The local news industry is changing. But just because it’s not as profitable to start a newspaper anymore doesn’t mean you can’t build a business around the concept of sharing information with local residents.
Joe Thompson is an entrepreneur who knows what it’s like to run a local website. As the owner of The Valley Ledger, a local publication in the Lehigh Valley region of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, he’s learned the ins and outs of running a local website. If you’re interested in starting your own, take a look at the tips below.
How To Start a Local News Website Business
Create Consistent Branding
Before actually launching The Valley Ledger, Thompson says he was careful to make sure he could secure the same name for the site’s domain and every popular social media platform. This allowed him to keep the brand consistent and make it easier for people to actually find The Valley Ledger on each of the sites they actually use.
Stick With a Specific Mission
As you create your content and share information with your network, you’ll want to make sure that you keep it consistent so that readers know what to expect.
For Thompson and The Valley Ledger, that means sharing positive information about the Lehigh Valley. And Thompson says that staying true to that has made all the difference. He told Small Business Trends in an email, “Overall, we were very fortunate to be able to quickly be recognized as a source of positive information for the Lehigh Valley. Our willingness to freely promote others led to quick success. We have also stayed true to our mission to only share positive information about the Lehigh Valley area.”
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Build a Network
To share information about local groups, businesses or causes, you need to create a network that will allow you to easily access that information. That means you need to get your name out there and build trust with local newsmakers so they’ll send you press releases and other relevant information. A lot of this will simply evolve over time as you build your reputation.
Thompson says, “In the first year, it was amazing to get three press releases a week. Two and a half years later it is nothing to get three or more press releases a day.”
Get the Word Out
You also need to find ways to get the word out to potential readers and followers. You can use social media, online ads and other digital marketing methods. But sometimes you can also use more traditional marketing tactics to reach people on a local level.
Thompson offered one example, “In the first year, we had the opportunity to trade advertising on the site for advertising at events. That really helped push our name out even further. As the site continues to grow so does the ability to sell ad space on the site.”
Build a Staff
When you first get started, it might be your only option to build your site as a one-person operation. But Thompson says that as you grow, it’s unrealistic to think that you can do it all on your own. That might mean hiring official employees or simply finding contributors or others who can help you on other levels.
Thompson says, “From the time I started the site it has gone from just myself, to seven regular contributors, six photographers, many one-time contributors, two content editors and a growing list of sources for press releases.”
Monetization Strategies for Your News Website
- Advertising: One of the most traditional and effective ways to monetize a local news website is through advertising. You can sell ad space directly to local businesses or use advertising networks like Google AdSense to display relevant ads. It’s important to strike a balance so that the ads are noticeable but not intrusive, as too many ads can detract from the user experience.
- Sponsored Content: Collaborating with local businesses or organizations to create sponsored content can be a lucrative strategy. This could include articles, videos, or special features that are paid for by the sponsor but are still relevant and interesting to your audience. It’s crucial to clearly label this content as sponsored to maintain transparency and trust with your readers.
- Subscriptions or Memberships: Offering a subscription model or a membership program can provide a steady revenue stream. Subscribers could get access to exclusive content, ad-free browsing, or special community features. Pricing should be carefully considered to ensure it’s affordable for your local audience.
- Paywalls for Premium Content: Implementing a paywall for premium content is another strategy. This could include in-depth investigative pieces, special interviews, or expert columns. A ‘freemium’ model, where basic content is free but premium content is behind a paywall, can be effective in attracting and retaining readers.
- Hosting Local Events: Organizing and hosting local events, such as panel discussions, workshops, or meet-and-greets, can be a unique way to monetize your news website. These events can generate revenue through ticket sales, sponsorships, or even partnerships with local venues.
- Donations or Crowdfunding: For community-focused news websites, asking for donations or launching a crowdfunding campaign can be an effective way to raise funds. This approach works well if your website has a strong community backing and is seen as providing a valuable service to the area.
- Affiliate Marketing: You can also consider affiliate marketing, where you earn a commission for promoting products or services from other businesses. This can be particularly effective if you link to products or services that are relevant to your content or local audience.
- E-commerce or Merchandise: Selling branded merchandise or other products relevant to your local area can be another source of revenue. This might include items like branded T-shirts, mugs, or books about local history or events.
Expanding Your Local News Website Business
As your local news website gains traction and grows, you may want to consider expanding its reach and impact. Here are some tips to help you take your venture to the next level:
- Engage with the Community: Actively interact with your audience through comments, social media, and community events. Building a strong relationship with your readers fosters loyalty and encourages them to share your content.
