Sometime Wednesday morning, FlaglerLive registered its 500,000th visitor in October. We’ve had good months before, and we’ve been getting well over 400,000 visitors a month for a while now, but this is a new milestone. By the time the month was over we were closer to 550,000. The greater majority of those visitors—and obviously repeat visitors—are in Palm Coast and Flagler.
This happened in a month when we were hacked by a disturbed fanatic somewhere in Turkey, forcing us off line for a few hours. And it happened in a month when we were boycotted by one of those disturbed political groups in town, which clearly helped because our comment section (used by less than 0.5 percent of the readership but read by most) was no longer screeching with their members’ insufferable screeds, which most readers find alienating. The nut jobs gone, more serious readers swarmed.
It also happened toward the end of a year that’s had its challenges. The challenges have been talked about enough. The pleasures not as much, especially from a media perspective. We may live in a small county, but our media are not quite small town, not when we can count on two newspapers, a radio network, at least one television station that has the good sense to keep Jason Wheeler in Flagler, and of course that website. Neither FlaglerLive nor this county would be nearly as interesting if it weren’t for that collection of media outlets that help enrich our communities and keep institutions and each other on their toes. The same day FlaglerLive broke 500,000, Palm Coast Mayor Jon Netts in his speech at City Hall’s groundbreaking focused on the city’s rich diversity. The diversity in media and the local perspectives they enable, from all political and other stripes, should be equally celebrated.
I’m sure we all love to compete, to be first with a story, to get unique interviews. But I wouldn’t want a Flagler without the News-Journal’s Tony Holt and Julie Murphy, whose scoops also mean FlaglerLive can take a breather on some stories, or that old horse Aaron London, or the Observer’s Brian McMillan and Jonathan Simmons. (I’d steal Simmons for FlaglerLive if I had the money.) Then there’s Ron Charles, the news director at WNZF and the most generous newsman I know. He takes after his boss, David Ayres.
But love fests aside, it’s also a no-brainer that news media are changing so rapidly that even today’s media landscape will look like something from the Jurassic 10 years from now. We’re living a mass extinction with only one certainty: the survivors will have to contend with the web, not the other way around. On Tuesday the Alliance for Audited Media released its latest circulation figures for newspapers across the land. What we learned is that on weekdays, the News-Journal circulates just 10,000 copies in Flagler. That includes all those freebies they give away at hotels and in schools to pad their numbers. It doesn’t tell you whether people are actually reading the paper, or what’s left of it.
Many days this month, FlaglerLive had well over twice as many readers coming to the site, with the average daily readership clocking in at a little over 17,000. They read some articles more than others. But they drop in to read, usually not by chance: they make the decision to be on the site or click on a search result that leads them to it because of the immediacy of the news and the ease of access. Clearly many of those are repeat readers who check the site several times a day, some of them are snowbirds keeping up with their Palm Coast Kardashians (we’re talking about you Tina), some of them are one-time drop-ins who are Google’s equivalent of flyby comets. But you get the idea. What’s certain is they’re readers, and they’re seeking out the news. They come to it rather than the media seeking them out. It’s a different dynamic from a paper landing in a driveway and maybe getting read, maybe not. There’s a new serif in town, and it’s not in print.
I’m not knocking other media. I grew up reading newspapers. My journalism school was reading the New York Times every morning on the Number 7 line on my way to school. I wouldn’t be a fraction of the reporter I am now without the 21 years I spent in newspapers, and I dread the day when journalism will be dominated by reporters without newspaper training, though even today newspaper editors have become too harried and driven by the wrong metrics—slavishness to advertisers leads the list—to properly train and trust their reporters. Nostalgia won’t save the industry anymore than stifling pay walls, which have more similarities with the Berlin Wall (or its degenerate stepchild along the US-Mexico border) than newspaper publishers care to admit.
Print still has a solid following among people who remember watching black and white TV. But there’ll come a point when its built-in overhead and untimeliness will make it unsustainable. Dead trees, massive presses, delivery fleets, newsrooms still modeled after Mencken’s day when a story could mature over days instead of hours, are media’s equivalent of whale oil around the time of Edwin Drake’s drill for petroleum. Newspapers may exist for years yet, but not as mass-market products.
I’m also relatively certain that a few years from now I’ll be back here celebrating 1 million readers a month. I’m almost as certain that, much as I regret it, I’ll have a few but not as many colleagues in print. But by then at least one or two of them will be able to count on a job at FlaglerLive.
The business of news is itself changing, with the non-profit model somewhat buffered against market pressures becoming increasingly visible—from national sites like ProPublica to statewide sites like the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting, to local sites like Broward Bulldog and FlaglerLive. I’m happy to say that we finally got our own non-profit designation from the IRS, making all your contributions tax-deductible (retroactive to 2010, if you’re a long-time donor).
So by all means: support FlaglerLive’s independent journalism. It’s been a great month. Help us make subsequent months even greater. You’ll be shaping the future of news. And we thank you, readers, wherever you may be and whenever you may click.