LION member spotlight: CTNewsJunkie
The publishers of CTNewsJunkie.com talk about building a diverse revenue model to support their clickbait-free coverage of Connecticut state government.
A Q&A with Christine Stuart and Doug Hardy of CTNewsJunkie.com in Connecticut.
1. When did your site launch, what geography does it cover and why was it founded?
CTNewsJunkie was launched in 2005 and in May we will have completed our 10th year in business. We report on politics and public policy in Connecticut, with a focus on up-to-the-minute coverage of the state legislature and how it impacts the state's 169 municipalities. Most of the state's legacy news organizations had stopped staffing the state capitol when CTNewsJunkie was launched, and the site was founded to fill that void.
2. What was your background before becoming an independent local news publisher?
We both worked on the news side at the Journal Inquirer, a daily newspaper in Manchester, Conn., where Christine Stuart was a town news/general assignment reporter. She took over CTNewsJunkie from its original founder, Dan Levine, a few months after its launch. CTNewsJunkie would not have made it this far without the financial support of Paul Bass at the nonprofit Online Journalism Project, which operates the NewHavenIndependent.org.
Doug Hardy, formerly an associate editor and website supervisor at the Journal Inquirer, joined the operation a few years later as Christine's husband and partner, handling the business side for CTNewsJunkie.
3. How would you describe your operation and business model?
We are a political news publication operating as an LLC, with the majority of our revenue coming from display advertising and targeted digital marketing campaigns. We also offer content usage agreements to other publications, operating as a capitol bureau/wire service for customers like the New Haven Register, Middletown Press, and Register Citizen. We focus on providing news that impacts people at the local level.
We've also spent the last year or so expanding our revenue portfolio with a fee-based directory of political firms and operatives and some new reader-based revenue options.
Our directory also includes an events calendar and a classified listing platform – both of which were areas where we see an opportunities to bring in revenue in smaller amounts than what we charge for our marquee display options.
In 2011 we also launched a second company – the Independent Media Network LLC – in partnership with local news publisher/tech guru Lon Seidman. The IMN was set up to share advertising revenue with fellow independent news publishers around the state, while also increasing the reach for our advertising clients. Over the last few years we have helped a bunch of indy publishers solve technical problems and we've been sharing ad revenue where possible as well on our way to becoming an incubator for local news businesses in Connecticut.
4. What do you consider your competition as a local news or information source?
We compete with all of the state's newspapers and broadcasters to report news first from the state legislature. There are literally hundreds of bills proposed every year and we figure out which ones will have the most impact. In many cases, the legacy media organizations will pick and choose what to cover based on specific impact to their coverage areas, whereas we try to provide coverage of all the big legislation.
In terms of direct competition, the CTMirror.org is a well-funded nonprofit that also covers the capitol and we would have to consider them our main competitor. There also is a one-man show called CTCapitolReport that offers a Drudge-style aggregation site. He has managed to keep himself going for several years as well.
5. What makes your site unique?
Tenacity. We are relentlessly connected. We're not afraid to compete with big news organizations. And we're maintaining an uncompromising standard of news coverage as well. No clickbait here.
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?
Two things from Doug: First, I wish we would have gotten a better handle on our CMS. We started out a long time ago and allowed ourselves to become more dependent on our web guy than we want to be 10 years later. Of course, 10 years ago this stuff was a lot harder to manage. But it took us four years to build enough audience to start bringing in advertising revenue before social media and email marketing were even invented. If we had to do it all over again, likely we'd be able to bring in revenue a lot sooner.
Second, don't rest on simple display ads as your only revenue source. This is a really common mistake for new indy publishers who arrive from legacy media. They should make sure they use of the best tools on the web for their clients. We've graduated from offering simple display ads to a full range of digital options to help clients accomplish their goals.
From Christine: I wish I had known how hard it would be to go on vacation as a small business owner. I also wish we had taken a course in Quickbooks.
7. What about your operation is your biggest source of pride right now?
So far we have survived our biggest challenge to date – the arrival of our daughter, Caitlin Stuart Hardy. Our team of reporter and editor contractors filled in for a few weeks while we were away during one of the busiest periods of the year for our business.
8. What do you struggle with the most?
Bookkeeping. We finally decided to hire a bookkeeper this year. We think our difficulties understanding our finances have held us back and we hope to change that.
9. What are some of your future goals for the site?
In 2015 we hope to convert our directory and new reader revenue tools into profitable ventures on our way to making the site entirely self-sustaining.
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