"The Conway Post is now following you on Twitter." I get these types of e-mails all the time, but most of them are from Angel21 or Hotgirl88. This one didn't seem to be from a porn operation at all. It had the name, at least, of what could be a credible news organization.
The key word is "could." The Conway Post, as it will be called when it launches in May, will serve as an alternative news site for Conwegians, much like the Fayetteville Flyer does for the Fayetteville community. It's basically an alt-weekly without the paper.
The site is the brain child of Bobby Kelly, a University of Central Arkansas graduate, who currently works for a local nonprofit. If it's like most Internet start-ups, the Post will run out of steam once everyone involved realizes there's not much money to be made in the news business. If it succeeds, like Kelly thinks and hopes that it will, it will be proof that alternative news sites in smaller markets can fill a niche that other outlets just don't cover, and possibly thrive doing so.
It's worked for the Flyer. Dustin Bartholomew and Todd Gill started the site in their spare time and wrote most of the content, focusing on Fayetteville's arts and entertainment scene. Soon, The Flyer started to cover more and more news, traffic increased and it wasn't long before ads started to pop up on the home page to help fund the site.
"Traffic is continuing to grow," Gill says. "We're currently up 45 percent on the year with a total of 1.1 million page views in the past 12 months. Since our content is mostly Fayetteville-specific, the majority of our traffic is from the Fayetteville/Springdale area. That creates a lot of advertising value for local businesses. Plus, with nearly no overhead, we're able to keep our rates well below what local businesses are used to spending."
Gill says the use of social media tools also creates advertising value for their sponsors.
"We have a few dozen sponsors now and the site is definitely paying for itself," he says. "Our sponsors get exposure on both the Flyer and Local540 [a sister site that allows local business to create their own pages]. We also utilize various social media tools (Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Tumblr and most recently, Instagram) to not only interact with the community, but also to promote our stories and to help spread our sponsors' messages."
Kelly hopes to follow a similar formula.
"I'm not getting paid for it," he says. "I'm shelling out this money out of my own pocket. There is a plan in place to where if it does take off and pick up speed and we're getting the unique visitors and page-views that we're wanting, then we're going to have paid staff writers."
Excluding the Echo, UCA's student newspaper, The Log Cabin Democrat has been the only game in town for some time. Kelly says he doesn't really see The Conway Post as a competitor, just something different.
"What we're trying to do is really like what the Arkansas Times does," Kelly says. "We want to be the alternative voice and promote culture, art, music, theater and dabble in a little bit of politics here in Conway. Because there's a lot to do here. There's a lot to be seen. There's a lot of entertainment going on. We're trying to fight that stereotype that Conway is a boring place.
"The Log Cabin — and I'm not knocking them at all — they cover the city beat really well. And they cover crime really well. They do a lot of things well, but when it comes to letting the people know that there's a group of banjo players that pick on the front steps of the Faulkner County Courthouse every Saturday, that just gets lost. One thing I've noticed is that here in Conway, that art community doesn't have a voice."
One thing that both the Flyer and the Post have going for them is that a web site offers flexibility that a print publication does not.
"Who knows what direction we're headed," Gill says. "We may end up being more focused on news or we might become strictly arts and entertainment if that's what the demand is. These days, you never know who's going to enter your local online media scene."