A Q&A with LION member Wendy Card, publisher of New Bern Now in North Carolina.
1. When did your site launch, what geography does it cover and why was it founded?
NewBernNow.com launched in April 2009 and covers the greater New Bern, North Carolina, area and surrounding towns.
In the fall of 2008, I visited a mom and pop shop, and the owner was very upset because she couldn’t afford to advertise, and the shop closed soon thereafter. I also thought about how difficult it was to find out information when I transferred from Washington, D.C., to MCAS Cherry Point, North Carolina. I had 30 days to find a house and relocate and I spent hours scouring the Internet for information. I realized how hard the economy impacted our community, so I decided to create a “one stop, information shop”. My goal was to publish free business and nonprofit listings and develop a website to help residents and visitors find out what our great town had to offer.
2. What was your background before becoming an independent local news publisher?
I retired from the Navy as a Chief Hospital Corpsman in October 2007. I didn’t know anything about journalism or website development. I was searching for what I wanted to do in my new life as a civilian. The opportunities were endless; I was going to be a gemologist, virtual assistant, or a mortician. Finally, I found my calling. I bought a book for dummies on CSS/HTML and created New Bern Now’s community website. I believed: if I built the website, people would come. After two or three years, they did.
3. How would you describe your operation and business model?
I’ve teamed up with like-minded people who want to make a difference in our community. We promote each other’s businesses, so there are no monetary transactions. Lisa Bisbee-Lentz is our art director and consultant; Richard Sheridan is our sounding board as he worked in the publishing industry for 20-plus years, and his Crystal Coast Discovery Map is featured in our magazine. Laura Johnson volunteers to conduct audio interviews that are uploaded to our website and the local news talk radio station as community segments. Laura also takes photos during events and delivers the magazine. Thea Kincaid volunteers to do video interviews (some famous ones were with Nicholas Sparks and the band Orleans). Lisa and her husband, Mike Lentz, have allowed us to set up shop in their historic Isaac Taylor House and Gardens when we need to meet clients, record our podcast, and/or host special events.
We also have contributing authors and receive a lot of information from press releases to announcements from our community.
4. What do you consider your competition as a local news or information source?
This may sound naïve, but I don’t believe we have competition. Our “promote, not demote” philosophy is one of a kind as far as media in Eastern North Carolina. Our goal is to provide human interest stories, event information and promote businesses and nonprofits. We leave the hard reporting to our local paper, TV stations, radio stations, etc., as we don’t cover crime, accidents, politics, religion, sports, etc.
We are very fortunate as we haven’t had to actively seek advertisers. If businesses and nonprofits like and believe in what we do, they contact us to advertise. This doesn’t mean that we don’t need more advertisers. Personally, I don’t know anything about sales and I’m thankful that we have advertisers to cover the cost of web hosting and printing the Ledger.
5. What makes your site unique?
We use multi-media (podcast, radio, magazine, website and video – some have aired on local cable TV).
We also have an in-depth calendar of events that’s updated on a regular basis.
We’re the only site that hosts an annual “Social Media Summit” where representatives from traditional media outlets join us and share how people can spread their message about their products and services. It’s a fun-filled day of networking and learning in a beautiful garden setting.
Lastly, we hosted the first mayoral run-off debate for 2013. We asked the candidates questions from residents who live in all of the wards. We had one condition being the candidates wouldn’t talk negative about each other. It was a very civil and informational event.
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 that I created the site with WordPress from the start. Instead, I created the website with HTML/CSS and used Blogger to host our blog. It wasn’t until 2012 that we merged them into one website. Back then, I was so focused on providing content that I didn’t care about aesthetics. I’m not a very visual person. After hearing readers telling me to “pretty up the website,” I finally heeded to their requests as my goal was to help them…not me.
7. What about your operation is your biggest source of pride right now?
Our community has embraced New Bern Now as their own. They email, call us or contact us via social media to tell us about local happenings, opening or closing of businesses, etc.
Since we don’t focus on “getting the latest scoop,” we’re able to concentrate on human interest stories, and I believe that’s what our audience is looking for. It’s a place where people can find out upbeat information about positive happenings in and around town.
I’m also proud of the Ledger magazine. It’s a quarterly publication that’s available online and in print. When I hear people say, “print is dead”, that’s not the case with the Ledger. People want the hard copy edition to share it with friends and keep it in their cars/homes as a handy local reference.
8. What do you struggle with the most?
Forcing myself to take time out to unwind and regroup so I can provide the best services to our audience.
9. What are some of your future goals for the site?
Spend more face-to-face time with readers. There’s only so much trust you can build on the Internet. I would also like to recruit a couple of interns to give them experience in the multi-media publishing world. It’s a win-win.
I’m working on fine-tuning our business model and I would like to share it with small towns that don’t have websites in hopes to help them get on the virtual map.
10. Why are you a member of LION Publishers?
I joined Lion Publishers to learn from others and share similar experiences with like minded people.
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