GRAND PRAIRIE, TEXAS — “I’m a reporter. I am not a journalist,” says Grand Prairie Reporter founder Bob Fitch. “I don’t want to degrade the craft of journalism. I can’t write and paint a picture with words.”
Fitch’s writing style is utilitarian and not nearly as bad as he claims, but he does try to keep stories on the Reporter at 250 words or fewer, and stays away from in-depth reporting.
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Fitch has a background in investigations, but not as a journalist. He spent twenty-three years working for the United States Postal Service as a postal police officer. He then spent about eight years as a support technician, working with investigators on mail theft and identity theft crimes.
He came to reporting and photojournalism after he retired in 2003. A lifelong photography enthusiast, he was working a part-time job in 2004 when he saw “all these police cars running red lights” in his home of Grand Prairie, Texas. A gut feeling told him there was an officer in need of assistance.
He drove in the direction of the police sirens and was the first photographer to arrive on the scene at which a local police officer had been shot and killed. Fitch sold some of his photos to the Dallas Morning News and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. After that, he got a part-time photographer job for the now-defunct weekly Grand Prairie Times.
After a few years, Fitch left the Times and struck out on his own. He launched the Grand Prairie Reporter online on Nov. 1, 2007. He strives to post at least one story a day and focuses on short photo essays, police and fire stories, ribbon cuttings, and city council meetings. He’s recently expanded to video journalism and tries to keep the pieces shorter than one minute long. In addition to reported stories and videos, he posts press releases from the City of Grand Prairie and local businesses and credits them at the bottom.
Since launching the site in 2007, Fitch says his traffic has increased at a rate of about 35 percent a year. According to Google Analytics, he had 67,000 total visits to the site in 2011, with a little more than 100,000 pageviews. In January 2012, there were 6,248 total visitors to the site, up from 4,148 in January 2011.
Fitch says he’s turning a small profit that pays for web hosting and expenses, such as a new camcorder for video stories. He sells ads on the site at a monthly rate to local businesses. He currently has eight advertisers. A banner ad costs $110, and prices for other slots go down from there. There’s an ad at the bottom of each article that Fitch says costs $10 per 1,000 views. He sometimes uses Google Ads to fill an unsold spot on the site, and also uses the service to put ads in his videos.
In addition to the local content generated by Fitch, he uses a Yahoo! widget to place the latest Associated Press stories on the front page. He also uses an Accuweather widget.
“If you were looking at a newspaper, you’d see AP news and the weather,” says Fitch, explaining that he wanted his readers to get the same feel from his site.
As for competition, Fitch finds himself in a pretty good spot. Grand Prairie has a population of 175,000 and lies between Dallas and Ft. Worth—“a big city sandwiched between bigger cities,” as Fitch puts it. Area papers don’t focus much attention on his town unless there’s a major story.
Fitch says his website is the only online news provider in town and now that he’s posting more video, he tries to get a story on his site faster than the local TV news affiliates. He’s noticed the video stories seem to generate more interest than written stories.
He works seven days a week and attributes the site’s growth to “my constant talking and marketing of it.” He adds, “I guess it’s the perseverance. I just keep plugging away.”
Grand Prairie Reporter Data
Name: Grand Prairie Reporter
City: Grand Prairie
Principal Staff: Bob Fitch, founder, publisher, and editor.
Affiliations: Yahoo News, AccuWeather, Google AdSense, Cox Digital Solutions.
CMS: MovableType - OpenSource (.org)