A Q&A with LION member Dennis Spellman, publisher of Covering Katy in Texas.
1. When did your site launch, what geography does it cover and why was it founded?
Covering Katy News was established in 2011. We are a hyper-local news website covering the Katy, Texas, area. We focus primarily on the news from the boundaries of the Katy Independent School District. The incorporated City of Katy is very small, but the Katy area includes unincorporated and densely populated portions of Harris, Fort Bend and Waller Counties. There are about 400,000 people who live in the area that we serve.
Covering Katy was founded because there was not a single publication that was doing a good job of covering real news in the community.
2. What was your background before becoming an independent local news publisher?
Thirty years in radio and TV as a reporter, anchor and news director.
I've also worked as vice president of external affairs for the Houston Housing Authority, so I've been on both sides.
3. How would you describe your operation and business model?
Print-style journalism delivered at the speed of broadcast incorporating social media to drive people to our website. We provide real news for real people, in real time. Our revenue is 100 percent advertising based, so page views and size of the audience is key to the bottom line.
4. What do you consider your competition as a local news or information source?
We don't have an aggressive local press in Katy. Hearst owns the Houston Chronicle which recently purchased a large group of a community newspapers, one of which is a Katy publication. They have a big sales team, and they've reassigned a veteran journalist to work the Katy beat. We do a better job of covering Katy news, but they have a sales force that drains a lot of money out of the market and often leaves local advertisers disillusioned because their ads did not work and they paid exorbitant prices.
5. What makes your site unique?
We are the only Katy news operation delivering breaking news in real time. When needed, we'll also put on our investigative hats. Our readers would also say we are fearless in a community where the old boys club has controlled the message for a long time. The rest of the media has either been frightened off or decided to join the dark side so that they won't get blackballed.
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 I had a better understanding of the politics of the Katy, especially the leaders of the business community. At the start of my venture, I met with community business leaders, believing it was a sign of respect. It was a huge mistake. I suspect they started scaring off sponsors before I reached my first 10,000 page views.
I've even been blackballed by the Katy Rotary Club. First, they invited me to join. Then they announced I was accepted. Then they sent me a letter rejecting my application. Apparently, they could not stand the pressure from a few key people in the community. The rejection letter hangs proudly in my office. I think it's a hilariously great conversation piece.
My advice is to fly under the radar with local business leaders, as long as you can do so. Join networking groups filled with small business people. Avoid the big business organizations until you know who fears truthful journalism, and who appreciates it.
7. What about your operation is your biggest source of pride right now?
Flooding from Hurricane Harvey was perhaps the biggest crisis ever in Katy, Texas. The community has been providing nonstop thanks for our coverage. We were on it day and night, and the community responded with more than 1 million page views in a week.
8. What do you struggle with the most?
There is never enough time, and good salespeople are hard to find.
9. What are some of your future goals for the site?
More revenue, more salespeople, more reporters and more local news.
10. Why are you a member of LION Publishers?
The opportunity to exchange ideas with others who are facing similar challenges. We all stand to improve our products more rapidly by sharing information. I've been a reporter for 30 years, but there is so much to learn on the technical and business side. LION is a constant source of great information.
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