VERONA, NEW JERSEY — Editor Virginia Citrano has worked at the intersection of journalism and technology for nearly three decades. In 1983, she was hired by the Wall Street Journal/Europe, an early innovator in the use of computers in the newsroom. She got her hands on her first news website in 1995, as an assistant managing editor at Crain’s New York Business. From 2000 to 2006, she ran the day-to-day operations of Forbes.com.
In the fall of 2009, Citrano and Julia Martin Langan, a veteran of Money and Sports Illustrated, hatched a plan to found a hyperlocal news site for their hometown of Verona, N.J., a New York City suburb of 13,500 people.
- Read more about MyVeronaNJ.com
Citrano cites common grievances when explaining why the Verona news landscape was ripe for her site, MyVeronaNJ.com. The town had two weekly newspapers but no daily, and she felt that local news wasn’t covered thoroughly or quickly enough on the websites of these existing publications. “The Internet has made readers expect a much faster news cycle,” she says. She and Langan set out to provide one.
Citrano had worked as an editorial consultant to a news project that used WordPress in 2008 and knew how easy online development could be with help from the free platform.
When it came time to start MyVeronaNJ.com, she registered a domain name, picked out a news WordPress theme, bought two Flip cameras, and began reporting stories to build the site’s content. The total initial investment in MyVeronaNJ.com was approximately $500, and the site launched in December 2009 with a marketing salvo that consisted of a Facebook group and a link sent to every member of the respective co-founders’s address books. “I figured that it would take us a year to get to 1,000 pageviews a day,” she says. “We did that in three months.”
Langan has since left MyVeronaNJ.com to go back to teaching, but the staff has expanded to include Citrano and several other part-timers and volunteers. The staff publishes at least five to six stories on MyVeronaNJ.com each day, and there is a new feature story on the site every morning Monday through Friday. Spot news is an important feature–the homepage’s tagline is, after all, “Local. News. Now.”
While the site showcases some press releases, most of the stories are originally reported news items, Citrano says. Besides general news, the website also features stories on business, entertainment, food, government, real estate, education, sports, and travel, among other topics. Stories outside of Verona are rarely reported, unless they have a strong connection to the town. Recently, Citrano found a unique local angle to the widely covered national story on Hurricane Irene by doing a piece on LiveProcess, a Verona-based company that helps hospital emergency rooms manage during large-scale emergencies.
On a lighter note, Citrano is also particularly proud of a story involving a tip from a Facebook reader that one of the actors on ABC’s new Pan Am television show grew up in Verona. After finding and interviewing the actor, Citrano discovered that he wasn’t a typical theater club kid in high school. In fact, he was actually an art student and only got into acting by accident.
In addition to Citrano, there are four others who work on the site part-time: a photographer, ad sales director, an elementary school/food reporter, and a new business development worker who conceives of revenue generating ideas. There are also dozens of volunteers who write articles and contribute photos.
MyVeronaNJ.com is a for-profit news site, and the first paying ad was posted within a month of the site’s launch. The site garners between 2,000 and 3,000 pageviews per weekday on average (though some weekends can be that high, too, says Citrano), and the bulk of the site’s revenue continues to come from ad sales. A secondary revenue stream, though, comes from voluntary reader subscriptions. MyVeronaNJ.com rewards subscribers with discounts to local, regional, and national merchants through a partnership with BeyondPerks, a program that provides clients with an Internet-based rewards and loyalty system tailored to meet the needs of specific industries. Most advertisers, she adds, are on open-ended contracts, meaning that they intend to be on the site every month. The site’s ads are popular among local merchants–to the point that the site ran out of ad inventory at one point and had to create space for more. The site is profitable according to Citrano, who draws a salary from the site. She declines to discuss specific revenue figures.
This December, MyVeronaNJ.com will undergo a redesign in order to build in more advertising space, create a better showcase for video, and display a greater number of news items more prominently on the homepage. Citrano says the staff will be doing a lot more video news in 2012, as well as working to expand their mobile platform, a WordPress plug-in called WPTouch. Currently, users can access the site from a cell phone, but the staff will be working on improvements. MyVeronaNJ.com is also setting the stage for offline revenue sources.
“A good media property has multiple source of revenue: advertising, subscribers, conferences, ancillary print products,” says Citrano. “We’re going to be developing more legs to stand on.”