- Diversify Content Formats: Explore various content formats, such as podcasts, videos, and infographics, to cater to different preferences and demographics. Engaging content formats can attract a broader audience and keep them coming back for more.
- Collaborate with Local Businesses: Forge partnerships with local businesses and organizations to cross-promote each other’s services. This collaboration not only expands your network but also provides potential revenue streams through sponsored content and advertisements.
- Offer Premium Content: Consider introducing a subscription model to access premium content, exclusive interviews, or in-depth analysis. Premium memberships can provide a steady revenue stream and reward loyal readers.
- Explore Monetization Options: Besides traditional display ads, explore other revenue streams like sponsored content, affiliate marketing, and hosting events. Diversifying your income sources can make your business more sustainable.
- Mobile Optimization: Ensure your website is mobile-friendly, as an increasing number of users access news on their smartphones. A seamless mobile experience improves user satisfaction and increases overall engagement.
- Invest in SEO and Analytics: Optimize your content for search engines to improve your website’s visibility. Track user behavior through analytics tools to understand what content resonates the most with your audience.
- Community Journalism: Encourage citizen journalism by inviting local residents to contribute stories and opinions. This fosters a sense of community ownership and empowers individuals to share their unique perspectives.
- Expand Geographic Coverage: If feasible, consider expanding your news coverage to neighboring regions or cities. This expansion can attract a larger audience and establish your website as a regional authority on local news.
- Foster Innovation: Stay ahead of the curve by continuously seeking innovative ways to deliver news and engage with readers. Embrace emerging technologies and trends to maintain your competitive edge.
|Strategies for Expanding Your Local News Website Business
|1. Engage with the Community
|- Actively interact with your audience through comments, social media, and community events.
- Building a strong relationship with your readers fosters loyalty and encourages them to share your content.
|2. Diversify Content Formats
|- Explore various content formats, such as podcasts, videos, and infographics, to cater to different preferences and demographics.
- Engaging content formats can attract a broader audience and keep them coming back for more.
|3. Collaborate with Local Businesses
|- Forge partnerships with local businesses and organizations to cross-promote each other's services.
- This collaboration not only expands your network but also provides potential revenue streams through sponsored content and advertisements.
|4. Offer Premium Content
|- Consider introducing a subscription model to access premium content, exclusive interviews, or in-depth analysis.
- Premium memberships can provide a steady revenue stream and reward loyal readers.
|5. Explore Monetization Options
|- Besides traditional display ads, explore other revenue streams like sponsored content, affiliate marketing, and hosting events.
- Diversifying your income sources can make your business more sustainable.
By incorporating these strategies into your local news website business, you can strengthen your brand, expand your readership, and create a sustainable and influential media platform for your community.
The local news industry may be undergoing significant changes, with traditional newspapers facing profitability challenges. However, entrepreneurs like Joe Thompson have proven that building a successful local news website is still possible and can have a meaningful impact on a community. By following the tips provided and staying true to a specific mission, local news websites can thrive and become valuable sources of positive information for their respective regions.
As your local news website gains momentum, it’s essential to consider expanding its reach and influence to serve an even broader audience. Engaging with the community, diversifying content formats, and collaborating with local businesses can further enhance your website’s impact and create revenue opportunities. Embracing innovation and fostering community journalism will empower individuals to share their perspectives and create a sense of ownership among your readers.
Remember, the success of a local news website relies on building a strong network, getting the word out through effective marketing, and optimizing your website for mobile devices. Additionally, investing in SEO and analytics will enable you to understand your audience better and tailor content to their preferences.
As you grow, consider building a dedicated staff or working with contributors to support the increasing demands of your website. By continuously seeking new ways to deliver news and engage with your readers, you can stay ahead of the curve and establish your website as a trusted authority on local news.
With determination, passion, and the implementation of these strategies, your local news website can become a sustainable and influential media platform, making a positive impact on the community it serves. Embrace the opportunities presented by digital media and utilize emerging technologies to create a lasting legacy in the local news industry. The journey may be challenging, but the rewards of providing valuable information to your community are immeasurable.
Remember, the essence of local journalism lies in connecting with the people, promoting positive stories, and empowering voices that might otherwise go unheard. Through your dedication and commitment, you have the power to shape the narrative and make a difference in your community. So, go forth and continue to build an impactful local news website that brings meaningful stories to your readers’ fingertips.
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