Local pubs going online branch out
Local publishers are very rarely concerned with national or even state news. They usually stick to their distribution area by covering the community they live and work in. But some local newspapers that have decided to take their publications exclusively online have found a bigger world beyond their immediate communities.
For Gary Wamsley, publisher of the Colorado-based Berthoud Recorder, going online was something he was forced into due to bleeding ad revenue. “Subscriptions were increasing at 20 percent per year, but advertising revenue was inadequate,” Wamsley said. It got to the point where he could no longer afford to pay his staff.
During its life as a print newspaper, the Recorder covered local and regional news within Larimer and Weld counties. Since downsizing and taking his publication online in December, Wamsley noted that he now has a broader range and larger number of readers. “My count of daily visitors is greater than the number of subscribers that I had,” he said. He is now actually trying to reach a larger audience and will even consider some national news items, which he would have never contemplated before.
Like Wamsley, editor Jill Boomer kept coverage strictly to Jersey County, Ill., before switching the 14-year-old Jersey County Star to an online-only format in September. Since going online, the story has changed. Now Boomer said she considers national news pitches if it has some sort of local tie.
Although editor Lori Switaj would like to keep the Ohio-based Avon Lake Ledger’s news to its coverage area, she finds being able to track unique IP addresses helpful. This way, she can pinpoint precisely who is reading the publication. The “problem with print is that you don’t know who is actually reading the paper,” said Switaj, who after years of working in print launched the community paper online in July 2009. Regardless, “the outside reader does not change what is covered on the Web site. We are committed to keeping this an Avon Lake news site only,” Switaj said.
Concentrating on local news, however, isn’t keeping her from reaching out to citywide advertisers and readers. This spring, she is launching a citywide advertising blitz, making sure every household, including readers outside of the Avon Lake community, has a flier, brochure or notice regarding the Avon Lake Ledger and what it has to offer. The brochure will contain advertisements from outside businesses that will also run on the Web site.
Some publications now go as far as covering international news, like Chicago’s niche newspaper People’s World. According to editor Terrie Albano, before hitting the Web in January, People’s World stayed close to covering local and national news. Albano said they made a decision to venture online due to financial reasons. “Online provides potentially more readers for the financial investment than print,” she added. With the new online edition came a younger readership, which Albano noted was good for their publication. As a niche publication covering social issues, going online also helped them better target their niche audience, which is “union members, African Americans, Mexican Americans and students,” she said.
Whether they are covering news stories outside of the immediate community or providing citywide advertising, local publications venturing online realize that with a broader range of readership comes a demand for state and national news reporting. Although this trend has proven its benefits by providing these publications a platform to keep their publication alive during tumultuous times, Boomer in particular expressed some reluctance. “I unfortunately feel this [online publications] is the trend for the future,” she said. Nevertheless, the times are changing and even local media is adapting and evolving.
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