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Hearst Newspapers’ Michael Irenski on the value of local journalism, keyword blocklists and Popeye

To say that Michael Irenski has a bird’s-eye view of the state of journalism in the United States is no overstatement. As the vice president of programmatic revenue at Hearst Newspapers, he helps manage the revenue for the brand’s 24 daily and 52 weekly publications.

As such, he affirms the importance of local journalism to the overall health of the industry. Hearst Newspapers — which includes the Houston Chronicle and the San Francisco Chronicle — continue to thrive within (and beyond) their demographic marketplaces where local coverage is the lifeblood of the papers. Irenski jokes that they “cover high school sports as if it’s the NBA.”

“Something we like to say internally is, the national stories are conversations that are being had with everyone, but the local stories are conversations with your friends or your neighbor or your family,” he tells The Current Podcast.

It’s been a challenging time for journalism as newsrooms around the country have shuttered due to lack of funding. Irenski opens up about the challenges and opportunities for Hearst Newspapers in this sometimes-unfriendly environment, with threats ranging from Big Tech to keyword blocklists.

And yet, Irenski is bullish on the prospects for the Hearst brand, which has been around now for 137 years, and insists that advertising can help fund healthy newsrooms. Not to mention, the Hearst brand has a secret weapon in its comics section: Popeye the Sailor Man.