Home NEWS Local Scene Looks Like It’s A “30” In North Carolina

Looks Like It’s A “30” In North Carolina

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Back in the Bad Old Days of Daily Journalism, when hunchbacked reporters pounded out their stories on dented Royals and ended them with the old telegrapher’s signal – 30 – (i.e: “End Transmission), no one could possibly have imagined what would become of the profession.Scoop

Like most American businesses attempting to adapt to rapidly changing times, journalism was late to embrace what was coming and paid the price. Great newspapers withered and died like Fall leaves, and the few that remain have been cut down to comic book size.

A few surviving members of the Old Breed, die-hard scribblers with a passion for a well-told tale and a string of broken marriages behind them, set out to blend Old and New and stepped into the void that was local journalism.

Tough old geezers partnered with some smart young ones and have been making a go of it, moving their presses from the printing plant to the Web, and seeking to capitalize on the immediacy the Internet brings to the game. Some, however, have cashed in and thrown in the towel for good. This happened to a well-received, hard-working WebNewspaper in Davidson, North Carolina this week.

A former colleague sent us Editor David Boraks’ farewell message, and we liked a lot of what he had to say. We believe in learning from the missteps of others and his parting note to his readership was loaded with insight into the current business landscape for enterprises such as ours:

“We’re sorry to announce that DavidsonNews.net and CorneliusNews.net are ceasing publication as of today. Over the past 9 years, we’ve taken a crazy idea – covering our small towns daily on the web – and turned it into a widely-read, much-loved and often-quoted news source that readers tell us they find indispensable. Alas, we haven’t turned it into a sustainable business: We’re in debt, we’re exhausted, and it’s time to go.

“My colleague Lyndsay Kibiloski and I are proud of what we’ve built, with the help of so many people in the community. This decision has been painful and frustrating. Readership on our Lake Norman news network is actually at its all-time peak: We’re now the largest publication north of Charlotte, with more than 100,000 unique visitors (readers) per month from Charlotte to Lake Norman and beyond, according to Google Analytics. And we’ve won national and regional attention for our journalism and our news-on-the-web efforts.

“But we’ve been unable to sell enough advertising to local businesses to sustain the sites, to pay me and, lately, to pay our staff. Our annual winter slump hit especially hard this year. At the same time, voluntary support from readers – which has always been limited – has dropped off.

“In some other markets around the US, community news sites have won advertising contracts from larger businesses – hospital groups, grocery chains, car dealers and other companies – as well as nonprofits. Alas, in the Lake Norman area, most local ad dollars still go to print publications.

“And when local businesses or nonprofits do spend money on the web, it’s typically not going to community news. Instead, our neighbors who run small businesses – who are quick to urge us all to “buy local” – are sending money to places like California or New York – headquarters of the big internet companies. It’s been discouraging the past few years to have local business owners tell us they don’t have money for advertising, and then to see their ads on Google or Facebook.

“We’re also grateful to the small number of readers who understand that community news can’t be free. Thank you. You’ve contributed everything from a few dollars a month to a few hundred dollars a year to help pay for news gathering on DavidsonNews.net and CorneliusNews.net.

“But there aren’t enough of you. Just 2 percent of readers – only a few hundred – actually make those “voluntary subscription payments. The other 98 percent of readers have not responded to our twice a year campaigns, or to messages on our site, on our social media pages and in our daily emails.

“Running a daily web newspaper and advertising network for Lake Norman has been rewarding, but exhausting. It’s been a team effort, and wouldn’t have happened without dedication and long hours from Lyndsay and me, as well as our salespeople, reporters, columnists and community news contributors. We’ve saved the site from death a few times before, and we are carrying a substantial debt. When things took turn for the worse again this winter, we agreed that rather than another all-out effort to save our business, we’re ready to try new things.

“I’m sad and concerned that our sites are going dark. But we’re not the only game in town – there are other news sources here.

“So that’s it. We’ll see you around.”

 

NEWS24-680 NOTE: Boraks didn’t do it so we’ll put a -30- on his farewell. The End. If we were there we’d stand him to a drink. Beyond that we found ourselves smiling at the similarities in his situation and ours: a growing and engaged readership, more “eyes on” than ever and more than the few surviving print publications still standing, recalcitrant advertisers who cry “Buy Local” but plead poor and then skirt local readers in favor of expensive corporate ad and mail campaigns run out of San Jose or New York.

We run a lean shop and aren’t burdened by debt but we felt Boraks’ pain. Our eyes were wide open when we started this thing and, frankly, we were aware of the hypocritical nature of local advertising.

But we were also struck by the number of people who wrote to Mr. Boraks in response to his final column, many of them local business owners who praised his professionalism and the site’s contributions to the community, but who had advertised elsewhere, and expressed their sorrow at the site’s departure – albeit too late.

9 COMMENTS

  1. Millions of years ago, even before chains like “Blockbuster” were a thing, I owned a video rental shop. (Somewhere in the garage I still have one of those “Be Kind. Rewind.” signs.) I’d have advertised with you. But, I’ve been instructed by the other half never to get us involved in owning a retail establishment again.

  2. I just found this – on a Internet news site: “Only 48 percent of Americans polled said that they would completely cover a hypothetical emergency expense costing $400 without selling something or borrowing money.”

    Everyone is looking for the most bang for their buck and there aren’t a lot of bucks around.

  3. Retailers are hanging on by their fingernails – in a large part because of Internet sales operatoins like Amazon and others. Technology cuts a lot of ways, good and bad.

  4. It works both ways. I’ve had retailers tell me they were only using digital ads (cleaner, measured hits, less expensive, reach more people several times) only to see their mailers or coupon books in the dumpster at work. People go with what they know – even if it’s less effective.

  5. I don’t do what you do but if I did I would be concentrating on handling the accounts of Internet savvy companies who understand what you do. Chasing $10 from the local pizza parlor is a lost cause. And I agree that the business landscape is changing for everyone. Adapting is essential and those who don’t are going to perish.

  6. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens. I get most of my news today from your site and others like it. Another newspaper seems to fail every other day and everyone left is trying to figure out the model and how to make it pay. We do read one newspaper on Sunday morning but that is more of a ritual for us than a need. My newspaper is on my phone and my phone is in my purse.

  7. Local eyeballs need not be monetized with local ads. On the contrary, I would think that, given the demographics of this area, you ought to consider something like Google AdSense. With all the crime stories you run, you should could be selling VERY valuable impressions/clicks to, for example, alarm companies, video monitoring companies, etc.

    Ads from a local retailer are highly targeted, but not necessarily the highest value.

    The harsh reality is that you may need to tweak the editorial focus to find the sweet spots where reader interest overlaps with reader spending, and then monetize that happy intersection. Maybe a story about summer travel, or any number of angles on education/college/test prep/gap year programs/whatever– maybe the age/demographic trends of the area (how many residence are retired or near retirement– will empty nesters stay or go?— where, in the “Numbers” is the best place to retire.

    I am not suggesting “click bait” or “advertorial” content, but sometimes when you separate church and state too much, they both go bust.

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