View this email in your browser

Working Together for Something Better

Welcome to another edition of The NewStart Alliance! And a special shoutout to our newest subscribers, including Ben, Lori, Stephen and Camille! We're glad you're here! 

Today I'd like to start off by introducing you to another fellow joining our second cohort of NewStart students. As you will see below, Jan Risher has worn a lot of hats both inside the journalism industry and adjacent to it. But rather than hearing it from me, let's just have her tell you in her own words.

The floor is yours, Jan!
Why am I joining NewStart?
In short, I am joining the NewStart program because I’m a fan of democracy — and I don’t believe it will survive without a healthy free press.
My goal is for the program to provide the opportunity, time and place to be thoughtful while working with a diverse and smart group of folks developing a better way to do journalism and media. I am not under the allusion that a one-size-fits-all proposition will work. I relish the chance to wrangle the many and varied ideas I’ve been chasing and learn from and alongside others as we work toward something better.
The trajectory of my career has been more Jeremy Bearimy than a straight line, but the one piece that has been a constant throughout is storytelling.
I’ve been an English teacher, a public relations executive, a special events planner, a columnist, a reporter, an editor, a radio host, a television host, a ghostwriter and a business owner.
I continue to write a weekly newspaper column for The Acadiana Advocate, based in Lafayette, La. I was an investigative reporter, features writer, business reporter and columnist for The Daily Advertiser and managing editor of The Times of Acadiana — all in Lafayette, La.

As a reporter, I covered Louisiana politics, the Iraq war, Katrina and its long-term effects on the state and our community. In 2006, I won an International Fellowship for Journalism to travel to Thailand to report on their recovery from the tsunami compared to Louisiana's recovery from Katrina.
My column writing goes way back (to high school actually), but in 1993, I wrote a weekly column for my hometown paper in Mississippi (the Scott County Times — a weekly) while I was teaching English in Slovakia. Upon my return to the States, I ended up in Washington, D.C., and worked for USA Today on the business side of the paper, as a special events planner. (The juxtaposition of the austerity of post-Communist Slovakia, piggybacked by the excess of the mid-1990s USA Today still makes me shake my head.)
Since 2014, I have owned Shift Key, a business-to-business public relations and content development company. At Shift Key, I’ve employed 37 out-of-work or under-employed reporters to write for newspaper special sections, magazines and various corporate America projects my company has managed. Additionally, we handle public relations for a number of clients and specialize in working with nonprofits and mid-sized companies to help them identify and recognize their stories and then find the best avenues to tell and share those stories.
In 2020, I started teaching virtual writing classes and developed a program to help students develop and write college or grad school entrance exams. In January, I launched a series of online memoir workshops. Having the opportunity to work business-to-customer has been a blast and I’ve loved an opportunity to teach again.
I also manage the Ex-Gannett Employee Facebook Group, which my husband (a long-time Gannett employee) started the week after he was laid off in 2008. The group now has 4,577 members. It is an interesting cross-section of memory lane, anger management, where-are-they-now, memorials and Monday-morning-quarterbacking (albeit years later).
Thanks Jan, and welcome aboard! 

If you'd like to join Jan in our second year of the program and earn a master's degree in Media Solutions and Innovation from WVU's Reed College of Media, there's still time to apply. Our next cohort will start learning virtually at the end of this month, so if you want in, check out the program details here, and then follow the instructions here to apply.

"Is No News Really Good News?"

By Don Smith, Executive Director
West Virginia Press Association

What happens if your community loses its local newspaper?

Readers of the Moorefield (W.Va.) Examiner got an unexpected preview in the June 2 edition when the family-owned Hardy County weekly newspaper ran a blank front page under the banner headline: Is No News Really Good News?
Moorefield Examiner front page, courtesy Diana Martinelli
Below that headline were empty design boxes, open photo spaces and one message: Continued on page 2.

For publisher Hannah Heishman, the blank front page was making a statement without making a statement.

“We made them think about it,” Heishman said of residents literally forced to face the impact of a community newspaper closing. “People love it or hate it, but they are all talking about it.”

On page 2 of the June 2 edition, readers found this editorial note:
Page 2, courtesy Diana Martinelli
The Moorefield Examiner isn’t the first newspaper to run a blank front page. Heishman and the staff had heard about other newspapers doing it, but she did it for her own reason: Heishman is fighting for her newspaper and her community.

With a history of family ownership going back generations to 1902 and an office full of editorial and advertising awards, the Moorefield Examiner represents the best traditions of community journalism. The Heishman family understands the importance of a free press and the responsibility granted newspapers under the First Amendment. 

However, Heishman crafted her message to be as much hard news as editorial comment: If the Moorefield Examiner is to continue serving Hardy County, local residents must engage with the newspaper through readership, subscriptions and advertisements.

“Fighting for your newspaper is fighting for your community,” said Heishman, who, like her parents now and grandparents before them, is a local resident.

“We are taken for granted,” Heishman said of all community newspapers. “People think we will always just be here because we are sources of community news.”

Heishman said the local newspaper is also a local business. Like any business, to be successful, a newspaper needs engagement by subscribers and advertisers. “We function month to month, the way most people in this state live.”

Local residents still count on the Moorefield Examiner, Heishman said, but with the growth of social media, fewer residents want to pay for a subscription.

“We hear nobody reads the local newspaper, but everybody knows what’s in it,” Heishman said, adding that the Moorefield Examiner is the primary source for Hardy County news.

For more on Heishman and the Moorefield Examiner, check out the complete story on the WV Press Association website.

