Sunday, June 18, 2017

Local News Drives Blog to Million Views Milestone

This blog crossed the million-views mark sometime on 
June 14 with a post about delays in the replacement of
the Keim Street Bridge.
When you've covered the Pottstown area for nearly 20 years, you get an idea for what interests readers here and what doesn't.

(20 years will be on Nov. 7 of this year)

So it came as no surprise to me that the posts that put this here Digital Notebook blog over one million views were two back-to-back posts about two of Pottstown's favorite subjects -- parking and the Keim Street bridge.

Or perhaps I should say subjects Pottstown loves to complain about.

Before I wrote them, I noticed I still needed about 10,000 views to reach the million mark, and figured it was a few weeks off at least.

But the parking post garnered almost 2,500 and the bridge post nearly 9,000, so there you are.

There is no better example I can think of to drive home the point that local news matters. No one in Arkansas cares about the long delays in replacing the Keim Street bridge.

But here in Pottstown, another delay was news enough to draw nearly 10,000 eyeballs.

I am mindful of this milestone in that its significance is only what we place on it. Any mathematician worth his or her salt will tell you the difference between 9,999,999 and one million is simply one more.

Nevertheless, humans have ever looked for ways to measure relative progress and the same mathematician would also have to concede that 1 million views is 999,999,999 more than the first view on the first post.

That was 1,842 posts and 67 months ago.

It was Nov. 9, 2011 when I launched this blog. To this day, that post, titled "Hello and Welcome," has received exactly 66 views. Not exactly a bold and exciting start.

But in looking back and reading it, I find the mission has remained largely the same -- local news.

The motto at the top "All the news that don't fit in print," applies as much today as it did then.

Space in the print newspaper is not infinite and some things just don't get in. In our heyday, local newspapers were pages thick and things like local school awards or special programs at the local arts center or historical society had their place.

The success of this blog (if one million views is to be interpreted as such) suggests that has not changed. Whatever else people may think or feel about The New York Times, The Washington Post or CNN for that matter, they still want to see pictures of their kids doing well.

What's more, they want other people, their neighbors preferably, to see it too.

And like the newspaper, that's what this blog provides, a platform and delivery method to get local news to your neighbors.

I was reminded of this important lesson early on.

The first couple posts were written pieces about land preservation, a local political endorsement in a national election. Important certainly, but not the sort of thing people turn to a local news blog for.

Yes, I indulge myself writing about those types of subjects when the spirit moves me. But when I saw that the fifth post received a whopping 329 views (respectable even by today's numbers) it was obvious I had to ask myself why.

The answer was just as obvious.

It was about local people, specifically an announcement of a performance of "Mother Goose," at Pottsgrove High School.
In 2014, when the company still cared about such things,

Digital First Media issued this Blogger of the Year award.

The chance that announcement would make it into The Mercury before the
show was slim. But when I posted it in this blog, it reached 329 people largely, I believe, because it included pictures of the student performers.

There's a reason that the joke about local newspapers is that the typical headline reads "Local boy makes good."

Because that's exactly what it should say.

As Tim Gallagher, Pulitzer Prize-winning editor wrote in a June 16 post in Editor and Publisher, local newspapers:
"are vital in their community because many are the only source of local news. While national media struggles with claims of bias and fake news, they are trusted by their local communities who rely on hard
copies of the print edition. Small market newspapers are a beast entirely different from their metro/national counterparts — in terms of their communities of readers, their advertisers, and their content. Local journalism is rooted in a specific community in the way that national journalism cannot be.”
He was citing soon-to-be-released studies by researchers at the University of Oregon and the University of Virginia who looked at local papers with circulation
under 50,000. By the way, they comprise 96 percent of America’s 7,071 daily and weekly newspapers.

