A Q&A with LION member Jodi Schwan, publisher of SiouxFalls.Business.
1. When did your site launch, what geography does it cover and why was it founded?
It launched in March 2017 and covers business news in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and the surrounding area. Sioux Falls has a strong business community, so I felt it could support an additional business-news product. Plus, I knew there were many businesses looking for a new way to reach decision-makers in their marketing.
2. What was your background before becoming an independent local news publisher?
I started working as a reporter when I was 15 years old, doing freelance work in my hometown for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and then went into broadcast journalism. While I was at Northwestern University, I spent three months as an intern reporter at KELO-TV in Sioux Falls, and loved the experience and the community. I spent four years after college reporting at KELO and then left the industry to become chief of staff for the mayor of Sioux Falls.
When my political appointment was done in 2010, I went back into the media as a reporter for the Sioux Falls Business Journal, which is part of the Gannett-owned daily newspaper the Argus Leader. I was promoted to editor after about a year and remained in that role until earlier this year.
3. How would you describe your operation and business model?
Align Content Studio is our core business. We offer content marketing strategy, production and distribution to clients in a range of industries. I created www.SiouxFalls.Business as an additional distribution channel for our clients seeking to reach a business audience. About two-thirds of the content we produce for the site is unpaid news content. The remainder is clearly identified as branded content that we produce for our clients or that our business sponsors submit to us for distribution. We publish six to eight original stories each weekday, plus original videos, and use Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to help distribute our pieces, along with an email newsletter we send multiple times per week. I have one full-time content manager and a freelance team for additional writing, photography, videography and graphic design.
4. What do you consider your competition as a local news or information source?
We compete digitally with our local newspaper, and television and radio stations, but we also have partnerships with some of them. I appear at least weekly with a business report on our ABC television affiliate and frequently on multiple radio stations.
5. What makes your site unique?
Our site is funded solely through sponsored content partnerships. We don’t charge readers for our content, and we don’t run other forms of digital advertising. I also believe in blending content with experience to create a more engaged audience. We will be doing this in multiple ways, but our first major initiative is called 605 Made. 605 is the area code for South Dakota. 605 Made is a category on our website, as well as a standalone social media brand where we cover “makers” – artists, chefs, designers, crafters, small farmers, etc. We feature them in our content, but we also organize pop-up events where readers can buy (or eat or listen to) their work. We’ve done two so far since launching – a spring market and a night market – and we’re planning a holiday market in December.
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?
Make sure you test your website thoroughly before really launching! I made ours live one night, launched it publicly the next day and then realized we had some bugs that were causing the site to really drag or not load at all. Fortunately, people thought we were so popular it kept overloading, so I’m pretty sure they came back to check it out! But if I had taken a little more time to test, I would have saved myself some stress.
7. What about your operation is your biggest source of pride right now?
I’m really proud that we’ve been able to demonstrate how effective quality branded content can be for advertisers. We’ve had many sponsored pieces perform just as well as news pieces, and our clients and sponsors are starting to see tangible results within their businesses because of their partnership with us. I’m also proud to have been able to add a full-time employee after two months in business. Rosemary McCoy worked with me as a copy editor and producer for several years, and I was grateful to be able to add her as a content manager in the early stages of the business.
8. What do you struggle with the most?
I put a lot of pressure on myself right away to deliver results for our clients and sponsors, and I still feel that all the time. I’ve felt confident all along in our ability to deliver a quality news product to readers, but making sure we’re exceeding the expectations of our corporate partners is critical. And, while I’m lucky to be a pretty good time manager, I still struggle all the time with fitting in everything I feel I need to get done in a day!
9. What are some of your future goals for the site?
Along with continuing to grow our audience, I’d love to be in a position next year to add another full-time employee. I also could see us adding some new events and engagement opportunities for the business community. And I don’t rule out creating entirely new news products designed to reach different audiences.
10. Why are you a member of LION Publishers?
I was really excited to discover LION, because one of the elements of working for a large organization that I valued was the ability to learn best practices and bounce ideas off like-minded people. Even though we’re a small news organization, I already feel like part of a bigger news community through LION. The resources it’s connected me to in the first few months have been very valuable, and I look forward to becoming more connected to the group.
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