The community news site of LymeLine in southeastern Connecticut competes against a long-established daily and Sunday print and online newspaper — and is thriving. Publisher/editor Olwen Logan tells Street Fight how she does it:
LymeLine, which is 11 years old, was one of the first community news sites. It was founded by your late predecessor, Jack Turner. What are the biggest changes at the site in its decade-plus existence?
Eleven years ago no one was going to the internet for their community news — in fact, not many went there for national or international news at that time. Jack founded LymeLine as a grand experiment and the truth of the matter is it almost failed because he was way ahead of his time. The first month for which we have readership records is Dec. 2003 and the number of page views that month was around 80. Now we receive almost 28,000 page views monthly – that’s a huge change and, in tandem with that, LymeLine had no name recognition in those early years. That’s changed dramatically too.
You serve two communities — Old Lyme and Lyme — whose total population is barely 10,000. Many community sites in much larger communities are struggling. How do you make it work?
Our mission statement says we strive to make LymeLine “an integral part of the fabric of the community,” and I like to think that is precisely what has happened. Residents expect us to have the latest information on news, events and the general chatter in town. We sponsor the majority of non-profit events in the community, which causes our name to be well known, and our visibility is such that I am often asked to moderate any political debate in town. Similarly, almost every candidate running for election in our community advertises on LymeLine. Residents see us around town and know that we are regularly in touch with town and school officials, and business leaders. Our readership is still growing, which helps make it work.
What happens in your two communities that’s news, and how much of that news do you cover?
What happens here is what happens in most American small towns. A sampling of recent lead stories in LymeLine gives a good flavor of life in the Lymes: 73-year-old vintage car driver from Lyme killed in Labor Day event; Old Lyme fine art college merges with large university 35 miles distant; U.S. flags flying on the main street please some, but not all; the local candy store starts selling pastries and coffee – again. There’s all the usual election coverage. School issues at the moment revolve around running five schools for a dramatically decreasing student population.
Do you write most of the editorial content yourself? Other staff writers and freelancers?
Yes, I do the majority of the writing. We have a paid reporter for our other online paper, ValleyNewsNow, and sometimes I use his stories on LymeLine where appropriate. I often engage high school or college interns over vacations or sometimes as part of a year-long formal job shadow program. We have a number of regular (unpaid) columnists and occasionally I hire freelancers to cover particular events. We publish a significant number of press releases/announcements that are submitted, but only after they have been edited.
What are your user traffic numbers?
Our monthly average numbers for LymeLine from Google Analytics for 2014 through August: 8,086 unique visitors and 15,254 visits.
You compete against The Day, which has covered southeastern Connecticut since 1881, and has a print product daily and Sunday and a website site that can be filtered for its 20 communities. What do you do that The Day doesn’t that makes a difference?
We’re focused on local, community news and nothing else. Another difference is what and when we publish stories. Take our lead story today about the Boy Scouts high adventure trip. The Day is not likely to publish it; their local free weekly may do so in a couple of weeks, but will certainly not use all the photos. The Scouts want to share their good news and they see LymeLine as the place to get it published promptly – and our readers love stories like that because someone always knows someone in one of those photos!
We have a really high Google ranking. If you Google “Old Lyme news,” LymeLine is consistently #1. The Day generally around #5.
Do you get most of your revenue from display ads or do you have other revenue streams?
Our revenue is almost exclusively from display ads. We receive a handful of donations and have just started charging for publishing obituaries.
You appear to have a good number of advertisers. What are the reasons they give for using LymeLine for their messages?
A local inn just renewed their contract with us saying, and I quote, “… from our Google analytics, LymeLine really delivers.” Moreover, they asked to add ValleyNewsNow to their ad placements. So, in a nutshell, I think people advertise with us because it works. We have quite a number of advertisers who have been with us for years, which is a terrific endorsement and always impresses potential advertisers. We also donate a significant amount of advertising to nonprofits, which benefits us as they mention our name in a positive way in their various circles and we always are listed as sponsors on publicity materials. Surprisingly, we don’t currently have anyone selling advertising currently. All our advertisers come directly to us.
Are you profitable?
Yes, we are definitely profitable.
Based on your experience, what does a community news site have to do to surmount impatient users and fickle advertisers?
- Keep above the fray, report objectively and accurately, don’t endorse candidates or take sides.
- Admit your mistakes or omissions.
- Retain things confidential that need to be retained confidential. My daughter always says we’d make far more money if we published all the gossip we hear. She’s wrong because we’d be sued, but we do hear a great deal that we neither publish nor share — and people respect that.
- Always do the best job you can. It won’t be enough for some people, but so long as you did the best you could, people will respect that too. And if you — and your publication — are respected, that’s 90 percent of the battle.
- Love what you’re doing — don’t ever do it because it’s just a job. A passion for community news is an essential ingredient in running a community news site.
Tom Grubisich (@TomGrubisich) writes “The New News” column for Street Fight. He is editorial director of the in-development hyperlocal news network Local America that rates communities on their performance across a broad spectrum of livability — Local America Charleston launched earlier this year.