It has been a year, this month, since my day job, Q-Notes newspaper, upgraded its website from a mis-matched collection of simple, static HTML pages to a fully automated content management system (CMS). In the year since, I’ve learned a lot about new media and how it complements and improves traditional news-media, including the gay news publishing business.
In Q-Notes‘ case, we chose to use WordPress as a CMS. Really, the “software” is a blogging platform. Its uses, though, are almost limitless. Tweak your site design/template and the way in which you post your information and it makes a great CMS for a small newspaper or magazine; student newspapers across the country, I hear, are using WordPress and other similar blogging platforms as CMS solutions.
The choice was easy for us. WordPress is an open source project. It is free to use and the worldwide community it has spawned provides plenty of technical support and information. It’s amazing, really, that so many people around the world would seem to have a vested interest in something like a blogging platform.
Our online news publishing process before our CMS was cumbersome, slow and horribly out-of-date and behind the times. Prior to our use of a CMS we’d have to wait two weeks before the website was updated. In the most urgent of cases, we’d call up our out-of-office web designer and have him add a small notation regarding a breaking event or news on the front page. WordPress immediately changed the way Q-Notes utilized online mechanisms to publish news. Updating breaking news stories or publishing recent headlines on a daily basis became a reality, improving our connection to readers and keeping our content fresh, exciting and new.
Our new online presence since April 2008 has enabled Q-Notes to grow in astounding ways. In the past year:
- Q-Notes online readership has almost doubled;
- the average online readership month-to-month has come close to rivaling print circulation numbers;
- breaking news and recent headlines are updated daily, or almost daily;
- cross-publication of breaking news into both online and print form has made our staff’s work more productive and efficient;
- having the option of publishing online has meant we leave less events uncovered – events that wouldn’t have made the cut for our bi-weekly print editions;
- online extras like audio interviews and news video has enriched our print edition’s news coverage; and
- Q-Notes continually leaves its own unique mark in the national LGBT news-media world.
Bloggers and citizen journalists learned early the importance of keeping a daily connection with online readers and fans. It is an important lesson I learned, too, as a young citizen journalist blogging about national and local LGBT issues while a student at UNC-Greensboro. In the future, I think we’ll see more bloggers and citizen journalists enter professional journalism and vice-versa. It is a change I welcome.
In the LGBT community, bloggers like North Carolina’s own Pam Spaulding and traditional news outlets like The Washington Blade have shown LGBT media the extent of what is possible for news and events coverage online. PamsHouseBlend.com regularly covers events around North Carolina and, thanks to her multitudes of followers and contributors, events and news across the U.S. The Blade has fully embraced the online world, attracting readers from across the country and becoming the national news-leader of the LGBT community.
But this brave new world of online news-media brings with it plenty of unanswered questions. Chief among the many unknowns is how smaller and regional LGBT news outlets like Q-Notes, based in areas not traditionally known as bastions of queer equality, can continue to keep its traditional, print edition afloat – with the downturns in print advertising – while committing to and investing in online news publication, where ad revenue is less lucrative.
Compounding the complexity of the online ad revenue problem are local, small business owners, who are often the chief advertising clients of small, niche market news outlets like Q-Notes. Many of these advertisers are accustomed only to marketing in print; most have no, or at least very little, understanding of online advertising and how it benefits them.
For small news outlets, the online publishing world has the potential to be a huge boon to business. If done right and if enough clients are eventually convinced of the importance of online advertising, the revenue collected could amount to several thousands of dollars per year or more – enough to shore up falling print advertising revenue, create new staff positions in the often minuscule newsrooms of LGBT publications or buy new equipment (further enabling better and more complete online news and features coverage).
Getting there is difficult. There’s a huge hump in the road to progress and success that small news outlets, bloggers and even larger media outfits have yet to cross over. But several LGBT publications across the nation, both online and in print, are moving forward and setting new models for LGBT news-media. These new media pioneers – the publications with the fortitude to try something new, not always knowing what the result will be — will prove to be the saviors of the LGBT news-media business.