A Q&A with Mary Alice Murphy, publisher of the Grant County Beat in New Mexico.
1. When did your site launch, what geography does it cover and why was it founded?
The Grant County Beat, www.grantcountybeat.com, launched on Sept. 4, 2010. I had, in my late 50s, finally figured out what I wanted to be — a reporter and editor.
But, after several years, I was laid off from my most favorite job ever, being a beat reporter for a local print newspaper. I cried and grinned from ear-to-ear at the same time when I learned I no longer had a job. I knew what I would do.
I had had the idea of having an online only newspaper and had offered it to my boss as an online version of the paper she was publishing, but she said it would be competition.
Because I had purchased a domain name and hosting and built a very basic website using Apple’s iWeb software in order to show her what the site could be and how it could support her efforts, it was easy to make the site live four days after layoff.
The Beat is truly a labor of love to inform readers what is happening in their corner of the world.
2. What was your background before becoming an independent local news publisher?
My long background leading to this much-loved job wandered from teaching French, to writing essays/columns for local print newspapers in other areas before we moved to Grant County, New Mexico, to falling in love with photography.
My writing skills (I’m a grammar Nazi!), my aptitude at taking accurate notes, plus loving photography, came together in a job I had been working toward my whole life.
I’ve rarely met a stranger, in that I can, with ease, talk to almost anyone, whether in a grocery line or to interview an individual or small group for a feature article.
3. How would you describe your operation and business model?
The operation is owned by me, a solopreneur LLC.
Several freelancers, who don’t want to be employees, but want to work on their own time, in their own beats, provide news that one person cannot possibly cover and write. A retired teacher covers the school board meetings, a former reporter covers the crime beat, a couple of freelance photographers (one of whom also posts items for the Beat) cover events when there are too many for one person to cover, and a freelancer, with another full-time job, posts items in between bursts of driving gigs and after his early morning job.
Advertising, a few classified ads, and the occasional donation support the for-profit business model.
I made the decision early on that I wanted to keep the news available at no cost to readers anywhere in the world, who might be interested in this little corner of New Mexico. I’ve never, or perhaps not yet, succumbed to asking for subscriptions, although many have said I should.
4. What do you consider your competition as a local news or information source?
A local print newspaper, the one I used to work for, which has an online presence with a paywall, is my primary competition. Another corporate print newspaper, which offers some local news and sports, has cut its printed versions to two days a week, plus the corporate Sunday paper, to focus on its digital version.
5. What makes your site unique?
I believe what makes the Beat unique is that we have the mission of separating fact from opinion. We also post long, comprehensive articles.
We post as many unbiased articles as we possibly can, using only facts heard in meetings or gleaned from interviews or news releases, without inserting our personal biases. I believe I have a somewhat tuned “nose” for opinions in articles, and my freelancers have learned not to put them in, or I will edit them out.
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 I had known that the operation would expand as quickly as it has, requiring my needing to quickly find more willing freelancers AND funding to pay them. i soon discovered I couldn’t do it all.
I would advise others to develop more than one monetization model for their efforts, and to have in place an advertising salesperson willing to work on commission.
My advice would also include “to jump in without spending too much time overthinking what to do.” I definitely jumped in with all feet, not having a clue what the effort could turn into and what it has become in its six-and-a-half years of operation.
7. What about your operation is your biggest source of pride right now?
My biggest source of pride is to hear people say: “I don’t subscribe to any local print newspapers any more, because I can find everything I want on the Beat, and know that it is accurate.”
8. What do you struggle with the most?
The Beat struggles most in finding an ad salesperson (I never have succeeded at finding one that sticks) and in finding enough regular advertisers to pay the bills. So far, so good, because I luckily do not need to pay myself anything but a token amount, which, when needed, goes right back into the operation. With my early infusions of operating expenses and being able to put my own “salary” back into the business, the Beat has never run a deficit nor gone into debt. I take side jobs when I can to help support the Beat.
9. What are some of your future goals for the site?
One of my future goals, toward which I have bit-by-bit been moving, lies in creating a regional online-only newspaper, with freelancers (and ad sales people!) reaching into other parts of rural southwest New Mexico and rural southeast Arizona. We want to be the digital newspaper of choice for the rural areas of New Mexico and into eastern Arizona — areas which often do not get coverage of their events and news.
10. Why are you a member of LION Publishers?
I am a member of LION publishers because you focus on online newspapers and your informational articles help me figure out things, such as potential ways of monetization.
Another reason I’m interested is that the Beat already aggregates news releases and, occasionally, news articles, with full attribution. When we see articles that fit our mission to provide factual news, we would like access to repost (with attribution) those articles that we believe might be of interest to our readers.
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