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April 21, 2020, 3:41 p.m.
LINK:  ➚   |   Posted by: Hanaa' Tameez   |   April 21, 2020

Pandemic schmandemic. For Mandy Jenkins, the current uncertainty is as good a time as any to launch a local news site.

This morning, McClatchy announced that it’s acquired all the assets of the Longmont Observer, a community-run, nonprofit news site in Longmont, Colorado, and will relaunch it as The Longmont Leader. It’s the second news outlet launched by the Compass Experiment, a partnership between McClatchy and the Google News Initiative’s Local Experiments Project that explores new business models for local news.

The new Leader will launch at the end of May with five staffers: a sales and revenue person, two reporters, an assistant editor and an editor. In the announcement, Jenkins put an emphasis on hiring at least one bilingual reporter because of the city’s growing Latino population. Applications are open today.

Jenkins said in an email that volunteers who currently run the Observer have expressed interest in staying involved, but many have other full-time jobs and aren’t looking for reporting work.

Per Jenkins:

It was in response to this slow-motion disappearance of local news that Scott Converse started the Longmont Observer back in 2017. The Observer is a non-profit, volunteer-run site for community news and information that features everything from the happenings on the city council to a very in-depth weather report and opinion pieces from locals.

I reached out to Scott last June, not long after starting at The Compass Experiment, to pick his brain about the Observer and a local campaign to establish public funding for journalism in Longmont. We stayed in touch and I’ve kept an eye on the news in Longmont.

I caught up with the Observer team while researching potential Compass cities last fall. Around that time, the Observer won a contract to run the city’s local public access television services. It spun off a new entity, Longmont Public Media, to take on those duties and operate a new makerspace for community members to create their own media. The Observer’s core leadership team of Converse, Editor Macie May and CTO Sergio Angeles were already stretched before adding on LPM. Something was going to have to give.

Long story short, we decided that Compass would open a new site in Longmont that could take over the daily news coverage that had once been done by the Observer, thus allowing Scott & Co. to focus their energy on Longmont Public Media.

Many eyes have been on McClatchy lately because of its financial troubles, from declaring bankruptcy in February to the company likely going up for auction.

McClatchy is able to launch the Leader now, amid those woes, because it’s being fully funded by Google as part of a three-year deal that runs through March 2022.

“How long that initial funding lasts is dependent on how well we can monetize the local sites in that time span,” Jenkins said. “The plan is to ramp up local funding at each site while decreasing what is needed from the Google seed funding, giving the newer sites longer runways. We plan to get each of the sites to a sustainable status by the end of that agreement.”

The Compass Experiment launched its first site, Mahoning Matters, in Youngstown, Ohio this past October after the city lost its daily newspaper The Vindicator in August.

Jenkins said ramping up local funding in Longmont will look like this:

We will have local advertising and sponsorship as the base of our business, along with reader revenue from those who in the community who want to support our journalism as members.

We had success in Ohio with our Community Leaders Program, where local businesses underwrite particular content sections on the site. We will seek to replicate that with sections specific to Longmont. We also have great built-in tools for local businesses, including
a verified, brand-safe presence in our business directory and self-managed classified advertising.

Because we are launching during a difficult time for local businesses, we will be offering them free business directory pages and $200 in classified advertising credits.

Read the full announcement here.

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