A Q&A with LION member Bob Sprague, publisher of YourArlington in Massachusetts.
1. When did your site launch, what geography does it cover and why was it founded?
YourArlington went live in December 2006, inspired We the Media, a 2004 book by Dan Gillmor. The Boston Globe had laid me off in 2005, and I was working for a high-tech magazine and wanted to make an impact on Arlington, Mass., where I live.
The site focuses on Arlington with exceptions made for neighboring communities in suburban Boston. My site partners with two sites like mine, InsideMedford and Cambridge Day. The immediate market area of the three communities has a population of 200,000 people.
2. What was your background before becoming an independent local news publisher?
I have worked in print journalism since 1970 (reporting, editing) and have taught journalism at Emerson College. After the Boston Herald and before The Globe, I edited the weekly here, The Advocate. I am a self-taught techie and started the town's municipal website in 1998.
3. How would you describe your operation and business model?
The site is built on open-source Joomla! as a community-participation site. Of 250 registered users, about 20 contribute. I have a feature freelancer and a restaurant reviewer, who I pay. I concentrated first on building site content and increased ads more slowly (yeah, I'm not a biz guy).
My increasing focus is on advertising, and I think my two partners in cities next door are keys to this. We pitch joint deals to advertisers. I am seeking a sales person to work on commission. I am a Chamber of Commerce member.
4. What do you consider your competition as a local news or information source?
WickedLocal.com, which is the site for the GateHouse chain, owner of The Advocate. Increasingly, it has posted content from the weekly paper online early (before Thursday paper publication). Problem is: I consistently beat them. Advertisers aren't paying attention yet.
Patch offered some competition between 2010 and about 18 months ago, but it's a bottom-feeder now.
I had a partnership with Boston.com and a feed to its many hyperlocal sites from 2010 until The Globe pulled the plug on all those this spring.
5. What makes your site unique?
The community memory of an editor who has lived here since 1989 and his partner wife, also a journalist, who has lived here since the 1970s. The business challenge is monetizing that memory. I have scruples about what I do in that area, though I am weighing pitching sponsored content.
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?
1.) I would advise weighing very carefully the publication of highly controversial stories. They mean your site will have large numbers of hits initially, but such a story can also "typecast" your site as, "Oh, he's the one who published …." I published such a story about seven months after I launched — and I had a perfect right to do it — but the story hung like an albatross for six years, until it was resolved in court (against those named in the original story who were the subjects of controversy).
2.) First, find a deep-pockets partner or at least person to sell ads.
7. What about your operation is your biggest source of pride right now?
Covering events and people Arlington, Mass., in depth and with a conscience.
8. What do you struggle with the most?
9. What are some of your future goals for the site?
Expanding, selling more advertising, hiring a sales person, finding a like-minded partner with deeper pockets than I have.
10. Why are you a member of LION Publishers?
I am a member because of the network of informed people who do what I do and have found more financial success than I have. This network of informed sources is worth much more than my dues.
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