ORLANDO, FLORIDA — For Keith Longmore, it’s a point of pride that the Tea Party has targeted West Orlando News Online, the left-of-center local news site he publishes in Orange County, Florida, for a service it provides to locals hit hard by the foreclosure crisis. According to Longmore, posting information and links to help readers apply for government assistance programs is all in a day’s work for the small staff, whose mission, at the end of the day, is “trying to create a sense of community.”
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Originally from Brooklyn, N.Y., Longmore—who has been in the media business off and on his whole life—moved to Florida in 2004 to oversee print sales for national African-American media chain Tama Broadcasting. It wasn’t long after, though, that he began to miss the content side of the news business.
In 2005, Longmore moved to Orlando and started a 5,000-circulation weekly newspaper, the print precursor to his website. “We saw that the business model for print was going sideways right around 2007 as the real estate bubble started to collapse,” he says. “So we decided, ‘You know, maybe we should just go online completely.’”
Like many weekly papers at the time, the West Orlando News had a small website that was focused around the print product. Longmore began developing a more sophisticated website and went completely digital in the spring of 2009. “Of course, we made a lot of mistakes,” he says. “We didn’t know too much of what we were doing. We were just focusing on content—local stories about local people.”
The outlets Longmore considers competitors are all owned by such media giants as McClatchy, the Tribune Company, Cox Communications, and the Washington Post Company. He felt that none of these large players had effectively filled the hyperlocal niche, and decided to take on the big boys with four full-time reporters, twelve unpaid bloggers, and two sales staffers. “We look at them as the Goliath,” he says. “We’re the Davids.”
People started coming to the site for the local content, which was increasingly noticed in the community. The site even won an award from Orange County Public Schools for coverage of local news, but its bread and butter has been political coverage—sit-down interviews with elected officials such as the mayor and superintendent of schools, campaign coverage for state-wide offices, the foreclosure crisis that has hit the area particularly hard, and, lately, the politics of Occupy Orlando. Big stories like the Casey Anthony trial—a local story for the site—have brought readers, though they haven’t remained. The death of mega-church pastor Zachary Tims brought the site its best month ever, with about 200,000 unique visitors, according to Longmore’s numbers. Now traffic is back down to an average of about 20,000-30,000 unique visitors per month, according to compete.com. (Longmore says those numbers are low by a large margin, but declined to release his proprietary traffic stats.)
“We were like, ‘This is great, but we’re still not making any money,’” says Longmore of the traffic spikes. As he puts it, “We’re not profitable yet, but we see the road to profitability.”
The site has branched out from display advertising to other revenue streams with a service that will manage the entire web presence of local businesses, including social media updates, for a monthly fee. Longmore believes Orlando is a harsh environment for independent businesses, and views advertising and other services offered by West Orlando News as a means through which small businesses can have access to cost-effective marketing. “We’re leveling the playing field a bit and making it affordable.”
With help from the new revenue stream, Longmore believes his site can achieve profitability if he manages to keep his ad inventory full. The site offers twelve ad spaces with three ads on rotation in each space.
For the moment, Longmore’s site remains at least partly self-funded, but the publisher sees a great deal of personal reward in his work. According to his own numbers, more than 118,000 people have used his site to directly apply for social services programs from the state of Florida. “I’m proud of that,” he says. “I guess we’re kind of social-minded in many ways.”
West Orlando News Online Data
Name: West Orlando News Online
Principal Staff: Ketih Longmore, CEO.
Affiliations: Google AdSense
CMS: Wordpress - OpenSource (.org)