A Q&A with LION member Mary Jo Draper, publisher of Midtown KC Post in Kansas City, Mo.
1. When did your site launch, what geography does it cover and why was it founded?
We relaunched the Midtown KC Post three years ago next month. It covers the Midtown area of Kansas City (31st to 55th Streets, State Line to the Paseo for those of you who know Kansas City). This is an urban area with more than two dozen distinct neighborhoods, and includes some of the city’s most historic architecture and major institutions like universities, art museums and entertainment districts. Jay Senter at the successful Prairie Village Post had established the site and I learned a lot working with him. We became separate business entities in 2013.
I am personally interested in experimenting with a combination of journalism and community engagement as a way of strengthening our community.
2. What was your background before becoming an independent local news publisher?
I was a reporter and the news director at the Kansas City Public Radio Station, KCUR, for 15 years. My husband Joe Lambe, who helps with the Midtown Post, was at the Kansas City Star for 24 years. (We met in grad school at the University of Missouri in Columbia). After I left KCUR, I started a business helping governments and organizations with community involvement and also taught community engagement for a while. I also became very involved in my neighborhood association and communicating on the neighborhood level.
3. How would you describe your operation and business model?
We’re not looking to create a large operation; we just want to figure out how to make a comfortable living while providing something of value to our readers. We have just started a push to try harder with advertising sales and it seems to be working.
4. What do you consider your competition as a local news or information source?
Kansas City still has a daily newspaper, the Kansas City Star. There is also an alternative paper, the Pitch, that does a great job of covering food, music and some local issues. I also consider several prolific bloggers competition in the sense that they are very quick in sharing news and information through social media. A lot of our readers get news on Twitter and Facebook rather than from traditional media.
5. What makes your site unique?
I think we have more of a neighborhood perspective than a city perspective. Midtown contains two dozen unique historic neighborhoods, some of them well known and some of them not known at all. Our readers love the architecture and history of the area. Our most popular feature is our Uncovering History series, which is going block by block to look at the history of every inch of Midtown. I have just written a book on Midtown history and we are looking for other ways to incorporate history into daily news coverage.
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?
Sometimes you have to wrestle with your pride a little. We struggle with going from working for larger news operations to being perceived as “bloggers.” It stings a little when people stand right in front of you and ask how they can get the media interested in a story, when you are already there to cover it. After they see you at their meetings and read your stories year after year some people get it; others never will. I don’t think my mother ever will.
7. What about your operation is your biggest source of pride right now?
One of the goals of the Midtown KC Post is to build community and make Midtown a better place. I report on Midtown but I also live here and really care about it. That makes this a different kind of journalism than I have ever done before, and very rewarding. We write about the issues that actually make a difference in people’s lives – schools (both public and charter), development and historic preservation, transportation (buses, bicycles and the possibility of streetcars). Every day I feel like I have a greater depth of understanding about this part of Kansas City.
8. What do you struggle with the most?
That’s easy. Advertising. Having to sell advertising while also writing and all that entails.
9. What are some of your future goals for the site?
As I said earlier, we don’t have a plan to become a huge operation, just sustainable at a level that would pay the mortgage and health insurance. Recently several LION members have announced they were giving up the fight and closing their doors. It is easy to get obsessed with trying to do everything the media ought to be doing – finding a never-before-thought-of business model, selling thousands of dollars worth of ads, keeping up with social media, doing investigative reporting, and of course being first to know about every single thing. But that also seems to be a ticket to burnout. I would like to try to find a happy medium between putting out a good product and having a life.
10. Why are you a member of LION Publishers?
It is such a huge relief to find people all over the country struggling with exactly the same problems and issues that I struggle with every day. I’ve gotten connected to Broadstreet Ads through LION and have used the Facebook page to ask for advice. I find the webinars helpful.
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