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Home Page Media realizes benefits of scale in online community news

by: Michele McLellan |

As independent local news start-ups stabilize and grow, a few have launched multiple sites in neighboring communities. The challenge is to stay highly local on each site while achieving economies of scale, something Patch was unable to accomplish.

One young company, Home Page Media Group, recently launched a fifth site in the suburbs of Nashville, Tenn.  The first four sites are based in local communities. The newest site, Style Home Page, focuses on lifestyle and fashion news and information.

Street Fight recently posted a good story about Home Page Media Group, and I wanted to find out more about how it is structured to balance localness with scale. With annual revenue of about $570,000 in 2015, the company has 12 full-time employees, including eight reporters and editors side, and one part-timer in addition to Kelly Gilfillan, the co-founder, executive editor and CEO.

On the editorial side, Home Page Media employs a central team of editors  to oversee the five sites - a managing editor, an assistant managing editor, and a sports editor as well as a night copy editor, Gilfillan said.

Three of the sites -  Brentwood Home Page, Franklin Home Page and  Spring Hill Home Page - each have a full-time reporter. A fourth reporter covers the local county government, producing stories that can run on all the sites. The four reporters also contribute to Nolensville Home Page, a local site in a smaller town.

The four local sites are all in the same county so that beat covers a county school board, a county commission, and a Sheriff’s Department.

The beat also covers a county-based Chamber of Commerce. “Business is booming so local business and chamber coverage is very important.  For this reason, we have a reporter dedicated to the county as a beat and this news typically goes across all four sites,’’ she said.

Each reporter files three stories per day, Gilfillan said - two are for the weekday morning email and one is for the weekday afternoon email.  Each reporter also files one story for Saturday and one for Sunday.

The site uses stringers to collect sports news that is edited by the central team.

“We cover all prep men’s and women’s sports from softball to football to swimming. We cover 12 high schools: three private and nine public with a new high school opening in 2016 to make it 13,” Gilfillan said.

The new lifestyle site, launched in November, has a dedicated editor who is also responsible for ad sales. “She is the first combination editorial/sales position we have created.  Too early to tell if it works,” Gilfillan said.

On the business side, a sales staff of three, each with a dedicated territory, reports to Gilfillan. The company also employs a part-time director of customer service who assists with billing, collections and customer care.

A digital media manager works that primarily works for the sales department but is available to editorial if they need her.  This manager creates the ad artwork, places it in the ad manager, runs reports for the sales reps, and handles social media, email marketing and website updates for a few clients. 

Gilfillan said the digital media manager and county government reporter positions are key efficiencies on the editorial site.

On the sales side, having multiple sites “allows us to bundle the different sites together creating packages for larger clients.” These bundles are sold at a significant discount but earn more than a sale on a single site, while single-site sales offer smaller advertisers a more targeted buy.

Asked for any advice she would offer new publishers thinking about expanding, Gilfillan said it is critical to maintain the local focus of each site.

“I believe on the content side our readers take their news very personally,” she said.  “They don’t necessarily want to read about what is happening the next city over.  The more hyper local we are, the more loyal they are.”

She also said it is important to lay a foundation locally before launching a new site, including meeting with community, business and government leaders and county-based institutions to get their support. The company also deploys an aggressive Facebook campaign to generate interest before launch.

“We introduce our product about six weeks before our launch to smaller businesses. The key here is to get enough advertising in place, so the reporter is ‘paid for’ before you launch.  It’s a much stronger position to launch a site in the black than in the red.”

Michele McLellan

Michele McLellan is a writer, editor and consultant who works on projects that help strengthen the emerging local news ecosystem,
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