- Kirsten Ballard
Ted Williams saw opportunity where others didn’t, and now he is at the helm of a successful and growing local news business. The Charlotte Agenda is less of a newspaper and more of a college tour guide, telling Charlotte residents what classes to take, where to eat and the cool spots to hang out. Publisher and founder Ted Williams wants to be useful to the readers. He previously worked at The Charlotte Observer. He startedThe Charlotte Agenda 16 months ago because he felt local media was worth a shot.
“Financially, it was probably a terrible decision,” he jokes. “Media is in people’s blood or it’s not.”
It’s in his blood though, which led him to create the newsletter, which emails a morning roundup of stories to its subscribers. He says newspaper business models didn’t make sense to him.
“Tomorrow’s media companies are being born right now,” he says. “They won’t look like today’s media companies… It will never be what it was previously.”
Newsletters are gaining popularity on the national level, but Williams said he did not have any competition at the local level. He chose to do a newsletter because it was small enough in scale that he could create the entire thing himself.
“I could immediately be the best newsletter in Charlotte,” he says.
Now, just over a year in, The Agenda has 17,000 subscribers and a 55 percent open rate.
The small staff breaks news on Instagram.
“Instagram has been an important channel to us; other media companies ignored it,” he says. “We had zero competition there and that’s where people consume; we were able to be the number one news outlet in a space people were already.”
However, The Agenda does not focus on breaking news, sports or crime.
“We focus a lot on being useful,” Williams says. “Other local media focus (on sports and crime), and we try to stay as useful as possible.”
After the success in Charlotte, Williams launched a sister newsletter in Raleigh, North Carolina. His focus is on building out the 2-city model.
“From there, we’ll sit down and decide if we think this is a solution on the national scale or not,” he says.
Already, the success has surpassed his original goals. He says the biggest problem and opportunity facing them is how to grow, which is a good problem to have.
“Most local media is getting smaller,” he says. “We get to deal with growth issues.”
He credits the internet with allowing him to compete against legacy media companies.
“The internet fundamentally changed everything,” he says. “Before, you would need a studio, a deal with a cable provider, a printing press, a way to deliver things. But the internet flattens everything.”