper-loyal cities,” says Benton. The company may be “feeling burnt” by the Times-Picayune/Nola debacle, he adds.(Correction: Due to incorrect information supplied by the web analytics firm ComScore, this story originally listed the number of Telegram.com unique visitors at 193,000. According to Telegram.com, the website had 1,081,359 unique visitors in September 2014 as tracked by Omniture.)
(Correction: Due to a reporting error, an earlier version of this article said that Advance eliminated The Times-Picayune print edition. The company initially reduced the newspaper’s print schedule to three days per week in 2012.)