MARICOPA, ARIZONA — When the InMaricopa website launched in 2004, the once-small town of Maricopa, Ariz. was in the midst of a massive population boom. With families seeking cheaper housing outside of Phoenix, the former nineteenth-century mail stop on the Gila River went from 1,000 residents in 2000 to 40,000 in 2010.
In 2006, housing prices began to level off, two years before the town gained national attention from ABC’s Nightline as the “Poster Child for the Housing Crisis,” and The New York Times profiled it as “The Boomtown Mirage.” A town that once issued 600 building permits a month now issues six, according to Scott Bartle, InMaricopa’s editor and publisher.
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There may be happier communities in the US. In December 2011, Bartle polled readers: “If you had to do it all over again, would you have moved to Maricopa?” A whopping 49 percent answered no.
Bartle is among the slim majority of his readers who is glad to have set up shop in the boomtown. “Maricopa was on the verge of explosive growth, and the only local news was one or two monthly papers,” he says. An online product with daily frequency gave him an “immediate and significant competitive advantage.”
Bartle and his small staff serve up local community news, usually posting two or three stories a day. Coverage includes business, people, sports, education, real estate, and a community calendar. Politics encompasses profiles of candidates for office, the nuts-and-bolts of city council meetings, and opinion pieces. Recent items include Ak-Chin Indian Community to Reopen Vekol Market and Custom Gun Builder Opens Shop.
Bartle is also president of the Maricopa Unified School District. As InMaricopa recently reported, he is deeply involved in the board’s politics. Asked about the potential conflict of interest of playing dual roles in his community, he sees no conflict of interest. “To the contrary, it’s an asset,” he says. “I am well positioned to positively contribute as the board’s president given my role and experience as the newspaper’s publisher. Our editorial team has the autonomy it needs to objectively cover the education beat.”
In mid-December 2011, Bartle hired Christia Gibbons as a full-time associate editor. Gibbons is a former reporter with the Arizona Republic, the East Valley Tribune, and Phoenix Business Journal; she now teaches journalism at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Communications. “We will likely strip ‘associate’ from her title soon,” Bartle says. “She, in effect, has full control of the editorial department now.”
Also on the editorial staff is full-time senior reporter Tim Howsare and freelance sports correspondent Wayne Block. Bartle also uses a couple of stringers. On the business side, the full-time staff consists of an operations manager, a customer loyalty coordinator, a classifieds coordinator, and sales representative, plus a part-time business consultant.
In addition to the web site, Bartle edits and publishes, in print, the monthly InMaricopa News and the quarterly InMaricopa Magazine, both also free. “The print newspaper complements the web site and ensures our ability to target 100 percent of the local market in addition to the international market the web site provides us,” he says. “The magazine is more feature-oriented, complements both, and rounds out the editorial coverage.” Most printed stories find their way to the site in some form, but much original online material never makes it to print.
Half the InMaricopa organization’s revenue comes from print display ads; the other half from online banners, listings, classifieds, and coupons, Bartle says.
His media kit counts 33,000 unique monthly visitors to the web site, 66 percent of them female. He also counts 22,000 in circulation for the magazine, and 20,500 for the newspaper, which includes an ad supplement, InMaricopa Deals.
Gibbons, the new editor, said she’s still getting her bearings. She recently moderated a debate for a “lively and vigorous” mayoral race, made lively in part by a controversy over whether one candidate garnered enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. Other points of contention: Though the school district is rapidly growing, many students attend schools outside the district. Against that background, three school-board members were replaced this year and the superintendent is resigning, she says.
The economy shapes almost every story in some way, she suggests. She was struck by wide range in the selling price of the 186 houses sold in Maricopa in December 2011. The most expensive went for $225,000; the least for $20,000.
As a teacher of journalism, Gibbons said, “I’m surprised there are still so many students in journalism, but I’m hopeful that they’ll bring it back to its glory.” Small local papers and news sites are where it will happen, she says: “If a reader wants to get informed, they’ve never had a better opportunity.”