A Q&A with LION member Tracy Simmons, publisher of Spokane Faith and Values in Washington.
1. When did your site launch, what geography does it cover and why was it founded?
SpokaneFAVS.com launched in 2012 in Spokane, Washington. We cover religion news and offer commentary on issues of faith and ethics in the Spokane region as a way to keep the religion beat alive and create community dialogue.
2. What was your background before becoming an independent local news publisher?
I have been covering religion for various newspapers across the country for 11 years. In 2009 I launched my first online religion publication in Connecticut, when newspapers in that state began to reduce their faith coverage. That site was purchased from me and I moved to Spokane to start again.
3. How would you describe your operation and business model?
We are a local non-profit run mostly by volunteers. When we first launched we had a sizable grant, which ran out. We are trying to land more grants. In the meantime, most of our funding comes from donations and advertising. We do lots and lots of community events, which people donate to. Once a month we host the following: Coffee Talk, which is a community forum based on something happening in the news, and Pub Talk, which is a continuation of Coffee Talk, a mixer for readers and writers to socialize. And once a year we host a progressive dinner, Faith Feast, where we travel to various houses of worship and dine. That is a ticketed event.
Our board is constantly brainstorming new revenue streams.
4. What do you consider your competition as a local news or information source?
We have partnered with the local newspaper, The Spokesman-Review. I would like to develop more partnerships with other news organizations.
5. What makes your site unique?
We are niche. In fact, we are one of the only hyperlocal startups specifically covering religion in the entire country! We've won two national awards for what we're doing, so I think we're on the right track.
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?
Branding! We started out as an affiliate of a national news publication, and their board chose our name: SpokaneFAVS, which stands for Spokane Faith and Values. Now, three years in we are on our own, but it's too late to change our name. Choose a name that sticks, that people get, that people know how to say. We are creating a new logo, and a tagline, that will hopefully help us with a new marketing campaign we will be launching soon.
7. What about your operation is your biggest source of pride right now?
We are building community! I didn't expect it, but it's happening. I didn't want SpokaneFAVS to be another site with a bunch of online talking heads, so that's why I created Coffee Talks. Because of that, our readers know who writes the columns – they've seen them at forums, asked them questions, have tipped a beer with them at Mixers. That results in a respectful, thoughtful online dialogue on our website – about religion of all things! Our readers and columnists have even gotten together on their own to discuss their beliefs. Taking what's happening online, and bringing offline is key. It's what creates a loyal readership, and a dedicated group of volunteers who truly believe our publication is making a difference.
8. What do you struggle with the most?
Time, money. SpokaneFAVS isn't bringing in enough money right now to provide me a full salary or benefits, so I'm having to work full time as a journalism instructor and run the site. Because of that I'm not able to do write as many news stories as I'd like, and I feel our mission to provide religion news coverage suffers.
9. What are some of your future goals for the site?
We want to add many more features to our site, like a searchable database of places to worship in the area. We want to grow our journalism team and really do a knockout job covering the faith community in this region. We also are considering expanding to other cities.
10. Why are you a member of LION Publishers?
LION came highly recommended to me. I want to network with other publishers, share ideas, learn from one another. The webinars recently have been great! I hope to make it to a conference one of these days.
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