A Q&A with LION member Teresa Wippel, publisher of My Edmonds News and sister sites in Washington.
1. When did your site launch, what geography does it cover and why was it founded?
I founded My Edmonds News in October 2009. I had been laid off from a communications job with a local sports team and was inspired by the work of an online news site in a neighboring community to try one in Edmonds. I had lived in Edmonds — located 12 miles north of Seattle — for 25 years but never really engaged with the community, as my employment has always been in Seattle. Since I was job hunting, I thought I’d get familiar with Word Press and start going to city meetings and events — and see what happened. Five years later, I’m still here, and have acquired two other online sites in nearby cities, including the one that had inspired me to start My Edmonds News in the first place.
2. What was your background before becoming an independent local news publisher?
Eclectic, to say the least. I graduated with a journalism degree from Seattle University and worked as a weekly and small daily print and wire service journalist for seven years. While working for the Seattle bureau of United Press International, my paycheck bounced (it was during one of the many financially tumultuous years that UPI had) and I had been the last person hired. I decided to look at my options, and because I wanted to stay in Seattle, advancement in journalism locally was limited. So I took a job as a public information writer/editor for a government agency, a job I had for eight years. From there, I moved in and out of communications and journalism jobs, including a three-year stint as editorial director of an Internet start-up in the late 1990s. That latter job didn’t bring me immense wealth (about 30 people from the company hired a year before me did become millionaires), but it did get me very familiar with online writing/editing at a time when it was a mystery to many people. I also started my own freelance writing and editing business, which involved everything from writing magazine stories for parenting and bridal magazines, to developing marketing content for technology companies, to editing Microsoft manuals. All of this experience helped me to become more comfortable with the varied responsibilities that come along with being a publisher — from selling ads, to marketing the site, to reporting stories, to moderating comments.
3. How would you describe your operation and business model?
I have three sites now — My Edmonds News, MLTnews and Lynnwood Today, covering the neighboring communities of Edmonds (pop. 39,000), Mountlake Terrace (pop. 20,000) and Lynnwood (pop. 39,000). They are under the umbrella of the My Neighborhood News Network and the sites have a similar look and feel. Nearly all of our revenue comes from advertising or sponsorship sales. I also share rent for a video studio and do make some money off video production work, including some video shows that clients pay us to produce. We also do online streaming of high school sports, which we sell sponsorships for. I edit the Edmonds site and also provide a fair amount of the content, although I do have a great supporting cast of freelance writers and photographers who help, along with regular columnists who write weekly or monthly on topics ranging from arts and entertainment to restaurants to parenting to book reviews. A freelance editor oversees MLT and Lynnwood and also writes most of the content, but we use freelancers from time to time there as well, and have a few columnists. I have a commission-only ad sales person who works for me full-time, although she is taking a leave of absence this summer for family/travel reasons. I acquired MLT and Lynnwood from their founders, who approached me at different times — one in 2012 and the other in 2013 — to acquire them because they could no longer maintain them.
4. What do you consider your competition as a local news or information source?
Edmonds has a weekly tabloid newspaper, the Beacon, that is my closest competitor, although the readership generally skews much older. They have a website but I don’t believe they get much traffic. Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace have no newspapers at all. (The ones that used to cover them closed a couple of years ago.) If it weren’t for us, the communities would have no news coverage. Period.
5. What makes your site unique?
For Edmonds, it’s the comments section. I do require all those commenting to use real first and last names (mostly verifiable, although that is not 100 percent possible) and that has kept the dialogue relatively constructive/respectful. I started the site with the goal of having it be “an online gathering place” where people could discuss the issues of the day, and I’m proud to say that is what is has become. MLT and Lynnwood don’t have nearly the engagement, which I attribute to each site being dormant for a while before I took them over, but I’m working on that.
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?
Be realistic about how much money you’ll make (or won’t make) especially when you are starting out and about how much hard work maintaining this type of operation takes. Keep to a very tight budget and don’t overspend — you don’t have to try to cover everything by hiring freelancers. I still overspend some times because I am very competitive and can’t stand not covering something that my competition has. Also, diversify the services and sponsorship offerings so you give clients lots of options for spending their money. Not everyone wants (or will benefit from) a display ad. Sponsored content works better for others. Being able to offer video services is also helpful for those who don’t know how to do that.
7. What about your operation is your biggest source of pride right now?
See answer 5 above. And the fact that our readership continues to grow year over year with no marketing budget and no print presence, other than word of mouth. Finally, the consistent kudos we get from those who appreciate how hard we work to cover stories that our competition doesn’t or won’t cover.
8. What do you struggle with the most?
Income — doesn’t everyone? We have a healthy base of advertisers for our Edmonds site, but not so much for Lynnwood or MLT. But the good news is, we do have advertisers who want to purchase space in all three sites and it is helpful that we have no competition in two of our three markets, so for advertisers like hospitals or public agencies, we are the only local game in town. I have recently launched a very aggressive voluntary subscription campaign, and I post a "From the Publisher’s Desk" column weekly that asks people for money. I have come up with many different ways to say — Give. Now.
9. What are some of your future goals for the site?
Becoming more financially robust so I can pay my freelancers and myself more, and eventually have one or two full-time employees. Continuing to evolve with the technology — we are about ready to launch our third redesign specifically aimed at making all three sites more mobile friendly.
10. Why are you a member of LION Publishers?
Being able to share ideas, get answers to burning questions and just vent is invaluable. While I have worked as a freelance journalist and a magazine editor on and off for many years, I haven’t been in a newsroom since right out of college, so I like to get a second or third opinion sometimes before hitting the “publish” button. In addition, working alone is hard. LION — along with other informal networking I do with publishers who aren’t LION members — is my virtual newsroom.
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