A Q&A with Kirk Caraway, publisher of Carson Now in Nevada.
1. When did your site launch, what geography does it cover and why was it founded?
The beta version of Carson Now first hit the web in November 2009. But our official launch was March 2010. We cover Carson City, the state capitol of Nevada, population approximately 55,000. We also do limited coverage of some of the the adjoining areas that include Lake Tahoe and Reno.
I created Carson Now as an experiment, to test some ideas I had been working on in my previous position, to make local news better.
2. What was your background before becoming an independent local news publisher?
I have been involved in local news since working on my parents' weekly newspaper in Kansas when I was 9. I had served as a reporter and editor for several small newspapers when in 1994 I moved to Incline Village at Lake Tahoe. My boss at the time took me to lunch and told me I had to learn about this "Internet thing." I subsequently broke my ankle at the beginning of one of the best ski seasons at Tahoe, and spent that time with a cast on my leg and glued to my computer, teaching myself about the web. I launched Tahoe.com in January of 1995, and it was the first website for the company (Swift Communications) and the first news website in Nevada.
I built and/or managed 10 websites for this company over the next several years. In 2008, the crash hit and I was downsized out of the Internet side of the business and back into print. The next year I quit and went out on my own.
3. How would you describe your operation and business model?
We are supported by advertising. Part of my thought process during this whole time was to work on making the advertising more effective, while at the same time making all of our processes hyper-efficient. Because I started off on my own, I needed to make the best use of my time, so I tried to streamline, automate or eliminate everything that I could. I'm also lazy, so I don't like to do busy work. I'd rather take the time to figure out a better way to do things.
We combine original content, user-generated content and links aggregated from other sources. It makes for a good mix. Our aim is to be the one place where you can get all of your Carson City news. Our specialty is breaking news, where we beat the competition every day. Our readers tell us that whenever they hear sirens or see smoke, Carson Now is where they go to find out what's happening.
4. What do you consider your competition as a local news or information source?
Our main competition is the local newspaper, where I worked previously. However, we compete in a somewhat different way. Our editorial mantra is: Do it first, do it (very) different, or link to it and do something else.
We will not waste time doing stories that have already been done by others, just so we can have our own version. That kind of pack journalism is all about ego, and is a terrible waste of resources.
We caught up to the local newspaper in overall web traffic two years ago, and now consistently beat them almost every day. According to Quantcast, we have beat them 26 of the last 30 days. And when it comes to Carson City traffic, we are at 35k uniques per month, while they are at 23k.
Because the local newspaper will not link to us, we end up being the most complete news source. You can go to them and just get their stories, or come to us and get everything. They also have a pay wall, which has been very, very good for us.
5. What makes your site unique?
The combination of original, submitted and aggregated content. Our focus is on serving the readers and giving them all the news relevant to Carson City, and not worrying about where the content comes from.
We also have a unique advertising system called NowAds that I developed that has been a big success. It pulls in posts from the advertisers' Facebook pages and sorts them into a newsfeed-like stack with the most recent posts at the top. It's super easy and efficient, there is no work to do to create or update ads, and the advertisers love it. It accounts for more than half our revenue.
We are also the only local site using the 970×250 Billboard banner ads. These ads have a lot more impact, and fetch higher prices.
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?
Probably everything having to do with ad sales. It's a learning process to find out what advertisers want and what works for them. Understanding ad contracts and billing is also important.
7. What about your operation is your biggest source of pride right now?
That we have become the go-to source for news in our community, and are taken seriously as a legitimate media business. We continually hear this from people on the street every day. Also, that we are profitable and hit $100,000 in revenue last year. We are on track to grow that by at least 30 percent this year.
8. What do you struggle with the most?
Hiring salespeople. This is an ongoing struggle. No one does sales as well as I do, and I've never considered myself that good at sales.
9. What are some of your future goals for the site?
Get sales up to the point where we can hire a second full-time editor/reporter. To me, this is a clear indication of a sustainable operation. If most of your editorial content comes from one person, it's hard to see how that can carry on into the future.
10. Why are you a member of LION Publishers?
To learn more from what others are doing. Jumping into this field, you sometimes feel lost in the wilderness, blazing new trails. I also enjoy sharing what I've learned along the way. There's no reason for people to repeat my mistakes.
I would also like the mention the John S. Knight Fellowship program at Stanford. This was a life-changing experience for me, and certainly helped make Carson Now successful. LION members are some of the most creative and entrepreneurial people working in journalism today, and are therefore great candidates for a Knight Fellowship. Fellows get paid to go to Stanford for a year, and can partake of the multitude of resources available there. If you have an idea you want to work on, check it out.
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