An Important Message To South Brunswick And Cranbury About Local News
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sbnewsman1



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PostPosted: Wed, Jul 26, 5:13 am EDT    Post subject: An Important Message To South Brunswick And Cranbury About Local News Reply with quote

Residents: your local news is in danger!
This may take a moment, but bear with me as I explain why there may not be any significant local news coverage in the very near future, unless we all act now.
When I started covering South Brunswick for the Sentinel and Greater Media Newspapers in June 1998, it was a virtual media “bonanza.”
There were always at least three full time reporters at all Township Council, Board of Education, Planning Board and Zoning Board meetings; myself, the Post, and a reporter from the Home News Tribune, with an occasional appearance by the Star Ledger.
Competing with these other organizations was fun, challenging, and the community was awash in local news.
If you asked me then, to imagine a time where the Home News would barely care…. or that the South Brunswick Post (called the Central Post when I started) would be no more…and in fact, would combine Jim Kilgore’s Packet Publications with Greater Media into one new company with only one-part time editor covering several towns…. I would have thought your sanity train left the station empty.
Such were the heady days. Each of our publications were doing well. We provided many local stories and the community was well served.
Local businesses advertised and our paychecks were solid, giving us the stability to pursue the stories and people that make these communities the amazing places they are.
After all, when things are all said and done, the news we generated was our product. That was the end goal.
Sure, advertisers reaped a benefit from people responding to their ads, but it was more than that. It was part of businesses contributing to a vital community service.
Just as it is important to contribute to the local school and athletic organizations, community food bank or the latest church endeavor, businesses made sure these publications and the flow of local news continued like a vibrant river, teaming with fish and other lifeforms.
The notion that the river would eventually dry up to a small trickle of a stream with only a frog or two, leaving acres of dried mud in its wake seemed nightmarish and unthinkable.
But that is exactly what has happened…here, in both South Brunswick and Cranbury.
If there was anything close to a “gold standard” in local journalism, it was the Post.
Back in the day, it had about 24 pages in just it’s a-section and another section just for high school sports.
If your kid even breathed in the school system, it was a better than even bet that they would be featured with a photo or two somewhere along their high school years.
The post, under the leadership of editor Hank Kalet (for most of the time I covered the community), was a formidable foe with a reporter for municipal government and police, a reporter for the schools, another for sports, a dedicated photographer, news editor, managing editor and an office in Dayton.
That version of the paper, circa 1999-2004, really exemplified local news coverage and put up a high bar for the rest of us trying to out-cover them.
When you did scoop them, you were on top of the world. It felt amazing and, again, the residents of the township got the benefit from that competition by being better informed about local issues.
I left Greater Media in 2004 and went to Pemberton Township and eventually Torrington, Connecticut until 2007, returning to cover South Brunswick again in 2010 for the Post after Hank left to go to Patch with reporter Davy James.
At that point, the Post was already a shadow of its former self.
The Dayton office closed and consolidated operations in the main Princeton office. The photographers were now all shared company-wide and only one full time reporter remained.
By 2011, only the managing editor, myself, remained as the editorial department of Packet Publications shrank its editorial staff.
When the Post finally closed in 2015, the editorial staff at the Packet had dropped from around 80 or so when I started to less than 10, and I was running three papers virtually by myself.
Sure, the Internet had an impact. The Packet was no longer the only entity in town with a printing press so that businesses could reach their audiences (and for much less).
Both Greater Media and the Packet fell victim to the great media shift during the decade. A downward-spiraling of lower ad and subscription revenue that caused massive editorial cuts, causing less and less original content, which led to more revenue loss, which led to more staff cuts, to even less content…and so on…until there was nothing left.
When I left the Packet in May 2015 to start my own online news franchise for the community with my partner Nicole M. Wells, the Post had not had any local businesses advertising in it for months, hence the reason Jim Kilgore decided to close it.
