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Column: Director of audience, a new challenge in an industry I love
Shannon Casas high res
Shannon Casas

For the past four years, when people asked what I did at The Times, I answered, “I’m the editor.”

I didn’t need to explain what that was. And whoever I was talking with often seemed quite impressed with that title — I didn’t hate that. 

Now, I’ll be answering that question with “director of audience for The Times and two other local papers.”

Director of audience. What even is that? One staff member quipped I was going to pull out a conductor’s baton. I might try if a couple moves of the baton would direct all the good people of Gainesville and Hall County to go support the paper with a subscription.

But no. Director of something or other is of course not an uncommon title. I even held the title director of content for a short while. But director of audience is a fairly new title in the news industry. 

I’m not the first director of audience for these three properties, The Times, Forsyth County News and Dawson County News; I’m moving into an existing role. But I’ll also be changing the role up a bit given that I come from the newsroom and have a background in content, not email databases and circulation software.

So, what does a director of audience do? The quick answer — that my bosses care most about — is grow the number of people who subscribe to these local news outlets. The amount our subscribers pay is also important. I know everybody likes a good deal, but there’s a certain rate that’s feasible for the business and supports the work of our newsroom. Then there are deep discounts that may draw in someone who’s not familiar with our paper, but those rates aren’t sustainable long term.

So, yes, my job is to figure out how to get people to pay for local news. In 2022. As if the job of editor of a newspaper wasn’t hard enough. Apparently I like a challenge.

Email marketing, social media strategy, search engine optimization, content analytics — your eyes might be starting to glaze over. The job isn’t quite the conversation starter that editor is. But this is today’s world of newspapers, and I was already heavily involved in those realms. It’s also the stuff I’ve been most excited about for a while. Now, I have the opportunity to work even more, using those tools, to sell local news — the hard work of our journalists — to our audiences.

I can talk to you about which stories got the most clicks but also which stories did best with our loyal readers vs. more casual users on our websites. I can tell you whether people visit us through our Facebook page and then go on to buy a subscription or whether more people do that through one of our email newsletters.

I can tell you that readers find a lot of value in crime coverage as well as development news.

I’m also getting some old-fashioned numbers like how many single-copy sales there were for a given weekend paper and how many of you are subscribing to our print edition.

And I’ll be conveying a lot of that information to our newsrooms — something I already was doing in Gainesville.

I’ll also be thinking about how to build on the relationships we have with our readers, whether that’s through emails you may receive when you sign up for one of our newsletters or through face-to-face interaction at local events like a Flowery Branch block party.

And part of that relationship is going to be continuing this column.

In this space last week, you heard from new Group Editor Nate McCullough, and I’m sure that won’t be the last time you hear from him in a column space in this newspaper.

But much to the disappointment of a couple of people who send me occasional snail mail suggesting I should be shown the door, my bosses tell me folks love this column, so I’ll keep showing up here. 

What I won’t be doing anymore is reworking reporters’ articles so they flow better or prompting them to ask two more questions to fill a hole in a story — well I might tell their new bosses to take a look, but I’m stepping away. Repeat, I’m stepping away. 

I do believe in their work, though, and that’s what has taken me to this new role. I’ll be focusing on making sure you know about special series or magazines they worked hard on, even if that paper got lost on your kitchen table. And I’ll be especially focused on making sure their hard work is paying off in terms of serving subscribers and bringing in new ones. 

So, if we somehow haven’t met yet, I’m Shannon, director of audience for The Times and the papers over in Dawson and Forsyth counties. If you’re not a subscriber, go to gainesvilletimes.com/subscribe and fix that. I believe we’ll show you it’s worth it. If you are a subscriber, thanks for your support, and I promise we’ll keep doing our best for you. 

Shannon Casas is director of audience for Metro Market Media, parent company of The Times. She is a North Hall resident.