LION member spotlight: Coachella Valley Independent
By Matt DeRienzo | Feb. 16, 2016
A Q&A with Jimmy Boegle, publisher of the Coachella Valley Independent in California.
1. When did your site launch, what geography does it cover and why was it founded?
We launched in beta on October 2012, and came out of beta in January 2013. We cover Palm Springs and the entire Coachella Valley.
As for the "why" ... that's complicated. My background is primarily in alternative newsweeklies, and I initially put together a business plan to start the Independent as a full-fledged alt-weekly here in 2007-2008. The reason: The Coachella Valley was a growing, increasingly vibrant area that had no serious alternative media voice.
Then came the Great Recession, and that plan got put on hold. Flash to 2012, when the economy was improving, and circumstances in my life made me dust off the old business plan. I decided, with the support of my husband, to leave my job at the Tucson Weekly, where I had been the editor for almost 10 years, to move to lovely Palm Springs and start the Independent.
2. What was your background before becoming an independent local news publisher?
I've been in alt-weeklies almost my entire career, with stops at the Associated Press and a small Nevada daily mixed in there. I was the editor of the Reno News & Review, the political writer for Las Vegas CityLife (R.I.P.) and then the editor of the Tucson Weekly before founding the Independent.
3. How would you describe your operation and business model?
We're different from most LIONs in that we're also a print publication: We did quarterlies in April and July of 2013 before going monthly in October 2013; we've been monthly ever since. Most of the revenue (and expense) comes from the monthly dead-tree edition, although the digital portion of the money pie is growing, in large part to our growing Independent Market gift-certificate market, in which advertisers provide trade -- which we then turn around and sell -- in exchange for advertising, be it digital or print. We also make a little money doing distribution services.
4. What do you consider your competition as a local news or information source?
We're the only publication (beyond TV stations) in our market besides The Desert Sun (the Gannett daily) that does regular, serious news and arts coverage. There are a large handful of weekly and monthly publications in the market, but only one of them aspires to anything resembling what we do. That publication, however, has serious ethical lapses -- selling cover stories and other articles, for example. Bleh.
5. What makes your site unique?
We're weird for a local news site in that we're built in the alt-weekly mold. We're weird for an alt-weekly that we're not in print weekly, and have a primarily online ethos.
6. What is something you wish you had known when you were starting out or would do differently now that could perhaps serve as advice for others?
Be smart about spending money. This sounds basic, but true. Whether you have $5 to start or $500,000, every penny counts -- and unless you're independently wealthy, you will run out of dough at sometime. Quality costs money, and you need to spend on a good site and good content, but be smart about it. Libel insurance, yes; the really, really expensive tchotchkes for the booth at the event you're sponsoring, maybe not. Going to a great journalism conference, yes; staying at the host hotel when there's a decent hotel $50 per night cheaper a block away, no. Etc.
7. What about your operation is your biggest source of pride right now?
We just entered our fourth year, and the increasingly positive, knowledgeable community response is overwhelmingly amazing. More and more readers are calling in to say nice things or complain (which, really, is a good thing ... they're READERS). More and more businesses are interested in advertising. Seeing the fact that this thing I created is REALLY A THING that's now interwoven into the community I love ... wow.
8. What do you struggle with the most?
Money. Going back to question No. 6, every cent I've had, and some cents I didn't have, have been poured into this publication ... and we're getting into the black. I have no bloody idea how we'll get through the summer months when things here slow down (when it's 114 out, people hibernate). Actually, I do: By working my ass off. But, man, it's terrifying.
9. What are some of your future goals for the site?
We're in the process of redesigning the site. (Side note: We built our site and have spent somewhere in the mid-three digits on it over three years, not counting hosting costs. In other words, decent to good sites can be built for cheap using the right software, systems, templates and tools.) We're adding ad modules because the existing ones are selling out. After we get over the hump, I want more and better content. There are soooooooooo many stories out there we just haven't been able to do yet because of time and money. Excuse my language, but that frustrates the living fuck out of me.
10. Why are you a member of LION Publishers?
I first learned about LION through Dylan Smith, my friend and colleague from my Tucson years, and it's been a valuable resource in terms of getting advice from people who have been there, done that. I have not been as involved in LION as I would like (not enough hours in the day); I've tended to be more active in the Association of Alternative Newsmedia, which I've been a part of in some form or another for ... good lord, 17 years now. (I'm on the board of AAN as the membership chair ... and I want to get more LIONs into AAN and vice versa, if publications fit both.) But it's amazing to be a part of a great organization full of intelligent publishers and journalists who have my back. Small, motivated publishers and muckrakers like us are gonna save journalism. I really believe that.