Subscriptions plummeted to less than 600 in 2015. Think about that for a moment. A town of around 50,000 and only 600 subscribers for the main local community newspaper. Single copy sales were just as weak, only 120 some weekly sales.
Even the Patch, with the backing of AOL, is now only a remnant of what it started out as.
This history is very important to understand going forward.
My partner and I started our TAP into South Brunswick and Cranbury site the day after the Post closed, May 2, 2015.
In the last two plus years we had hoped to begin restoring the coverage of the Post’s heyday.
With the Post costing an estimated $10,000 per week to produce, we deduced that we could run on only 1/10 of that, about $1,000 per week to make things work.
That works out to just $143 a day. Not much to bring in for any business, right? Most businesses that only do that much a day usually close quickly.
We felt that getting a total of 20 businesses in both towns to advertise with us in our first year would be feasible and allow us to grow, hire, and expand our coverage, bringing in new advertisers and readers, reversing the downward spiral back to its proper place.
Maybe we were too optimistic.
While our readership grew quickly and significantly, the business side has never left the starting gate.
Part of that is that we cannot find anyone to work on sales with us…after screening some 50 people, not one would take on the job.
That means we are doing both sales and content generation.
Despite approaching many businesses in town, we are only taking in around $800-$1,000 per month total. That is not even enough to cover personal bills such as rent, phone, car insurances, etc., let alone our business cost obligations.
Things got so bad last year that I was on food stamps and rental assistance for a few months while trying to make this work…and I never stopped writing.
Some of our best work came during that time, including the stories about the embattled former schools superintendent (which provided the highest readership).
Other sites in our franchise group are doing very, very well. Businesses in those towns are very supportive of their efforts and they are growing rapidly.
Many of them are hiring more writers to expand their coverage, like we had planned to.
Our readership is great, averaging around 25,000-30,000 per month, so it doesn’t seem that we are doing anything wrong on the editorial side.
Certainly, exposure to that many local people is a great value to local businesses…in addition to keeping their communities informed, so it is hard to see what the real problem here is.
Whatever the reason, it has become apparent that the business communities in South Brunswick and Cranbury do not support our local news efforts.
Many of the businesses we stopped into said that they do, but words are not actions, and they are voting with the lack of funding.
And, by the way, it’s not that they do not advertise. They do. In other publications, coupon books, placemats, etc.
They do advertise with a $1,000 a year banner displayed at high school football games, signs at other events, $4,000 to sponsor county chamber of commerce breakfasts that reach a total of 100 people in four months…they do advertise and sponsor things.
We have worked very hard during the last year to develop advertising solutions that are affordable, but those initiatives are not working either.
We have plans that range from just $240 per year…. not much at all…to $3,000 to sponsor a section of news for the year.
So, the bottom line is that I am taking a job at the new Amazon warehouse in Cranbury full time, starting very soon.
I need to do this to pay the bills and keep above water.
The future of our site is good through the end of next April (2018), but we then must decide if we want to go for another three years.
At this moment, I honestly don’t know if we will.
Maybe I should have shared this with all of you earlier than today, but I really believed what we were doing for the two communities was valuable and that getting on our feet would just take time, but would happen.
I guess the question to all of you in these towns is; do you want us to continue and will you support us so that we can?
Look through this site to explore the ways that we can work together to keep local news in the community.
Businesses can see what we are offering or can contact us to meet. Individuals can click on the Support Local News page to see how they can help us keep going.
If the support is there, we will continue past April 2018, if not, we will likely join the Post.
Thank you to all our readers and to the businesses that have supported us…especially the late Arthur and Debbie Roedel who really supported our mission beyond what their sponsorship would do for their business.
Unlike the Post’s demise, we are openly sounding the warning bell so that you can keep our local news if you choose to.
Thanks again for taking the time to read this.
Charles W. Kim
http://charcolemedia.com/wordpress1/
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anon-s6p5
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PostPosted: Wed, Jul 26, 9:37 am EDT    Post subject: Re: An Important Message To South Brunswick And Cranbury About Local News Reply with quote

