LION member spotlight: Highlands Current

By Matt DeRienzo | May. 15, 2017

Chip Rowe

A Q&A with LION member Chip Rowe, publisher of Highlands Current in New York.

1. When did your site launch, what geography does it cover and why was it founded?

It launched in July 2000. It was created as Philipstown.info by Gordon Stewart, who passed away in 2014. The impetus was that Roger Ailes,  then head of Fox News, moved to the area and bought the 3,000-circulation weekly newspaper. Many people were upset by the paper’s coverage of local politics, and Gordon launched an alternative online and two years later added a print version. In April 2016 we changed the name to The Highlands Current (and highlandscurrent.com) because we had expanded our coverage into neighboring Beacon. So we now cover Cold Spring, Philipstown, Nelsonville, Garrison and Beacon, which are all part of the Hudson Highlands.

2. What was your background before becoming an independent local news publisher?

I was a longtime magazine journalist and became involved with the paper working on the website. The managing editor, Kevin Foley, who had guided the operation since 2012 and launched the print paper, moved last fall and I succeeded him.

3. How would you describe your operation and business model?

We are a 501c3 nonprofit. Before his death, Gordon knew that for the site and newspaper to continue, it would need leadership and the support of the community, so he recruited an active board of directors. We are supported by donations from the board and readers, as well as grants and advertising revenue.

4. What do you consider your competition as a local news or information source?

The Ailes family sold the Putnam County News & Recorder, but it remains a competitor in Cold Spring and Philipstown. There is a free weekly in Beacon as well, and Gannett’s Journal News and Poughkeepsie Journal cover the area.

5. What makes your site unique?

I don’t know if it’s unique in the fact that we cover hyperlocal news, but we try to tackle larger issues that affect the area. It also may be unusual that we moderate our comments section and require people to use their full names, which is a lot of work, but an anonymous free-for-all doesn’t seem to contribute much to the civic discourse elsewhere.

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?

Not earth-shattering advice, but focus on the phone. When we began, it was mostly desktop, and now it’s about 50 percent mobile and tablet, and so we’ve had to adjust. I also heard a great bit of advice that print and online should be considered two different products, not half of one. People tend to go to one or the other.

7. What about your operation is your biggest source of pride right now?

We manage to cover a wide variety of stories, and we have great reporters and photographers.

8. What do you struggle with the most?

Giving everything adequate coverage. We are trying to stay on top of four municipalities and three school systems, for instance.

9. What are some of your future goals for the site?

We’d like to integrate more video. And of course we want readers to be engaged rather than reading one story and clicking away.

10. Why are you a member of LION Publishers?

It seemed like a great place to get ideas and advice from other publishers who are navigating the same challenges online.