Some small papers have had success on the Web by including their readers in the process.
This column appeared in the July 1998 issue of The American Journalism Review.
By J.D. Lasica
Many small papers continue to struggle online, but before they throw in the towel they ought to examine some of the Web’s success stories.
Sunline, the Web edition of a tiny chain of dailies and weeklies in southwest Florida, has won a slew of state and national awards for small online publications. It averages about 10,000 visitors a day — not bad, considering that only 100,000 people live in the papers’ circulation area.
From its outset in 1996, Sunline’s focus has been on building an interactive electronic community from the ground up. “We’re too small of a paper to think that if we put our paper online the hits are going to pour in,” says Sunline Internet editor Ronald Dupont, Jr. “So we decided, ‘Let’s put the whole community online.’ ”
Sunline put up Web pages for all clubs, organizations, musicians, nonprofits and government agencies in the community. Next it sponsored computer classes for local residents on topics like chat and online games. The demand was overwhelming: more than 20,000 people — many of them seniors — attended the monthly sessions last year.
Sunline waited six months into the process to put the Port Charlotte, Sarasota and Fort Meyers papers online. “The papers are doing well, but 80 percent of our hits go to the community end of the site, not to the papers,” Dupont says.
Sunline’s business model centers on its operation as an Internet Service Provider — a conduit for folks to dial up the Internet. It offers free personal Web pages to its 4,000 paying subscribers, and half of them have created their own home pages with the easy-to-use tools on the site.