A Q&A with LION member John Ward, publisher of redbankgreen in New Jersey.
1. When did your site launch, what geography does it cover and why was it founded?
redbankgreen launched on June 1, 2006, covering Red Bank and six other towns in the most beautiful corner of New Jersey.
Why? Because I was pushing 50 and needed to create something. Because the incumbent media either wasn't talking about stuff that mattered to residents and business owners, or did so in off-putting ways. Because I discovered Baristanet and saw a bright and glorious alternative.
2. What was your background before becoming an independent local news publisher?
After 20 years in daily print journalism (Home News, Asbury Park Press, Star-Ledger), most of it as an investigative business reporter, and another five years as a magazine freelancer, I had a wide range of reporting experience, which turned out to be a decent basis on which to build something. Fortunately, I also had invaluable help on the visual and technical side from my wife, Trish Russoniello, a graphic artist.
3. How would you describe your operation and business model?
redbankgreen is essentially a one-person news and features operation supplemented on the entertainment and food sides by three freelancers . We're 100 percent local advertiser-supported, with a part-time ad seller.
4. What do you consider your competition as a local news or information source?
Two dailies and two weeklies.
5. What makes your site unique?
We kick butt on breaking news. We also capture the vitality of the places and people we cover in a voice that readers recognize as their neighbor's.
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?
Woulda, coulda, shoulda … Well, for starters, it would have been nice to be born into a world in which LION already existed — that certainly would have expedited the climb over a steep learning curve. I guess I'm glad I DIDN'T know how long it would take to become established, whatever that means, and that even after reaching that point, if we have, I would still wake up some days wondering how to keep the lights on. Still, my advice is: Don't let all the downsides and unknowns talk you out of trying (unless reality is speaking hard truths in a dulcet voice, in which case maybe you should listen). The great thing about online is that you don't need to have the complete package of talents and resources to start. But you should know, with a reasonable degree of certainty, that you possess a core set of skills and a vision that are matched against a community need. The economics have to be there, whether in the short term or long. Passion won't make the unworkable workable, but it is necessary to the enterprise — and a reward in its own right.
7. What about your operation is your biggest source of pride right now?
Our motto from day one has been "a town square for an unsquare town," and redbankgreen arguably has created a community that didn't exist as a coherent entity. Our readers genuinely appreciate what we do, and just about every day, at least one of them says so. Nothing beats love.
8. What do you struggle with the most?
Ads. Generally speaking, retailers have lost patience, so churn is a constant challenge.
9. What are some of your future goals for the site?
10. Why are you a member of LION Publishers?
I had the great fortune of attending a couple of Block By Block confabs, including the one at which LION was chartered. This is a wonderful, supportive community of friends and colleagues, and I love being part of it.
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