After Three Years, the Only Constant is Change: Navigating a Challenging Landscape
August 1 marked the official three-year anniversary of the Germantown Pulse.
In those first weeks after August 1, the Germantown Pulse didn’t have much in terms of readership. In that first month just 1,723 unique visitors came to www.GermantownPulse.net, and the newborn website had just 3,810 pageviews for the entire month of August.
Since then, the Pulse has worked hard to cover as much of the news in the Germantown area as possible, from fires to motor-vehicle collisions, from crime to high school graduations, through blizzards, flooding, and sweltering heat, state championship and candlelight vigils. It if happened in the Germantown area, it has been part of the Pulse.
This past June Germantown Pulse attracted 61,202 unique visitors, according to Google Analytics. More than 60,000 people read local news on Germantown Pulse that is 60 percent of the population of the Germantown area. The site had 126,191 pageviews in June.
Thanks to an amazing community that has shared the Pulse’s stories on FaceBook and Twitter, or talked to their neighbors about this new site called the Pulse, it has grown stronger and more powerful. Our readership has grown exponentially. The Pulse has grown thanks to a community that cares about the neighborhoods they live in and want local news and local sports reports about local people and local neighborhoods.
There have been many changes to the Germantown Pulse in three years. The addition of a Sports section, an Editorial Section, the new HUB – Community Calendar, and the newest change, added just today, the Subscribe section. But, more on that in a bit.
Much of our audience growth is the result of good reporting and focus on local news. However, another big reason is the news desert that is Montgomery County since the closing of the Gazette newspapers. And yesterday, that desert got a bit drier as another independent online news site announced that it would end publication.
Yesterday, it was announced that the RockvilleView has stopped publication. Another sad day for the county. RockvilleView was very much like Germantown Pulse. Independent news written for local folks, by local folks. It was like hundreds of online news sites throughout the country. Many of which are taking up where local newspapers have closed or been eaten up by major media conglomerates.
In June, Germantown Pulse achieved a record breaking 61,202 unique visitors. A record month, which saw an unimaginable tragedy and Germantown Pulse was there. The Pulse was there on the scene of the robbery which precipitated the horrible string of events the led to a community tragedy. The Pulse was there in Washington, D.C. at graduation the next day. The Pulse was there at the press conference when police officials asked for the public’s help. The Pulse was there for the vigil held at the high school. The Pulse was there to livestream the announcement of the arrests of the three people accused of the heinous crime.
All the work of one reporter following one story. No staff. No producer. No day shift, no night shift. One reporter.
More than 60,000 people turned to GermantownPulse.net to follow that horrible story. Our Facebook posts reached 59,200 people, and our stories were shared over 400 times.
That story got a lot of media attention. Large media companies swooped in and covered Germantown for a few days and when they news shifted elsewhere in the region they moved on. Germantown Pulse cares deeply about providing timely and accurate information to the UpCounty community. There is always news. There is always other stories to tell about our wonderful community. The Pulse be on the case. And will continue to be on the case long after regional media interest has moved on to other stories.
As many of you know, the Germantown Pulse is an independent entity. The Pulse is not owned by a corporation or media conglomerate. It is a small business, a privately owned L.L.C. The Pulse is your neighbor, working to bring neighborhood news to you.
The harsh truth of the economic reality is that without community support the future of the Germantown Pulse is also uncertain.
We love and thank our advertisers and hope that all our readers will join us in supporting them and frequenting them. They are local businesses trying to be successful. Without our advertisers Germantown Pulse would have stopped production within the first 18 months.
The Germantown Pulse has just one full-time employee who reports, writes, edits, updates social media, takes photos, edits photos, updates the website, designs the website, replies to reader questions, sells the ads, and often designs the ads. There is just not enough hours in the week for one person to cover the news and sports and sell enough advertising to keep this company moving forward. More money has been spent on gas to travel to take photos of crime scenes, high school athletic events, and general news assignments than the Pulse has made in advertising revenue since it started back in August of 2014.
When the Pulse started the plan was to create revenue through the sale of advertising, and while there has been a modicum of success selling ads, the economic reality of the times necessitate a change in business models. There is simply too much news every week for one person to cover, and sell and design enough advertising to make this a profitable concern. Covering the news, selling ads, and handling everything else that is involved with running an independent news operation for an area that, frankly, punches its above its weight when it comes to news is an 15 hour-per-day, seven day-a-week job.
Covering Germantown and creating this brand has been an amazing experience. The feedback from readers has been tremendous. My passion for local news and community building has never been stronger and the community needs a news source. Germantown needs a voice.
So on the occasion of its third anniversary the Germantown Pulse is moving to an hybrid model — an Ad Driven and Voluntary Subscriber Model, where the Pulse would become a sort of public broadcasting station, that also relies on advertising. This does not mean that our content is going behind a paywall. The content will remain free, but we ask readers to consider donating to help keep local independent news both local and independent.
The new model is a voluntary subscription-based system. The Pulse will be holding membership drives to ask readers for voluntary donations. These donations can range from a one-time donation of any amount to a recurring monthly subscription. Those opting for to subscribe for $5.00 per month or a one-time $60 donation will become Members and will be featured on our Membership Wall.
What will the money be used for?
Much like all revenue that has come in the Pulse in the last three-years, it will be used to improve coverage. If we get enough members it could be used to hire staff — a paid sports reporter covering more local high school sports, or more photographers, or a copy editor (Yeah, I’ve seen the comments about copy editing), or a dedicated part-time sales associate to sell ads, so that in the future memberships might be a thing of the past. Another long-time goal is a smart phone app which would provide push notifications when stories are posted or to alert the community of emergency situations. An app would eliminate the middle-man of social media. There are myriad and diverse things the funding could be used for, but the short answer is that it would be used to make Germantown Pulse better. Which will make living in Germantown better a little better.
What is the Ask?
The Ask is for every one of you: Business owners who can’t afford to advertise but may be able to afford $3 a month; local leaders who tell me how much they appreciate what the Pulse brings to the community; readers who send emails about how thankful you are to have local news. You know who you are — and the Pulse needs you. Germantown needs you.
There is no magic bullet for saving local news. If there was, the Gazette, and RockvilleView, and all those news organizations that have gone out of business — or significantly downsized — would be thriving. This work cannot be done without you.