It’s that time of year. Publications are reflecting on the top stories of both 2019 and the past decade, looking ahead, and making predictions about what’s to come. In our last issue, we introduced you to some People to Watch in 2020 and honestly felt that we could have (maybe should have) profiled a lot more. Here a few things I expect to see over the course of the year – and in a few cases before cars start lining up on their way to the beach.
1. More local nonprofits consolidate in 2020.
The creation of the Wilmington Alliance from the Wilmington Renaissance Corp. and the Wilmington Leaders Alliance has created a blueprint for other organizations with similar purposes (or slightly different purposes that could be aligned) to come together. By all accounts, this new Wilmington Alliance has had an immediate impact with a strong leader and a clear set of goals. I’ve talked to a number of people over the past few months who agree that foundations would like to see more consolidations like this, and many organizations agree that state funding is not keeping pace with costs; it’s getting more difficult to attract and retain committed staff members; and a dip in the economy could make it even more difficult to attract individual donations.
2. The News Journal eliminates at least one print edition per week.
Look for the paper to eliminate one day of coverage – most likely Saturdays – as it tries to reduce expenses and push more people toward its digital product. Between decreases in circulation and the need to offer up expense cuts following the Gannett merger with GateHouse, something besides more senior staff reductions and a greater reliance on wire-service news will have to take place. Saturday publications are the weakest paper of the week ad-wise and content-wise and the ones many papers have cut first, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see the News Journal go even deeper or cut back on some of their community publications, which already share a lot of stories with each other.
But while I’m not going to predict this, I do believe one or more local brands or foundations will decide they want to take the paper away from vulture funds and buy it as a community trust – much like Paul Huntsman did with the Salt Lake City Tribune – and move it away from a news-gathering strategy built on clickbait. As a former business reporter there, I’d love to see someone restore a sense of affection for the community and a commitment to holding institutions accountable without defaulting to the nasty tone many of its articles seem to have.
3. Wesley College finds a dance partner from inside the First State.
But I don’t think it will be the University of Delaware. I won’t be surprised if the buyer/partner comes from Delaware State University, Goldey-Beacom College, or even Wilmington University. Losing Wesley would leave a lot of victims in its wake, including downtown Dover itself, and the school has some attractive programs that would complement what prospective suitors already offer.
4. We see some real progress on the Ready in 6 initiative by June 30.
Everyone claims to embrace the recommendations in KPMG’s report and the governor says he’s going to lead the charge on implementation to ensure progress is finally made. There’s no question there needs to be a trickle-down effect with local government. The governor needs to clearly communicate this is a major priority to his cabinet and, more important, they need to communicate clearly – with measurable goals and timelines – that their subordinates need to step up and support change. But business also needs to stop complaining about the challenges and bring their project management skills to the table. A first-quarter summit with top leaders would be a good start, as would identifying low-hanging fruit and fixing them to get the momentum started.
5. Delaware adds five companies to its list of 25 Largest Employers.
We had a brainstorming session this week for our annual Innovation Delaware supplement and it was clear that the leaders in the room are excited about the growth potential of many of the companies we cover. As we work on the Book of Lists, it looks like the cutoff will be somewhere around 1,300 Delaware employees. I’ll bet we’ll see a much higher cutoff next year and 20% of the names will be different.
6. Delawareans will pay for good content.
We moved to a paywall in August that asks readers to subscribe. The argument against paywalls is that people won’t pay for news because they can get it for free elsewhere. I’m not sure that’s the case in Delaware. The Delaware State News recently introduced a paywall, and of course the News Journal has one. Others rail against it and they’re probably right if all people feel they need is a quick summary of press releases.
But we’ve seen a nice increase in paid subscriptions over the last five months without the often-predicted substantive decreases in pageviews, sessions, and pages per session. It’s all about telling stories about people our readers know and providing context that helps them grow their business or be more effective. We need to continue earning the trust of our readers. We still have way too many people who visit us once or twice every 30 days, but we are committed to generating stories that engage and encourage you to share with your friends and coworkers. We are committed to being pro-business, pro-transparency and pro-accountability, sort of the Delaware-only equivalent of Inc. magazine or Fast Company. You’re not going to pay for content unless it’s worthwhile, and we hope you understand that it costs money to produce good journalism and support our efforts for what is really a minimal cost. So my prediction is we’re going to double our paid circulation in 2020.
By Peter Osborne