MILFORD, DELAWARE — Dave Burris and Bryan Shupe grew up in Milford, Del., and later crossed paths while working on Republican campaigns. Burris had experience running a digital lifestyle magazine called Coastal Sussex Weekly and wanted to start a hyperlocal news site for Milford. He thought Shupe, who had become disillusioned by the negativity in politics and was ready to move on, would be the right choice to run it with him.
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With an eye on writing about the positive news they saw happening in their hometown—a growing downtown and an influx of new residents, for example—Shupe and Burris launched Milford Live and its weekly e-mail subscription sibling, the Milford Review, in October 2010.
“We cover everything,” says Shupe when asked whether the site passes on crime stories in an effort to produce positive news. As an example, he points to a story about the local high school athletic director’s arrest for theft.
He adds, “If you put all the negative news on the front page people are going to think the town is run by a bunch of criminals. [Crime] is news and we do report on it but the positive side [of news] needs to show what the town is really about.”
Burris concentrates on the technical side of the site while Shupe handles the bulk of the editorial, though they say there is some overlap. Shupe covers city council meetings, local health stories, profiles local businesses, and writes about area schools.
Burris says there was concern that, as two open Republicans, the site would become “Fox News Milford, but we put that to bed.” Shupe doesn’t come from a journalism background, but, Burris says, he’s an objective reporter, covering both sides of an issue.
On Tuesday mornings, they send out the Milford Review to subscribers via e-mail. Employing a somewhat unusual production cycle for an all-digital outlet with no paywall, they work to put together the PDF-format Review each week, and publish stories from the Review on Milford Live around the same time that the PDF arrives in subscriber’s inboxes. Thus, Milford Live is in some ways a weekly, though Shupe and Burris do post additional breaking news items on the site throughout the week. For example, during Hurricane Irene’s move up the east coast in the summer of 2011, they published updates from the Delaware Emergency Management Agency, the governor’s office, and law enforcement.
Shupe says he writes about 50 percent of the content on the site. He and Burris accept outside submissions for arts and culture coverage, which they then fact-check. Contributors are unpaid.
The site also publishes press releases from schools, businesses, and “community leaders.” These press releases make up the other 50 percent of the site’s content, he says. Published press releases are generally posted to the site verbatim with a note at the top to distinguish between them and editorial.
Burris and Shupe decline to discuss the site’s traffic numbers, but they say the digital paper has about 2,000 subscribers. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, Milford’s population is 9,559. The site’s competition comes from the Milford Beacon, a pay weekly with a free website, and the Milford Chronicle, a pay weekly with a subscription-based website.
The fact that the Milford Review comes as a PDF rather than being purely web based, Burris and Shupe say, is a good bridge to bring older readers to the website. In a city where nearly 20 percent of the population is over sixty-five years old, “people really appreciate opening something, reading it, closing it and being done,” says Burris.
Burris and Shupe co-own Milford Live, and both work to sell ads for the Review and the website. They decline to discuss their rates, but say there are no hard rules about pricing. Advertisers—all local—may purchase space online, in the digital paper, or in both.
In addition to the digital paper and website, Burris and Shupe run Milford Live Solutions. According to information on Milfordlive.com, this entity provides “Internet or technical help” and design work. “Individual services start at $99 and packages start at $499.” Money earned from MLS gets put back into Milfordlive.com and the Milford Review.
Both Burris and Shupe say the site is a full-time job, with most of their time spent on the news operation. “Milford Live Solutions is a very small part of the business right now,” writes Shupe in an e-mail.
They decline to discuss the site’s earnings or their salaries, but Burris says, “The overhead is extremely low.” He adds, “We’ve been profitable since day one. We’re scraping out a pretty good living which is great to say in a town with about 6,500 Internet users and [about] 10,000 people.” He says the costs for hosting and bandwidth are negligible.
Burris says he and Shupe are now focusing on the ways readers interact with Milfordlive.com rather than strictly how many are reading. “How many people are signing up to receive the Review? How many people are Facebook fans? How many people follow us on Twitter? How many people are on the Facebook page engaging? That’s our metric,” he says.
Milford Live Data
Name: Milford Live
Principal Staff: Bryan Shupe and Dave Burris, co-owners.
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