LION member spotlight: Farmington Voice
A Q&A with LION member Joni Hubred-Golden, publisher of the Farmington Voice in Michigan.
1. When did your site launch, what geography does it cover and why was it founded?
FarmingtonVoice.com launched Aug. 15, 2014, and covers Farmington and Farmington Hills, Michigan, suburbs of Detroit with a combined population of about 95,000. I've lived in Farmington for 15 years, and became especially attached during my 3 1/2 years as a Patch.com editor. After the layoff, I heard over and over again how much people missed their daily dose of local news. When I learned how quickly and easily I could launch my own local news website, and how much support was available for reporters wanting to take that step, I decided to just go for it.
2. What was your background before becoming an independent local news publisher?
I started in weekly local newspapers almost 30 years ago, learning the business from the ground up with help from some generous mentors. After living through painful rounds of layoffs and cost-cutting in the 90s, I left journalism for PR. That's where I was when Patch came to town. I fell in love with the model and jumped at the opportunity to get back into covering my community. And we all know what came of that. I will say the training was incredibly valuable and stretched me well beyond what I thought were my limits.
3. How would you describe your operation and business model?
In the beginning, I had a sort of vague idea that I would sell advertising when traffic reached a certain level, but I completely underestimated my resistance to sales. I recently partnered with a local marketing firm to create a new plan that includes multiple revenue sources: banner ads, a business directory, sponsored content, events and contracted marketing services.
4. What do you consider your competition as a local news or information source?
Two print publications serve our community, a subscription/newsstand bi-weekly owned by Gannett and a weekly free distribution newspaper that is part of a chain. But I think the biggest competition for advertising dollars is Facebook – lots of local merchants are moving in that direction.
5. What makes your site unique?
Farmington Voice is the only local news source based in the community and the only publication that provides strictly local coverage. We're also the only publication podcasting.
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 a completely developed monetization plan ready to roll as soon as the site launched, so that we were building relationships with local businesses as traffic ramped up. I would have hired out more of the writing, so I could focus on business development. A few months ago, I learned about resources for entrepreneurs available through the county Small Business Development Center. The free business coaching, seminars and access to data would have been very helpful before I launched – but I'm taking full advantage now.
7. What about your operation is your biggest source of pride right now?
The level of readership we've achieved without on-site comments, click-bait nonsense or aggregation – all the things I hated about Patch – has been incredibly rewarding. I've kept the conversation mostly on social media, and that has worked well for us.
But I am most proud of something people haven't seen yet. The business development work I'm doing has literally touched every aspect of the site, and I can't wait to roll it all out over the next few months.
8. What do you struggle with the most?
My biggest struggle has been staying focused on what I'm doing. I tend to get frustrated with, and distracted by, the local print pubs getting more respect and access. Every day, I remind myself to stay in my own lane.
9. What are some of your future goals for the site?
Profitability first. Everything else follows.
10. Why are you a member of LION Publishers?
I realized early on that being a solopreneur would be a lonely business and found LION in my search for organizations that could provide some support. In the short time I've been a member, I have learned so much from the conversations on social media and used the membership directory to study and learn from other sites. I look forward to learning and making more connections at conferences.
CLICK HERE to see other Q&As with LION member independent local news publishers.
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