Local news in America has been in steep decline for years with the country on track to lose more than a third of its newspapers by 2025. More than a fifth of Americans live in “news deserts” with limited or no access to local news, according to The Local News Initiative. But some upstart local news organizations are managing to thrive and expand despite the gloomy national climate.
A case in point is Greenville, South Carolina-based 6AM City. The fast-growing newsletter-first media company acquired local Austin publication Austonia in December 2022 for an undisclosed sum to further its expansion into the buzzy Texas state capital. Austonia’s website now redirects to 6AM City’s ATXToday.
Founded by Austin-area news veteran Mark Dewey in 2020 and launched as a daily newsletter during the early days of the pandemic, Austonia acquired more than 20,000 subscribers and built a vibrant social media presence in two years, according to 6AM’s deal announcement.
Austonia raised a total of $1 million from investors, according to Pitchbook, which is rather unusual for a local newsletter that isn’t part of a bigger media company. The company also received a $5,000 grant from Facebook parent company Meta to support its coronavirus coverage.
Dewey was aware of the headwinds facing his fledgling company. “It’s the worst of times commercially, so I just sort of put the business model on the shelf for now. We can weather this,” he told local outlet ATX Media at the time of Austonia’s launch. But despite Covid disruption and unfavorable national trends, Austonia’s brand of locally focused news—coincidentally delivered to subscribers at 6am every day—attracted the interest of 6AM City.
Why 6AM City wanted to buy local newsletter Austonia
Austin is one of 6AM City’s fastest growing markets thanks to an influx of new residents, including many from markets already served by the company. Co-founded by Ryan Johnston and Ryan Heafy in 2016, 6AM City now produces local newsletters for 25 markets that together attract more than one million subscribers. 6AM City faces competition from Axios, which is also snapping up successful local publications to build out its local news business.
“When we were expanding into Austin, the media company that most reflected our own model, ethos and commitment to community was Austonia,” 6AM City VP of Expansion Michael Mazzara explained in the acquisition announcement. “It’s serendipitous that we are bringing the two together to better serve Austin.”
Dewey agreed the companies’ missions were aligned, commenting: “6AM City is exactly the right company to build on what we started here at Austonia two years ago, providing useful information in a brief, interesting format.”
Following the acquisition, Austonia was subsumed by 6AM’s local newsletter, ATXtoday, with Dewey moving into an advisory role to smooth the transition.