A Q&A with LION member Sarah Arnold, publisher of Clutch MOV in Ohio.
1. When did your site launch, what geography does it cover and why was it founded?
Growing up in the Mid-Ohio Valley, many of us felt like our hometowns were something to escape from – that to stay meant failure. I moved back still harboring those feelings, but instead found a community on the rise. I started to see creative movements and young professionals doing amazing things right here – the same movements that had attracted me to bigger cities out of state. I started to realize that big things can happen in small towns, too – and that we have the same ability to harness this creative energy to do something new and exciting. And so I did. We gave it a name, purpose, and URL during the summer of 2013, but did not publicly launch the site until March 2014. Over coverage is based on the greater Mid-Ohio Valley region, centered around Marietta, Ohio, and Parkersburg, West Virginia.
2. What was your background before becoming an independent local news publisher?
My background is in architecture and design, and I am now employed full-time as the marketing director for Pickering Associates, an architecture, engineering and surveying firm in Parkersburg, West Virginia. While in college, I helped our AIAS chapter launch a website and online newsletter; after graduating and while living in Cincinnati, I started a curated design blog. It wasn't until I moved back to the Mid-Ohio Valley that I felt compelled to do more with storytelling through uplifting content and inspiring visuals.
3. How would you describe your operation and business model?
Clutch MOV is currently a sole-proprietorship and 100 percent volunteer-run. Myself, our editor-in-chief, and our director of photography serve as the core leadership, working with a staff of more than 30 volunteer writers. Our staff meets twice a month and primarily uses a secret Facebook group for quick and constant communication. We are transitioning to Asana to better track and manage deadlines and content.
4. What do you consider your competition as a local news or information source?
In many ways, our competition is our local newspaper; However, we do not publish breaking news, sports, or crime, and therefore would never completely replace their operations. We primarily compete as a source for event information. Our site hosts a comprehensive community calendar with front-end input and a robust filter system, a decision made by a committee which included our local tourism bureaus, libraries, city officials, chambers of commerce, and community foundation. However, we have some difficulty encouraging organizations and businesses to enter their events in the calendar, which is intended to serve as a one-stop-shop for local events in Wood County, West Virginia, and Washington County, Ohio.
5. What makes your site unique?
Our site is unique in that we are a quality lifestyle magazine with the diverse content of a much larger city while maintaining a local focus. Our photography sets our content apart, bolstering our reputation as a trusted source of positive, local content, and has been successful in attracting and retaining young professionals in the Mid-Ohio Valley.
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?
I wish that I had created a full business plan before beginning this venture. I initially reached out to the editor-in-chief of a free print magazine in Cincinnati for advice; while this was very helpful, it was not a suitable substitute for creating my own plan. I am currently enrolled in a graduate program for Project Management and Technology Management, and am learning about strategic planning, efficient project and team management, financial analysis – tools that would have been useful from the start. We are very fortunate to still be growing and producing consistent content after three years, given that we are entirely volunteer run. We are now preparing to jump to the next, and hopefully more profitable, level. However, I would advise anyone starting out to seek out assistance if needed to create a plan to make sure that their plan has the potential to make a profit in order to be sustainable.
I would also encourage those looking to start a grassroots movement in their community to think beyond what they see others doing in other cities. Clutch MOV grew organically based on the skills of our team and the needs of our community. We've also been able to test many different projects and have found out that they do not all work for us, and perhaps are not all necessary at the same time.
7. What about your operation is your biggest source of pride right now?
Honestly, I am proud of Clutch MOV every single day – especially when we publish a particularly beautiful story. Recently, it was a feature on an 89-year old fiddle-maker in Parkersburg, West Virginia. I am most proud of the pride that Clutch MOV has seemingly instilled in our young professional population in the Mid-Ohio Valley. We've had couples move back to the area after finding our website, or decide to look for a job locally rather than out of state. I am proud that we have been able to capture that which makes our region so special, and share it with so many people through the website, as well as our social media outlets. It truly feels as though we have made an impact, and that is enough to keep us going.
8. What do you struggle with the most?
The biggest hurdle comes from lack of resources. If we can overcome this, and successful sell advertising at a sustainable rate, I would be able to pay contributors – which would help us attract and maintain a larger team of writers, create more content, and have an even bigger impact on the Mid-Ohio Valley.
9. What are some of your future goals for the site?
In the short term, we are launching a brand new website and logo, and will be updating the look of all of our social media outlets and email newsletter to reflect this change. Along with the launch, we are adding new offerings, including weekly themed playlists on Spotify, an advice column, and space on our website to share short stories and poetry. We currently have a product line of t-shirts and postcards, and plan to add more products before the end of the year. We are also re-structuring our yearly print publication to be more robust. Long term, I would like for Clutch MOV to be self-sustained through advertising, and to be able to continue publishing uplifting, local content at no charge to our readers.
10. Why are you a member of LION Publishers?
I became a member of LION Publishers because I wanted to learn from and connect with other independent publishers from across the country. Joining this group has been the most valuable investment I have made thus far in Clutch MOV. I appreciate having access to webinars, conferences, and other development opportunities, as well as the ability to ask questions from those with the experience and skills to provide quality advice. I look forward to participating in future events and continuing to learn from the successes of others.
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