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Yale 62

Serving the Community by Reporting the NEWS

By Tony Giamei

After working on the Yale Scientific magazine (as advertising manager) and a highly respected monthly news publication (as a reporter), I became involved with putting out local news online, and later in a printed weekly newspaper.  I was responsible for a website in a corporate environment and had a strong background in graphics to contribute.  I would like to share what is involved with such an endeavor.

First, recognize that traditional reporting is becoming a lost art, and newspapers are struggling due to weak conditions for small businesses.  Your community may no longer be adequately served by a reliable local newspaper.  Many people no longer start the day by reading a paper along with a cup of coffee.  They also do not watch the evening news on a regular basis.

Starting a news entity has several facets:

  • Coming up with a business plan
  • Raising startup funds
  • Convincing business to advertise
  • Finding reporters, editors, ad creators, etc.
  • Connecting with tech support for online activity
  • Locating a reliable printer and distribution network for a printed paper
  • Setting standards for users, content and editing
  • Acquiring insurance protection

The business plan should recognize that the news business is highly cyclical.  Many businesses are seasonal and small businesses come and go.  A key to success is offering different things that appeal to various people.  You will need a rate structure document for ads, depending on size, color and frequency, with lower rates for non-profits.  You will need a schedule for submittal, editing, layout, printing and distribution.  You will likely be able to find volunteers, as this will both serve the community and offer an intellectual outlet for many.

Features to Consider:

  • Local news, such as Town Committee meetings, police reports, etc.
  • Reports from the Fire Dept. and Ambulance Service
  • Press releases from elected officials
  • Classified ads; Obituaries; births; weddings
  • Event Calendar
  • Puzzles, cartoons, contests, sports results, recipes
  • School event reports and Honor rolls
  • Scholarships
  • News from the Library, Garden Clubs, etc.
  • Legal Notices
  • Mystery Diner (restaurant reviews)
  • Health related items; weather
  • Editorials, Op-Ed pieces
  • Opportunities for viewers to comment
  • Election rules, deadlines, campaigns and results

Startup funds can be in the form of loans or donations.  Getting tax-free status is difficult, but worth the effort.

For an online presence, you will need a domain name, a web hosting service and tech support.  There are templates available, or you can design your own website.  IT IS CRUCIAL that the website is updated frequently, or you will lose your audience.

You cannot publish photos of minors without parental permission.  You need to have permission to publish excerpts from published material.  That includes photos.  Use attribution wherever possible.  Set standards for your staff and terms of use for your users.  Be cautious about naming suspects in criminal cases unless they have already been named in police reports.  You will have to decide on story length limits and have a mechanism to distinguish between notes, minutes, reports and real stories vs. advertising in disguise.  When dealing with politicians, they should report news and not be campaigning for votes.  You will have to set standards of decency.  Consult with an attorney and your insurance provider for guidance.  You will need a board of governance and Director & Officer Insurance.  In the news business, you will need content liability insurance.

About eight years ago, we identified 20 founders who came from different backgrounds (and political persuasions) who were willing to contribute adequate startup funds.  We had a small staff to cover all the bases: reporting, editing, posting, layout, sales, advertisement creation and tech support.  We set up a website and enjoyed good viewership for several years.  We had most of the features mentioned above.  We had adequate advertising to cover our costs.  We were getting about 30,000 page views per month in a town with a population of 7,500.  We have noticed that viewer’s interest is highest for news about elections, fires, burglaries, accidents, obituaries and key sporting events.

Based on feedback from viewers and readers, it became clear that we are serving at least two very different demographics: Those that get their news and entertainment online (normally the younger set) and those that still prefer to read the paper while having a cup of coffee.

About 3 years ago we decided to take the plunge and put out a weekly printed paper that goes to all mailboxes at no cost.  This is a considerably larger effort with weekly deadlines.  We were lucky to ride on the coat-tails of another weekly publication from an adjacent town.  We applied for and received 501-c3 status.  That has reduced our costs and increased opportunities for those willing to donate funds.  About 18 months ago, we were joined by another adjacent town and now reach about 12,000 homes or 30,000 people.  Advertising is a constant struggle, but we are stable enough to be designated as the paper of record for our town.  That enables legal ads – another source of revenue and a considerable savings for the town.  We are volunteers, but reward critical staff as resources allow.

So, if you are looking for a challenge, an intellectual outlet and a chance to serve the community … consider starting a local news outlet.

Links to the newspapers I’ve mentioned: HK-Now and Haddam News. For a full-page view of the page at the top of this essay, click here.

 
We welcome your comments below.

1 comment to Serving the Community by Reporting the NEWS

  • Bill Weber

    Not bad, roomie! It seems like your liberal Yale education served you well in addition to metallurgy being your full time profession venture.

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