A Q&A with Jay Allred, publisher of the Richland Source in Ohio.
1. When did your site launch, what geography does it cover and why was it founded?
We launched in May of 2013. We cover the city of Mansfield, Ohio, as well as about a dozen smaller villages, towns and cities that surround it. Richland Source was founded to fill what we perceived to be a vacuum of community-based, constructive, solutions-oriented journalism in our community.
2. What was your background before becoming an independent local news publisher?
I grew up in a newspaper household. My father worked on the business side of the house in production, sales, as a publisher, and eventually on the corporate side of things for many years. I worked at local papers (always in the production side of things) when I was in my 20s. After that, I took a 17-year side trip into the photography and imaging business before returning to my roots in media.
3. How would you describe your operation and business model?
In the realm of indie publishers, we are probably a larger operation. We employ nine full-time and 3 part-time staff. Our business model began as one where we were completely advertising supported. As we have grown in reach and maturity, we are gradually branching out to include other revenue models such as our apparel company www.madeinthe419.com, a membership program we are launching in 2015, as well as media consulting and services that we sell to clients.
4. What do you consider your competition as a local news or information source?
Primarily, our competition is the local Gannett-owned daily as well as a locally owned television station. Beyond that, the battlefield is for the mind-share of our audience on social media.
5. What makes your site unique?
I think it is our attitude, primarily. We have emphasized customer service and a focus on lifting up and supporting the re-birth of our rust belt city from day one. That has meant that we intentionally shed some of the time-honored "observe and report" attitudes in legacy media. We are friendly, open and very up-front about our bias toward the betterment of Mansfield and the surrounding area. For whatever reason, people tell us that makes us unique.
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?
Initially, we believed that the audience growth would be very, very fast through the magic of social media and the internet. I would advise anyone beginning a local news org to go in understanding that you earn your readers one at a time. They should expect a slow process, but demand steady growth. Expect to advertise, shake hands, attend events and do all kinds of stuff that is not the least bit related to news gathering. Understand that your ethics can stay the same, but your execution is going to have to different – or even kinda weird – to get you noticed and establish an identity.
7. What about your operation is your biggest source of pride right now?
Our team. They have bought into the mission, they accept change as a constant, and act as incredible brand ambassadors every day.
8. What do you struggle with the most?
That's easy. Figuring out which two of the 15 really great things we could do are the ones that best serve our readers, are affordable, and deliver ROI. You have to constantly re-focus on the mission and make sure we are not diluting impact with too many initiatives.
9. What are some of your future goals for the site?
Our number one goal is to make a positive impact on our community through the delivery of a thoughtful, balanced news product that reflects the lives of our readers.
CLICK HERE to see other Q&As with LION member independent local news publishers.
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