A Q&A with Barry Friedman, publisher of LkldNow.com in Lakeland, Florida.
1. When did your site launch, what geography does it cover and why was it founded?
LkldNow.com, which launched in September 2015, covers news about Lakeland, Florida, which lies roughly midway between Orlando and Tampa. The focus of our coverage is efforts to make Lakeland a more livable community. The site came about after I started thinking about how to engage people with the community in an age when most people rely on social media as their primary news source rather than the daily newspaper, which traditionally connected people with their city.
2. What was your background before becoming an independent local news publisher?
I was a newspaper reporter and editor for 39 years. At the daily newspaper in the city that I still live in, I had been city editor, news editor and features editor before founding the newspaper website in the 1990s. I was managing editor/digital when I left the newspaper in 2014.
3. How would you describe your operation and business model?
Experimental, he joked. While we are not focused on millennials, we are similar to some of the sites that are in that we are optimized for mobile and social media. We’re a nonprofit. My initial efforts to peddle corporate sponsorships were unsuccessful, but we’re revamping our packages to include social media and our upcoming email newsletter. The next phase will be expanding on the individual donations we’ve received by offering member benefits.
4. What do you consider your competition as a local news or information source?
Our competitors are also collaborators. We curate news in an effort to be the single source for comprehensive news about Lakeland. So we link often to stories from the daily newspaper, the Tampa TV stations (all of whom have reporters here), newsy-and-credible blogs and social media posts, the feature-oriented LkldTV video site, etc. Google News is a great tool for discovering articles about local people and institutions that might not easily surface otherwise. We’re spring training home to the Detroit Tigers, so we pick up on Michigan media a bit as baseball starts.
5. What makes your site unique?
Our combination of original reporting, curation and social media aggregation, which is a feed of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram posts about Lakeland powered by CrowdyNews software.
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 wear two hats: editor and publisher. As a career editor, I’ve defaulted to the journalism side, but I’ve had to learn to sometimes accept a dropoff in content as I attend to business. I’ve been fortunate in attracting a few excellent volunteers (I probably should have recruited volunteers earlier) and one of them is helping me dive into some of the non-journalism projects I tend to put off.
7. What about your operation is your biggest source of pride right now?
Gratitude from readers. While the local newspaper still does some good reporting, fewer people are seeing it because of rising subscription rates and a digital pay meter. I often run into people who are grateful that I’m providing independent, trustworthy news that interests them, and they also sense LkldNow is more embedded in the community than the Gatehouse-owned daily. Interestingly, the new publisher at the daily has become a friend, so that opens the door to possible collaboration.
8. What do you struggle with the most?
The most obvious struggle is the time pressure faced by all LION publishers who try to do everything needed to keep their publications going. On top of that, I struggle with an issue that is probably common to those of us who launched after Facebook rose to dominance: How do you get readers to leave Facebook long enough to check out a community news website? I tell people, “A minute a day at LkldNow.com makes you smarter about Lakeland,” but even some of my biggest fans see only the stories that I post on Facebook.
9. What are some of your future goals for the site?
To bring in enough revenue to get paid a modest salary and to hire a revenue/development person. In the near term, I’m working on an email newsletter in an effort to get our work in front of a larger audience and add value for sponsors. Eventually, I’d like to produce events.
10. Why are you a member of LION Publishers?
I can’t imagine running LkldNow without the learning that has taken place from the two LION conferences I’ve attended, the information shared in the LIONs Den and emails and phone calls with LION members. We’re fortunate to have a group willing to share what has worked and what hasn’t.
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