BATAVIA, NEW YORK — The Batavian began as an experimental project by GateHouse Media, a newspaper publisher with properties in twenty states. The company wanted to launch a community-oriented news website, and chose Batavia, N.Y. because of its proximity to the company’s Fairport, N.Y. headquarters; an added bonus was that The Daily News, the local paper for Batavia and Genesee County, lacked a web presence. Howard Owens, then director of digital publishing for GateHouse, helped lead the project. The Batavian launched in May of 2008, but a great deal changed for the site within its first year. The Daily News had quickly rallied to establish a web presence, launching late in 2008, and, in February 2009, GateHouse relocated Owens’s department to Chicago, eliminating his position in the process. Without a presence in Fairport, GateHouse made the decision to cut ties with the Batavian, but agreed to let Owens take over the operation on his own. Soon after, Owens moved to Batavia and began working full time on the site with his wife, Billie.
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The Batavian has since grown in readership as well as staff. According to Owens, the site received 2,756 visitors during its first month in operation, a number which he says climbed to 6,000 unique visitors a day as of early 2011. And although the site was at first staffed exclusively by Owens and his wife, it now employs one part-time reporter and one part-time business staffer. Before this expansion in staff, Owens was responsible for finding advertisers on his own.
Taking a glance at The Batavian now, anyone would notice the abundance of local ads and banners. Securing a steady advertising revenue stream has always been one of Owens’s biggest business goals, and after moving to Batavia, he immediately went to work on creating advertising relationships. Characterizing his initial pursuit of advertisers as “very aggressive,” Owens went door to door trying to find local businesses that would advertise on his web-only news site. The work has since paid off, as the Batavian generates about $100,000-$150,000 in advertising revenue a year, according to Owens.
Coverage-wise, the Batavian focuses on city council meetings, crime, high school sports, local business developments, and other small town fare. One particular vertical called “Milestones” covers notable achievements from individuals in the community such as making the local community college’s dean’s list or receiving honors in a local poetry competition. The Batavian also has an extensive photo section displaying events like high school sports games, Easter egg hunts, or local philanthropic events.
Owens, originally from San Diego, is an outspoken advocate for small businesses in Batavia, and regularly updates the site with a list of the local sponsors, encouraging readers to purchase from small businesses and contribute to the local economy. In return, the community has embraced the Batavian, and the site received the 2010 Innovative Enterprise of the Year Award from the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce.
An oft-quoted thinker in the web journalism industry, Owens has plenty of executive experience in online news. Starting in 1995, he launched East County Online, a site for six community weeklies in San Diego. He also had an executive position at the Bakersfield Californian’s Bakersfield.com. Often providing commentary on the web news industry at his personal blog, Owens’s opinion of most local news websites is that they have haphazardly implemented revenue models and are simply not aggressive when it comes to ad sales. Owens says that the Batavian is profitable, a fact he credits to his shoe-leather ad sales strategy. “I’m at a point where people call me now to advertise, ” Owens says happily, the startup days behind him, and his feet at least momentarily parked beneath his desk.
The Batavian Data
Name: The Batavian
Principal Staff: Howard Owens, publisher; Billie Owens, editor.
Affiliations: Yahoo News; Google News; WBTA-AM; Second Street Media; Helusionary; Mel Taylor Media.
CJR on The Batavian:
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