Olson: ANO changes underway - first steps include comment registration, subscriber meeting on Saturday and fewer categories
Non-subscribers interested in ANO's future also welcome at May 26 meeting
By Lauris Olson
(May 22, 2012 – 10:30 a.m.) AmesNewsOnline.com will be changing. I haven’t worked out all the details – in fact, there is information near the end of this article about an upcoming meeting where can still help shape the future of the Ames media scene - but I can assure you that ANO will be different by June 30.
Some of you are probably not surprised. I’ve been upfront for months about needing to create an ongoing revenue stream capable of funding a full-time, well-trained reporter.
We had 135,244 visits to our Home Page last year. Over 107,000 people visited our City, Schools, Government and Politics pages. One out of every three Home Page visitors, almost 45,000, spent time on our Events Calendar.
Another 40,000 spent time on the Arts, Food, Faith, Family, Organizations and Sports pages. The Commentary page had over 23,000 readers. Our Business and related pages had 21,000 visitors. Fourteen-thousand people visited our Obituaries page and 7,200 clicked through a Photo of the Day or Adopt-a-Pet graphic to access our entire photo gallery.
Pretty darn good for one not-so-young publisher/editor/reporter/administrator, and three part-time staff who worked combined a total of less than 2,500 hours on the website.
AmesNewsOnline’s core readership, those who come to the site regularly seeking information, is around 2,300. They tend to be people who are involved in the community. They are our elected officials and government workers, ISU faculty and staff, local business and civic leaders, parents interested in school policy, and socially and political aware citizens.
The number of visitors per week climbs substantially when we write about particularly “hot” local topics, mainly through word-of-mouth, social media and the ‘forward’ button on regular readers’ email accounts.
When I announced the need for voluntary subscriptions, I’d hoped that 400 of our regular readers would purchase an average subscription of $5 per month ($60 annually).
Reality has fallen far short of my hopes. Eighty-five people bought voluntary subscriptions totaling $3,750 over the last seven months.
Their belief in AmesNewsOnline and me and their desire to keep credible independent local journalism alive in Ames inspires me, especially on those days when everything that can go wrong, does.
But I can’t continue to operate the website without a fulltime reporter that I can reasonably assume will be with me for the next couple of years. The stress of having to provide a daily stream of timely and relevant articles in addition to the many other tasks owning a small media company entails is affecting me physically.
And I have decided that I won’t continue to use revenue from my other publication, the Ames Bulletin Board, to hire freelancers and part-time reporters. To do so just perpetuates the uncertain employee situation that has left me repeatedly training new staff, repeatedly taking one step back to get ½ step ahead. It is also poor business management.
AmesNewsOnline doesn’t need to make a profit, but it does need to break even. Otherwise, it offers readers no long-term guarantee of an alternative to the corporate media that dominates the Story County market.
So change at ANO in many forms is on its way.
People wanting to comment on our most recent articles encountered the first change on Sunday.
Those posting must now provide a name or alias and email address. The name and alias is visible to all readers. Only ANO's editor (I) and site administrator can see the e-mail addresses, and even then, we have to access a separate screen.
Posters do not need to preregister. Email addresses will not be used for any other purpose than to serve warning to those violating the website's posting rules.
I hope this is a reasonable compromise between allowing total anonymity, which leads some to post rude, insulting and inappropriate comments, and requiring all posters to use a third party like Facebook to authenticate their identity, which can suppress people's willingness to contribute constructively to conversations.
I also hope this will convince potential advertisers that we are serious about keeping the comment section vibrant, informative and civil while recognizing some posters concerns about retaliation.
The second and third will occur this weekend.
ANO is hosting the first of the input sessions promised as one of the voluntary subscription benefits from 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Saturday, May 26, at the KHOI building, 410 Douglas Ave. Non-subscribers interested in keeping ANO alive are also welcome. Feel free to come for just part of the discussion if you can’t make the entire 90 minutes. Coffee, tea, and some treats will be provided by ANO.
We’ll be discussing this column, non-monetary assistance that could keep the site operating at a reduce level, recent and future coverage topics, and ANO’s commitment to KHOI to provide a daily five-minute news cast when the station starts broadcasting in August.
We also expect to significantly reduce the number of category page choices over the weekend. Remember those visitor stats I quoted above? Regular users may have noticed that the statistics of several categories were combined into one total. The pages should be combined, too, by Tuesday morning if all the tests on the programming go well this week.
The combined categories will offer readers easier navigation to find information and advertisers better exposure for very little change in cost.
If these measures aren’t effective, expect even bigger changes to come at AmesNewsOnline.