A key finding of the studies, Gallagher reported, is the unique nature of local journalism:
“These papers understand that they are a part of and not separate from
their communities, and with that comes a level of responsibility to doing your part to help the community succeed (again, without compromising journalistic integrity). It’s a challenging balancing act and we do not give nearly enough credit to those reporters and editors whom perform it.”
For more than 30 years, I've worked at local newspapers and despite their eternally scarce resources; their small town entanglements, their often-underestimated value, I know the importance they have to their communities, even if the community doesn't always.

"The proof," as they say, "is in the printing," or, in this case, the blogging.

Local news matters to the people who live locally.

This old dog has learned a few new digital tricks.
And what matters is more than just Johnny starring in the school play, which, as the father of this year's salutatorian at Pottstown High School, is not something about which I am ever dismissive.

But local people also want to know what is going on with their local government.

This blog lumbered along under its own power, reporting select items from local meetings too small to garner a newspaper headline, along with the announcements and the goings on at local schools and community organizations.

But the boost in views it received from live-Tweeting meetings is undeniable.

After I adapted my reporting methods to live-blogging local government meetings (and just about everything else), I found a way to gather them the Tweets together and post them in the blog the next day.

Although we can't always get that night's news into the next morning's print newspaper, this was a way to do exactly that, as well as include things that would not normally receive a headline.

For example, I often Tweet out the amount of the month's bills for the various boards I cover when they are announced. That would never generate a news story unless something unusual was going on, but it is public information that, I have found, people are interested in knowing.

It also provided a level of reporting transparency to the community: These were the things that happened, but we will be writing about just a few of them in the newspaper.

I have met many people who get their local government news almost entirely from my Twitter feed and don't get The Mercury, something I need to convince them is in error.

But those who don't use Twitter can see it all gathered together in the next day's blog post.

This combination of ease (and the fact that its free) has driven views significantly like some sort of evil news scheme.

There are two other relevant factors in our success and both have to do with circulation.

The blog, sitting on its own in the World Wide Web generates few views. After all, the blog has only 32 direct followers and one of them is my dad, so that's not getting you to a million views in five years.

The two things are, Facebook and John Armato.

In The Mercury newsroom, we can see the views on our web site shoot up as
soon as we post something on the newspaper's Facebook page. For reasons people smarter than me will have to explain, it's the platform our readers prefer.

Twitter may have a wide reach geographically, but when we want to drive local traffic we just post it on Facebook. Needless to say, I try to make sure the day's Digital Notebook post is one of the first things our readers see there.

In 2012, John was named the Pottstown Rotary Club's

Citizen of the Year.
As for John Armato, as most of you already know, he is the Pottstown School District's director of community relations. He is also the ultimate community booster and, he likes to collaborate.

Over the years, he has sent me countless press releases with an accompanying photo and helped to fill the pages of this blog.

I make it a rule to always inform the reader that the post is taken, usually verbatim, from the release the district has sent out, everything from the local ROTC successes to the epic travels of Pottstown's ubiquitous Trojan Man mascot.

If he sent these press releases out as simple emails to his impressive email list of community and educational contacts, they might get read or they might not.

But one of the strange this about this business is when he sends the same information out as a link to a blog post, it gets people's attention.

As a separate engine of local information, run by a journalist, the information seems more authenticated to readers, one step removed from bragging and one step closer to reporting.

This email cycle was an early booster to this blog's and remains a key element to its success and I thank him and enjoy the partnership tremendously.

It's a win/win because my views go up and more people see the good news about Pottstown Schools he is forever working to promote.

One more thank you and I'll shut up.

Thanks Nancy.
Former Mercury Editor Nancy March encouraged me to start this blog and convinced me to use it to focus on local news and less on opinion, which was my first intention.

As always, this was good advice from someone else who has, for her entire professional life, understood the importance of local journalism.

She should feel free to take this one million views milestone as further evidence that she has always known what she's talking about.


  1. Actually, I take this milestone as evidence of the value of reporters like Evan whose relentless pursuit of local news is the driving force of journalism.