Charles,

As was stated before, people won't essentially donate money to a business. They football banner is more a donation than an ad.
If I look at a place mate ad, chances I am not visiting that business. But, that ad is being seen by every patron at that restaurant.

If I look at your site, there are only a couple of recent stories. I imagine many people are like me. I'll visit your site every couple of days and if there is nothing new move on after in less than a minute. That means that there is no seeing many ads.

I recommend you notify the businesses, how many hits you get (not from search bots), how many links are clicked and the length of visit. That may help.

The other thing to consider is if the people you are selling to are visiting your site and seeing only a couple new stories a week, then they may feel that there is limited value to advertising.

Lastly, the Trenton Times, Home News, etc...never covered Cranbury so the residents here are used to minimal news coverage.
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anon-85ro
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PostPosted: Wed, Jul 26, 5:08 pm EDT    Post subject: Re: An Important Message To South Brunswick And Cranbury About Local News Reply with quote

And therein lies the entire dilemma...
A quick question....how is paying money to someone for work they complete a donation?
This is NOT panhandling!
It takes us a few hours of time to gather and write news, take and process photos and videos...what you are saying, in effect, is that is worth nothing.
That is the prevailing attitude....and why things are the way they are.
We get plenty of hits to the site each month and the people who do advertise get clicks in line or better than the industry average...it does work.
Despite those numbers and statistics....businesses still won't advertise....therefore the work we do goes unpaid for folks to consume.
I've said it before, if everyone who read a story on the site kicked in just 25-cents each time....we would be more than fine with like $5,000 a month coming in.
Our franchise business model does not provide for subscription sales, but individuals could, if they value the work, click a link on our Charcole Media site and pay $5, $20 or $50 to help our efforts...it's not much when you consider what we do.
I would love to do more stories, especially in Cranbury....but we have to get the rent paid and food on the table first.
This is NOT a weekend hobby type of thing to do....you either commit to it or not....Like Yoda said in one of the Star Wars films..."do or do not, there is no try."
We have committed for the last two-plus years and need to see some kind of support from the two communities.
What most people don't get is that the amount of stories on a site is directly proportionally related to the financial support the site has....the more money coming in, the more time we have to gather and process news and the ability to hire out the work there is.
The converse is what is playing out.
Like I mentioned in the other thread about this...NOW is the time to put MORE money into this in order to increase the content.
I cannot hire another writer to cover more things when I cannot even pay myself. It's pretty simple.
Cutting back or supporting news organizations less only forces cutbacks to those who create the content in the first place...less content is less for the community.
Check out www.charcolemedia.com if you want to advertise or help.
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anon-85ro
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PostPosted: Wed, Jul 26, 5:21 pm EDT    Post subject: Re: An Important Message To South Brunswick And Cranbury About Local News Reply with quote

One last point....the reason there has not been very many "new" stories is because I spend most of my days now trying to get the financial support to just break even on the month.
That leaves precious little time for me to go to meetings, sporting events, community gatherings, etc.
If the money was there, believe me, my days would be spent much better doing what I love doing as opposed to selling ads.
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sbnewsman1



Joined: Fri, Mar 17, 11:21 pm EDT
Posts: 15

PostPosted: Mon, Aug 7, 6:29 pm EDT    Post subject: Re: An Important Message To South Brunswick And Cranbury About Local News Reply with quote

For everyone's information....including July 2017, our site averages about 9,000 individual "subscribers" in both towns.

If each person kicked in just $20 per year for our work, we would earn $171,000 and have no financial worries at all.

We would have enough to pay ourselves $30,000 a year (Nicole and I), hire a full time marketing person at around $30,000, and take care of business expenses.

That amount would also give us about $70,000 per year to hire 3 full time reporters to cover a variety of stories in addition to any we would do ourselves, producing about 10 stories per week each.

That means we would be doing roughly 8-10 stories a day....Monday-Friday and produce what a decent sized daily produces.

That would mean full schools, courts, social, sports and government coverage for both towns on a daily basis.

The point is...it doesn't take much to make this work for everyone...if that is truly what the people want....hence my frustration.

Unlike Patch, or other news outlets in the state, we have no "national" sponsors. The ads you see on our site for entities like Verizon or Citibank use a service called "Programmatic Advertising" which is automated and VERY cheap.

We earn around $40 per month TOTAL of all of those ads (you can tell this type of ad by a small blue triangle or arrow in the top right corner of the ad).

They are sold online through an automated bidding process for pennies on the dollar and are inserted on a fill-in basis to spots not sold locally by the individual franchises.

Each of our site's bread and butter....our lifeline....is local business advertising.

That is why the support of the local communities is vital to our survival.

In just Cranbury, if the community can raise $2.6 million for a new library, why can't it come up with 10 percent of that (over five years) to keep local news in town?

$260,000/5=$52,000 per year...and we only need Cranbury to raise half of that to survive...SB has the burden of 2/3 of our budget.

If just 12 Cranbury businesses sponsored 1 section of news, or a small site-wide ad, at $2,000 per year, we would be there...that's $167 a month....$5.50 per day, reaching 800-1,000 people daily on our site and through emails and social media...a pretty good bargain there.

With 9,000 individual readers in both towns (about 10 times the subscriptions of the South Brunswick Post and Cranbury Press combined as of May 2015 by the way), I'm not sure what the problem is.

No...we don't have a "slick" sales presentation or expensive marketing campaign...we are journalists who let our work speak for itself...and trust the communities to do the right thing regarding the value of what we produce.

If folks like our work, they should be willing to help pay for it....not donate to us (like the library), but literally pay us for the actual work we do, and have done over the last three years.

In the end, that's all we want. We are not trying to get rich here....just stay above water and be able to pay our bills like everyone else.

Just like you would not walk into a restaurant and ask them to make you food, eat it, and then leave without paying for it, it is the same with us. We ARE there, working for YOU everyday...and deserve to be compensated for our time. It is only fair.

Unless you would rather not have our service in the community....if that is the case....we can go away....like the Press may at some point....please just let us know what you prefer and we will abide by what the market says....right now it is saying that the town does not want us around....but does want to read our work, and would be sad to lose us...kind of a paradox.

If you are an individual or business that would like us to continue, click the link below to help us survive this bump in the road.

http://charcolemedia.com/wordpress1/
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