A Q&A with LION member Olwen Logan, publisher of LymeLine.com in Connecticut.
1. When did your site launch, what geography does it cover and why was it founded?
LymeLine.com was launched in December 2003. It covers the two towns of Lyme (population 1,800) and Old Lyme (population 7,500) in Southeast Connecticut (yes, the home of Lyme disease, which causes all sorts of problems in web searches, but that’s for another article!) The two towns combine to form a regional school district and are therefore inextricably linked. Veteran publisher, the late John “Jack” Turner, founded the site because in his words, “Lyme and Old Lyme get the short end of the news stick.” Translated, he meant that the two (subscription) weekly print newspapers, which covered Lyme and Old Lyme at that time, also covered another five towns making content neither particularly current nor focused – both are now long gone. Only one daily regional print newspaper (The Day) included Lyme and Old Lyme, but our towns are at the western periphery of its coverage area and have much smaller populations than most of the other towns (around 26) covered.
2. What was your background before becoming an independent local news publisher?
My first career was in the world of efficiency analysis with the UK-based subsidiary of U.S. soft tissue giant Kimberly-Clark (of Kleenex fame.) I went on to become more involved on the accounting side managing both the Accounts Receivable and Credit Control Departments and ultimately I held a job that combined both positions. I then set up my own management consultancy in the UK, which almost unintentionally ended up focusing on public relations. After moving to the U.S., I worked for one of the afore-mentioned print weeklies before Jack invited me to join LymeLine.com.
3. How would you describe your operation and business model?
Our Mission Statement says that we strive to make LymeLine.com, “an integral part of the fabric of the community,” and I think that describes our operation in a nutshell. We try to publish details of most meetings and events in either town and we sponsor the majority of non-profit events in the community. Our visibility is such that I am often asked to moderate political debates in town. Similarly, almost every candidate running for election in our community advertises on LymeLine.com. Residents see us around town and know that we are regularly in touch with town and school officials, and business leaders. We are well known and, I venture, well liked (we don’t endorse political candidates, which helps the latter) – and want to keep it that way.
In terms of our business model, it’s very simple – we minimize our expenses and maximize our revenue. This means I do almost all the reporting (attending town meetings, etc.) as well the publishing, but we do have a wonderful selection of columnists who write for free – in fact, we have some who would like to write for us, but don’t unfortunately don’t make the cut. We occasionally pay freelancers and sometimes, individuals volunteer to cover events or meetings for us. Right now, we don’t have anyone selling advertising for us, but that will probably change soon.
4. What do you consider your competition as a local news or information source?
The Day launched a free weekly print paper covering Lyme and Old Lyme around the same time that LymeLine.com went live, but it also includes the neighboring town of East Lyme, which has a population twice the size of our towns combined. There is a Lymes Patch but it doesn’t have a reporter and, I believe, is published from somewhere down in Southwest Connecticut now. There was a brief period when I thought Patch was going to be a real threat, but that has evaporated.
5. What makes your site unique?
The simple fact that we focus exclusively on these two little towns and can publish stories that otherwise would not be printed anywhere else. Pretty much every story is about Lyme and/or Old Lyme and we update, at minimum, daily — our readers seem to really appreciate that. We do have some regional stories for organizations/institutions, which serve our towns, but aren’t located here, e.g. we don’t have a theater in Lyme or Old Lyme so we do cover all the regional ones.
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 publishing an online newspaper can take over your life – you’re never done – you can never switch off. I am thinking of establishing some parameters around my work – for example, I just saw a site that states, “We do not report or publish over the weekend,” – that’s smart, but I don’t know whether I can do it because the news never stops, does it? But I would certainly recommend it.
My other two pieces of advice would be, “Don’t even consider getting into this business unless you have an overriding passion for local news – do it because you love local news, not because you’re going to get rich,” and “Never abuse the trust placed in you regarding a story.” That’s obviously fundamental to a journalist’s ethics, but somehow it seems even more critical in a small community where everyone knows you.
7. What about your operation is your biggest source of pride right now?
The fact that we’re still going … and growing! LymeLine.com is one of the oldest, continuously published online community newspapers in the country coupled with the fact that several of our advertisers have been with us for many years. Also, just yesterday we were contacted by an elite private school some distance away. Apparently families from Lyme and Old Lyme with children at the school had expressed the opinion to the administration that the school should be advertising on LymeLine.com – it’s gratifying when, unbeknown to us, we hear that independent third parties have recommended us as a place to advertise.
8. What do you struggle with the most?
I’m wearing too many hats as reporter, editor, web publisher, ad sales rep., and whatever else we need (fortunately my husband does the graphic design and web technical stuff), so I have a lot of balls in the air at any time — but until recently, I was also working full-time, so things are actually a little easier now.
9. What are some of your future goals for the site?
We’d like to continue to grow our readership, which is going to require some investment in terms of marketing. I run a second, much newer site, ValleyNewsNow.com, which covers four towns on the west side of the Connecticut River (Lyme and Old Lyme are on the opposite side) and I plan to increase the level of cross-publishing between the sites. High on my ‘To Do’ list are starting a weekly/daily e-news blast, increasing our social media activity, improving/adding key elements of the site’s structure and hiring an assistant.
10. Why are you a member of LION Publishers?
I particularly appreciate the networking and training opportunities that LION Publishers offers. I hope to attend the Chicago conference and had intended to be at Philly. I’ve enjoyed reading all of the e-newsletters and found some really useful nuggets of information in each one and have benefited from the webinars I’ve been able to catch. I think I’ve still only scratched at the surface of all that LION can – and will — offer me!
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