A Q&A with LION member Barb Warden, publisher of Golden.com in Colorado.
1. When did your site launch, what geography does it cover and why was it founded?
I launched Golden.com in 2007. It's strictly focused on the small town of Golden, Colorado. Golden is located on the outskirts of Denver, but it prides itself on maintaining its separate, small-town identity.
2. What was your background before becoming an independent local news publisher?
I worked in new technology development, starting as a technical writer, then becoming a project manager, and finally a technical director at the phone company. The last technology I worked on for them was the world wide web, which was new at that time. I took a buyout from the phone company and began building websites for a living. Most of my clients were based in my hometown, Golden, so I became more involved in the cultural and small business world, joined the chamber, did some volunteer work, and began following city politics. I learned that the nonprofits and small businesses needed promotional help, and the city staff needed more citizen scrutiny.
For a while, I waited for some existing entity, such as the Chamber, the local newspaper, or the city government to take on the task of becoming the unified source of information about the community, but it wasn't a priority for them, so eventually I did it myself. The two pillars of my site are the business listings, which are as complete as I can possibly make them, and a ridiculously detailed calendar of events.
I know a lot of entities charge for listings, but I lean back on my phone company background, and proceed with the theory that if a list (like the phone book) isn't robust, it isn't worth checking. In theory I sell "enhanced" listings, but I dislike selling so much that I've done few of those.
The calendar is the only place in town that combines cultural, business, and political events all in one place, and it's widely used in town.
3. How would you describe your operation and business model?
I receive monthly retainers from the Golden Cultural Alliance to list their events and from the city's economic development commission to promote Golden's businesses. I also sell some display ads.
I pay someone to maintain the business listings and to search for calendar items. I do the hosting and site development work myself.
4. What do you consider your competition as a local news or information source?
We have a local newspaper — the Golden Transcript — which will celebrate its 150th anniversary this coming December. My relationship with them is surprisingly good. It's owned by a chain of regional newspapers, so the owners hardly know I exist, and the local reporters, who are always young and seldom live in the community, are huge fans of my site because it educates them and gives them ideas about articles. They occasionally write articles about me, and I send traffic their way. I support them as much as possible, because I want them to stay in business. I write history books, and the historic copies of the Transcript are my primary source.
My relationship with the city staff is far more competitive. They have an official tourism website, a full-time staff, and a half million dollar a year tourism budget, and it drives them crazy that my site draws more traffic, not only among the locals, but from tourists. They've tried pretty hard to shut me down, and to discontinue the economic development funding that I receive. The citizens and business owners who serve on advisory committees won't let them do that.
City staff also dislikes the amount of light I shed on their activities. I don't editorialize, but I report clearly on issues the city is dealing with, and I encourage people to express their opinions. I requested that all committee meetings be recorded and made available through the city website, and by applying pressure over a period of about a year, I succeeded in making that happen. A surprising number of citizens watch them. Staff much prefers to make decisions without public input.
So the city government is both my biggest customer and my biggest business "enemy."
5. What makes your site unique?
Golden.com is unique because of its relentless local focus. I never cover events from surrounding towns. It's both tapping into and reinforcing the Golden community's desire to focus inwardly and differentiate itself from the surrounding metro area.
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?
Having someone with the right temperament and patience to do a lot of the maintenance tasks on the calendar and the business listings makes the whole endeavor more fun for me. I love having an assistant.
7. What about your operation is your biggest source of pride right now?
I like the name recognition and growing number of followers. I was pleasantly surprised to find how easy it was to get advertisers during December, because so many people are aware of the site and use it and subscribe to its feeds.
8. What do you struggle with the most?
I would certainly like to have more advertising revenue, but dislike the sales process.
9. What are some of your future goals for the site?
More revenue, more followers, and, maybe 10 years from now, to find a buyer who wants to continue running the site. Barring that, I'll probably eventually sell the domain name (Golden.com), which may be worth more than the site will ever be.
10. Why are you a member of LION Publishers?
I was so happy to learn of LION's existence! It's nice to know that other people are engaged in similar ventures. When I discovered the LION site, about a year ago, I watched all of the conference sessions, with particular attention on those involving revenue generation. Inspired by the most recent conference, I made an email pitch for advertisers, and was amazed at how painless it was to generate some new revenue that way. I feel a bit apologetic about the non-hardcore news nature of my website, but it's popular and serving a valuable purpose in my town, and I'm happy to have the opportunity to learn from others who are doing similar things.
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