A Q&A with LION member Wendy Parker, publisher of East Cobb News in Georgia.
1. When did your site launch, what geography does it cover and why was it founded?
I launched in July 2017. My site covers a middle class-to-affluent suburb of metro Atlanta where I grew up, a community of 200,000 that hasn’t had its own locally-run, daily news source.
When I was still a Patch editor here, I knew I wanted to do this because there was good response to what I was doing in my community. It took longer to get this off the ground due to standing freelance/contract obligations and family matters, and also just working up the nerve to jump in. It's a big leap of faith for me.
2. What was your background before becoming an independent local news publisher?
I was a reporter and staffer for many years at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. I worked out of the AJC suburban bureau here before becoming a sportswriter and later was an online editor at ajc.com. I worked for several local newspapers at the start of my career, so I'm coming back to where I started, doing community news.
3. How would you describe your operation and business model?
I’m a one-woman show for now, with more immediate goals of having freelance contributors and seeking local business advertising. I’ve begun building relationships through local business organizations, but up to now have focused on establishing a solid news and content base.
4. What do you consider your competition as a local news or information source?
In addition to Atlanta media, there is a local newspaper in the county and several lifestyle magazines that are here, due to high income levels. Most have been around for a while and have good name recognition, and also have solid advertising bases that make this competitive terrain.
5. What makes your site unique?
My goal is to provide the news for how people here live today, every day, and not wait for tomorrow’s paper or being the subject of Atlanta media headlines only when there’s a crime, accident, fire or controversy. It’s the everyday coverage of community life that I am emphasizing, and there’s a lot to cover that others aren’t.
When I was a Patch editor here, I was the only journalist exclusively covering my community, and that is the case again with my own site. I make a point to cover as many festivals, fundraisers, ribbon-cuttings, craft shows, church anniversaries, town halls and public meetings, holiday events, school concerts and so on that take place here. I’m also focusing on zoning and development, traffic and other quality of life issues.
Even though it’s a busy place, I’m trying to offer a down-home, small-town news product. It’s home to me, and I want to create that sense of community feel in everything I post. What I've done thus far is nowhere near where I want this site to be, but I'm learning not to be so impatient about that.
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 would have gotten out in the community more vigorously before I launched. While it's hard to tout something that doesn't exist, it's also not easy doing word-of-mouth promotion with so many organizations and entities to reach, while producing stories and trying to sell ads.
7. What about your operation is your biggest source of pride right now?
It just feels good to have gotten started, after months of feeling like I would never be ready. You’re never ready, of course. Even after six months, I have what I think is the most comprehensive events calendar in the community, and that's driving some traffic, and I hope, revenue. What I have learned is, while good local journalism is the foundation, useful community information is just as vital. There’s a lot of “nearby” news published by media outlets here, but I want to keep what I do to my coverage area.
8. What do you struggle with the most?
Managing time and setting priorities across editorial, revenue, technology and marketing channels. I’m efficient producing news and other editorial content, which is my strength, but I’m still sorting through a number of technology issues that have been time-consuming. I’m also new to selling ads and still don’t feel like a business owner quite yet. I'm not as overwhelmed about this as when I started, but it’s taking some time getting used to wearing so many hats.
9. What are some of your future goals for the site?
Some of my objectives for early 2018 include starting a paid business directory, and eventually I want to create sponsored tabs around real estate and restaurants as well as my calendar and newsletter. I also want to be a sponsor or partner with others in community events, ideally by the end of the year.
10. Why are you a member of LION Publishers?
Although I love being an independent journalist after many years in corporate media, I feel the need to be part of a larger community of publishers whose advice and support have already been invaluable. The day I launched, I applied for LION membership, and I got so much from the conference in Chicago in October.
I couldn’t imagine doing what I’m doing had it not been for LION, and for anyone just starting out or thinking about it, I highly recommend signing up right away.