Farewell, that’s all the news for now

DavidBugBeerHere’s my final column for DavidsonNews.net and CorneliusNews.net, published on those sites May 29, 2015. 

We’re sorry to announce that DavidsonNews.net and CorneliusNews.net are ceasing publication as of today. 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.

My colleague Lyndsay Kibiloski and I are proud of what we’ve built, with the help of so many people in the community. This decision has been painful and frustrating. Readership on our Lake Norman news network is actually at its all-time peak: We’re now the largest publication north of Charlotte, with more than 100,000 unique visitors (readers) per month from Charlotte to Lake Norman and beyond, according to Google Analytics. And we’ve won national and regional attention for our journalism and our news-on-the-web efforts.

But we’ve been unable to sell enough advertising to local businesses to sustain the sites, to pay me and, lately, to pay our staff. Our annual winter slump hit especially hard this year. At the same time, voluntary support from readers – which has always been limited – has dropped off.

I can’t say thank you enough to the handful of loyal advertisers who have bought and renewed long-term contracts. The Town of Davidson, Cornelius PARC, MSC Industrial Supply, Flatiron Kitchen + Taphouse, Visit Lake Norman and MI-Connection have been pioneers in local advertising on the web. Private schools including Cannon and Davidson Day have found our sites a great way to reach prospective families. A few local real estate firms also have found advantages of adding us to their marketing mix. We’ve gotten some great testimonials: Davidson homebuilder Rodney Graham was an early advertiser and stayed with us for many years, crediting us with helping to sell out a project.

In some other markets around the US, community news sites have won advertising contracts from larger businesses – hospital groups, grocery chains, car dealers and other companies – as well as nonprofits. Alas, in the Lake Norman area, most local ad dollars still go to print publications.

And when local businesses or nonprofits do spend money on the web, it’s typically not going to community news. Instead, our neighbors who run small businesses – who are quick to urge us all to “buy local” – are sending money to places like California or New York – headquarters of the big internet companies. It’s been discouraging the past few years to have local business owners tell us they don’t have money for advertising, and then to see their ads on Google or Facebook.

Sales is a tough game. In 2013 we hired our first full-time advertising rep, Brandon Butler, and he succeeded in bringing in new revenues. But our total income has remained well below what we need to sustain and grow the business. Our plans had called for expanding to Mooresville and Huntersville, but we’ve never been able to line up the revenues to pay for that.

We’re also grateful to the small number of readers who understand that community news can’t be free. Thank you. You’ve contributed everything from a few dollars a month to a few hundred dollars a year to help pay for news gathering on DavidsonNews.net and CorneliusNews.net.

But there aren’t enough of you. Just 2 percent of readers – only a few hundred – actually make those “voluntary subscription payments. The other 98 percent of readers have not responded to our twice a year campaigns, or to messages on our site, on our social media pages and in our daily emails.

Running a daily web newspaper and advertising network for Lake Norman has been rewarding, but exhausting. It’s been a team effort, and wouldn’t have happened without dedication and long hours from Lyndsay and me, as well as our salespeople, reporters, columnists and community news contributors. We’ve saved the site from death a few times before, and we are carrying a substantial debt. When things took turn for the worse again this winter, we agreed that rather than another all-out effort to save our business, we’re ready to try new things.

I’m sad and concerned that our sites are going dark. But we’re not the only game in town – there are other news sources here.

So that’s it. We’ll see you around.

WHERE WE’RE GOING

I’m heading to Europe with my family this summer. I’ll continue to work weekends as an announcer at WFAE-FM, and I’m looking around for the next opportunity – and my first paycheck in a decade. My colleagues Lyndsay Kibiloski and Brandon Butler (our advertising rep) are planning a new business venture. Around Davidson columnist Brenda Barger will finally get some well deserved rest and a chance to play with her grandchildren. Reporter Jonathan Cox left us April 30 and has a job lined up at an English-language daily newspaper in Cambodia. Our ace campus reporter Lincoln Davidson graduated in May from Davidson College and is heading to New York where he’ll write and edit for the Council on Foreign Relations. Theater reviewer Connie Fisher is looking around for a way to keep reviewing Lake Norman area theater. Our calendar editor and columnist Cathy Swiney still has her day job at JV Washam Elementary School and will keep looking for freelance opportunities in the area. If you’re looking for Jaletta Desmond’s “Life Happens” column, she’s syndicated and her column appears elsewhere. And fortunately, our “That’s What She Said” columnist Carol Bradfield still has her day job.

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2 thoughts on “Farewell, that’s all the news for now

  1. And here’s an interesting report on the NPR website, on what it means to lose your local news outlet. An interesting read, given the recent demise of CorneliusNews.net and DavidsonNews.net … Happening right here, too, with all the same sentiments – even if our sites were not print weeklies. Mourning, withdrawal, disappointment … and comments like this one:

    “You lose that individual feel that our town matters,” Freeman says. “There are activities in our town that nobody can really convey to each other anymore when you lose that vehicle for getting the news out.”

    June 21, 2015, NPR.org, “When The Local Paper Closes, Where Does The Community Turn?”

    Like

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