A Q&A with Bill Smith, publisher of Evanston Now in Illinois.
1. When did your site launch, what geography does it cover and why was it founded?
Evanston Now launched on March 27, 2006. It covers Evanston, Illinois, a city of 75,000 people just north of the Chicago city limits on the Lake Michigan shoreline that’s home to Northwestern University.
I launched Evanston Now to fill a gap in the local media landscape after I returned to Evanston, my hometown, after more than three decades pursuing a career elsewhere.
2. What was your background before becoming an independent local news publisher?
I left Evanston after getting journalism degrees at Northwestern and spent about a dozen years in broadcast news, mostly in Detroit.
I then spent another dozen years teaching journalism, for the last half of that time in Boston.
After that I worked in the Boston area for online media companies, including work as a product manager for what was then one of the major internet search engines, before deciding to move back to Evanston.
3. How would you describe your operation and business model?
We’re a community news site supported primarily by advertising revenue.
In addition to myself, Evanston Now’s staff includes three freelance writers.
4. What do you consider your competition as a local news or information source?
Our three primary competitors are a locally-owned fortnightly newspaper, a long-established but fading weekly recently acquired by Tribune Publishing and the campus daily published by NU students. We also compete occasionally on breaking news stories with Chicago TV stations.
The number of competitors has waxed, and then waned in the nine years since our launch.
5. What makes your site unique?
We offer the most timely, in-depth and comprehensive coverage of the city and host a lively community conversation about local issues.
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 we’d had a marketing strategy to achieve faster audience growth, which would have made it easier to generate more revenue sooner.
7. What about your operation is your biggest source of pride right now?
That it has grown to have the largest audience in our market and is reaching the point of having a sustainable revenue stream.
8. What do you struggle with the most?
Juggling all the demands on my time, especially when I would love to spend more time on a story, but need to make more sales calls.
9. What are some of your future goals for the site?
I hope to reach the point where I can increase staff and provide even more coverage of the community than we do now.
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