(Oh, and by the way, a sports editor at another West Virginia newspaper, the Hampshire Review, took the Examiner to task for the blank front page in a column titled "Blanking out is bad journalism," saying that "local journalism succeeded in the past and will continue to succeed in the future because of the tight-knit relationships reporters have with their community," and ended with the following: "Here’s a tip for the Moorefield Examiner, save the gimmicks for the National Enquirer.")

Psst: Take Our Survey

Thanks to those of you who have provided thoughtful answers in this fancy little survey I created about our newsletter!

I haven't compiled the results yet, so there's still time to fill it out so I can get a sense of what's working, what's not and what you'd like to see more of in The NewStart Alliance.

Once again, here's the link:
Take The Survey!

Quick Hits

Here is a lot of informative news from around the world of local journalism. Enjoy! 

Learn: "Newsletters are, by far, the highest converting channel. 'We actually just recently got a little more sophisticated with our ability to track where our conversions are coming from. For a while, we were just sort of spray-and-pray, hoping that our strategy was leading to conversions. But now we can really see exactly where everybody's coming from, and when we looked at that data for the first time, we were stunned to see that 60% of our conversions come from our newsletters. That was a much higher number than we ever could have imagined.' ” "A successful newsletter business will often convert 5 to 10 percent of its free newsletter readers into paying members or subscribers, according to benchmarks shared by Mailchimp and Substack.
RANGE’s conversion rate of 9 percent is right in line with those numbers — but its strategy for getting there is somewhat unconventional." "Since 2016, (The Mendocino Voice) has been growing as a fully digital, for-profit news organization. Now, it’s also moving toward becoming a co-op in which community members and staff can hold a stake. The transition to this democratic model is a direct reaction to the region’s current journalism landscape, which is largely overseen by Alden Global Capital." “If we can do in other cities what he did in Charlotte, we will grow a huge, profitable division and help revitalize local coverage,” VandeHei said. "One national newsbrand, which Press Gazette has been asked not to name, had its entire website cloned and hosted at a web address that was just one letter different from the original website. The fake site, which Press Gazette has seen in an image, could easily have been mistaken for the real thing." "But as civic engagement declined, and as a response to the media's most dominant business models, the newspaper departed from its natural focus and pushed towards scale. It had to compete with television. More scale meant a broader focus on the content itself (outside of the community) and a larger opportunity to monetize through advertising or subscriptions. But it backfired. Why? Because scale is the antonym of local. It’s the opposite. A scaled approach means removing community needs and participation from the forefront of value, which means an emphasis of reporting on communities versus reporting of those communities." “Diversifying revenues is the best way to be sustainable,” said Mark Glaser, founder of MediaShift; innovation consultant at the New Mexico Local News Fund; and associate at Dot Connector Studio, a media strategy and production firm. Gwen Vargo, director of reader revenue at the American Press Institute, added, “Ultimately, I think we’re going to see more hybrid models. There are going to be opportunities for publications of all sizes and shapes to get money directly from their readers, sponsorships and advertising, events, and from foundations that have an interest in media or their communities. We should never rely on just one stream of revenue.” "As the pandemic has forced many publishers to change the way they engage  with readers, one addition to the audience wheelhouse has been the use of audio-based social media platforms. While audio in news media is nothing new, the addition of audio apps and new features has pushed audio beyond public radio and podcasting." "At least two major bills to help journalism have been reintroduced, and more are on the way. The three pieces of legislation that have gotten the most publicity — the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, the Local Journalism Sustainability Act and the Future of Local News Act — are not new. But advocates say they are increasingly confident that the bills will gain traction this legislative session as members of Congress realize the dire circumstances newsrooms face." "In our research, we compared the patterns of readers who had viewed solutions journalism with those who had not. Our findings suggest that solutions journalism appeals to highly engaged readers who are more likely to provide financial support to newsrooms." "Seven years ago, when I initially launched the paid Daily Update, there weren’t really any tools designed for independent subscription businesses; my solution has incorporated a number of disparate services tied together, and while new companies have been formed around both paid newsletters and paid podcasts, no one has created a service for a site like Stratechery. So I decided to build it. It’s called Passport."

This An' 'At: "Ultimately, the stakes for local journalism are high. If the current bipartisan efforts to assist local news become defined along party lines and fail, future generations may not be able to depend on local news as we know it, and if our research is any indication, America’s political divides will continue to deepen as a result." "The decision comes a little more than a year after the paper was purchased by MediaNews Group, a publishing company whose majority owner is Manhattan-based hedge fund Alden Global Capital. MNG also owns the St. Paul Pioneer Press." A message from the future from Chris Horne: "Of course, like sponsored content and jeggings, legacy local news is still with us. However, what first seemed like the imminent death of local news was really legacy local achieving its Super Saiyan form, accelerated by hedge fund ownership and the rage they monetize with ads. These once proud mastheads are now just husks masking a skeleton crew who localize and listify wire stories from sister publications and 'news' items formed by AI journobots that cobble together bits of pseudo-public conversations so they can feed it back to us for easy clicks. If these bullshirt artists were all we had, America would be royally forked." I just thought this was cool. I could spend a few hours looking at this thing. So you should, too.


That's all for this week. 

You can follow NewStart on Twitter @wvunewstart, and you can @ me @jimiovino. You can follow us on the Facebooks here.

Interested in supporting our students in Year 2 and beyond? I'd be happy to talk! Wouldn't it be great to offer more fellowships and scholarships? You can help!

As always, you can find NewStart online at

If someone forwarded this newsletter to you and you want to subscribe, just hit the Subscribe Me button below:
Subscribe Me
Thanks again, stay cool, stay safe, and we'll talk soon.
Follow us on Twitter
Visit Our Site
Copyright © 2021 The NewStart Alliance, All rights reserved.

Want to change how you receive these emails?
You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list.

Email Marketing Powered by Mailchimp