Last week, an acquaintance of mine from North Carolina, publisher of two online community news sites there, surprised the online publishing community when he announced that, after nine years, he was ceasing publication, effective immediately.
After reading David Boraks’ farewell message, I have to say that his reasons for leaving weren’t at all surprising. In fact, they were very familiar. Here’s an excerpt:
Over the past 9 years, we’ve taken a crazy idea – covering our small towns daily on the web – and turned it into a widely-read, much-loved and often-quoted news source that readers tell us they find indispensable. Alas, we haven’t turned it into a sustainable business: We’re in debt, we’re exhausted, and it’s time to go.
I know, both from surveys we’ve conducted and anecdotally, that our readers also find us indispensable for the wide range of coverage that we provide, from same-day reports of city council meetings, to school board reports, to breaking police and fire news, to arts and entertainment — and much more. They rely on us as a place where they can discuss the issues of the day, chuckle at a funny comment or be wowed by a scenic photo.
It’s a common refrain among many of my peers, that while publishing online community news is very rewarding, it’s also draining — both mentally and financially. Of the dozens of online news sites that sprung up in the late 2000s in the Seattle area alone, only a few retain their original owners and exhibit some sense of financial solvency.
Yet, I think I can speak for all of us who are left standing that we are deeply passionate about the communities we cover and also truly enjoy what we do. I know that is what keeps me going on those days when I am trying to juggle multiple breaking news stories along with business development, marketing and technical maintenance — and still have a life.
I am forever grateful to our skilled freelance writers and photographers, along with our sales, promotion and technical wizards, who help us produce our daily (and sometimes hourly) product. And I am heartened by the support of our valued advertisers, along with our growing list of regular subscribers, who have signed up to support us with a monthly or one-time voluntary subscription. Please be assured that all advertising and subscription dollars help support the community journalism we are proud to provide each day.
I remember attending a business development workshop for online publishers shortly after I launched five years ago, and one of the very practical business questions asked of all of us in the room was, “Do you have an exit strategy?”
An exit strategy? What exactly does that look like when you are tightly woven into the fabric of the community? How do you disengage from something you care about so deeply?
For my friend David Boraks, the answer was to shut down — effective immediately.
I have no exit strategy. I love my community. I love my job. Instead, I have an asking strategy — I will continue to ask each of you regularly for your support. Own a business? Even if you don’t have the budget to advertise, you can subscribe. Read us regularly? One of our subscribers noted that she pays $3 a day for her latte, and decided that she could indeed afford $20 a month for Lynnwood Today. Any amount is welcome and appreciated.
Until next time.