Monday, April 21, 2008

Raleigh Chronicle changing ownership

The Raleigh Chronicle, the upstart online newspaper that saw itself challenging the Raleigh News and Observer, says today's edition was the last.

Well, sort of.

According to today's story, the online paper has been bought out by the Raleigh Downtowner, which is owned by Chronicle founder Randall Gregg's brother. "The terms of the deal were not released, but Gregg said the sale amount was "nominal" and was basically just to cover some expenses, since the buyer is another newspaper that is also owned by a member of the Gregg family."

As much as anything, it sounds as if the Chronicle faced the chronic problem many online sites are finding -- the difficulty of getting local advertisers to come over to the digital medium: Despite the challenges of gathering news, Gregg said that the hardest part of running the Chronicle was the business side -- selling advertising online.

"I think many newspapers are having a hard time of transitioning local advertisers from print advertising to the web and I don't know of any newspaper that has come up with a 100% workable solution for that yet," said Gregg. "However, the readership is certainly strong online and teaming up with the Raleigh Downtowner which has had a big success in print advertising sales will definitely help provide a solution for that issue."

As a newspaper, it was an interesting experiment, uneven at times, but with about 100,00 visitors in a recent month, according to what Gregg said in today's editions. Why uneven? It's illustrated in a story, also today, about how some post offices in Raleigh are demanding a local ID in apparently creating their own rules for renting a post office box. But the paper never talks to anyone beyond a counter clerk to find out what's up.

One also might wonder how much of the Downtowner's influence went into the innuendo-laced piece about Raleigh's restriction on downtown news boxes.

Still, the Chronicle has been an interesting experiment in seeing whether an alternative online news publication can survive and perhaps thrive in an urban area. I'll wait to see whether the "under new ownership" sign changes any of that.

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At 4/21/08, 11:56 PM, Blogger Howard Owens said...

A 100K visitors site? Really?

You can't sell advertising if you don't have an audience.

Compete isn't off by that much.

This site had no meaningful traffic.

It also isn't a very web-centric product -- being more like print in 1s and 0s than a real online effort.

My main issue is the myth that you can't sell online. That's just not true. The issue in Raleigh is really unrelated to the central question, since the site had minimal traffic and really hadn't been around very long.

At 4/22/08, 10:13 AM, Blogger Doug Fisher said...


Thanks for the insight.

BTW, I'm not saying you can't sell online. But more than one site, even some of our brethren in the pure-play area who "get it," still report the online sell is a harder one among locals, though it's getting better.

So Raleigh might not be a good example -- I don't know what he was doing to try, and as I noted, the site's quality was, at best, uneven. But the issue remains out there for now for any number of reasons: untrained sales staffs, fearful sales staffs, and uneducated or reluctant local advertisers all being in the mix.

It will change, I'm sure.

At 4/23/08, 10:48 AM, Blogger Andy Bechtel said...

As a Raleigh resident, I must say that the Chronicle had little or no buzz in town. I never heard anyone talk about it.

The Web sites of the News & Observer and (especially) WRAL, the CBS affiliate, are tough competitors in this market.

At 5/8/08, 11:51 PM, Anonymous R.Gregg said...

Hey Doug: Thanks for the comments on our Raleigh Chronicle newspaper. As a publisher of seven print papers over 15 years, I have enjoyed your blog for some time and appreciate your insights into newspapers.

Sorry if this is way too long, but to address some of the comments, Compete, Alexa, Quantcast, and others like them are estimates of traffic at best. Compare the same sites on each of them and you will get a different number. I'm sorry if some people take them for gospel but sometimes they are just plain wrong. For example, one such site says that one of our biggest referral sites is The Scotsman in Scotland (!), which is simply not true. We use Google Analytics to track traffic and we actually embed code into each page to that purpose. Google Analytics is much more accurate, as and others do not put code on our pages. Also, in that figure, we included traffic to our archives at our old site at and email newsletter readership, which cannot and does not track. Admittedly, our traffic was not as high as the N&O, which has been around for over 100 years, or WRAL, which has been around for over 50 years, so we're a little behind. Still, we take pride in the thousands of people who read the paper as a source for local news, with as many as 10,000 people in one day reading our site.

Secondly, the Raleigh Chronicle was first and foremost an experiment at putting a professionally run daily paper online, without a paper product. For two years, there was no rulebook to follow as no one had really done it before in NC on a professional basis, so we pretty much made it up as we went along. We were the first online only paper to join the NC Press Association as an associate member. We tried a lot of things that worked like using lots of photos and videos and a lot that didn't work like MP3 news downloads. I am the first to admit that we had some problems along the way, but the paper was free, we never asked our readers for donations, and it provided the only locally owned alternative to the large daily newspaper. Hopefully no one will impose an unfair comparison between the News & Observer with 800 people and our small 6 person operation, as our budgets, ownership, and capacities are uncomparable. It would be like comparing Home Depot to your locally owned hardware store -- the sales, traffic, and breadth is much different but you have different expectations for both of them.

Thirdly, regarding the post office piece, we did try to call the post offices unsuccessfully to speak to a regional manager or other top person, but no one would give us a number for any of those offices via the PO numbers in the phone book. After the article appeared, we received a letter of apology from the regional USPS supervisor saying he would fix the problems, so we feel like the piece was warranted and made a difference.

Fourthly, although we are not huge by any means, we feel we have made a measureable difference in the Raleigh area, based on emails, phone calls, and other comments from our readers. They have been happy to see coverage and photos of Raleigh news that were missed by the other media outlets. For example, a NY Times bestselling author recently died in the area. We published a story on him and his work, while no other publication bothered to write anything at all.

We have tried to be a small town paper in a big city. I cannot count the times that people have thanked us for covering their problems, events, etc. when they were ignored by others and in doing so, we produced results.

And yes, we have purposely tried not to be "cozy" with city, county, or state governments to serve the public's interest.

To that effort, our stories have helped drive coverage in other media outlets by focusing on those ignored local items. To our credit, we have been linked to or referenced by the News & Observer and TV station news broadcasts in the area as well as many national media outlets including CNN, MSNBC, Fox News and others. Although we were scooped by our competition every day, we scooped them on several occasions despite our small size. I had to laugh on occasion when our small paper beat other much larger media outlets to the punch.

Fifthly, the online business model is evolutionary. When I talked to the founder of on the phone about local online advertising, I was optimistic we could make it work. However, to be honest I was extremely glad to see that the MinnPost became a non-profit such as the Voice of San Diego. It will be a much more stable platform for "local ownership" at least in the near future. National and local advertising can work online, but in our crowded Raleigh market with many TV stations, 24 news channels, glossy specialty magazines, etc. there is a lot of competition for local advertising dollars.

And finally, I was surprised at Mr. Andy Bechtel's comment that he had never heard of us. The newspaper he used to work for, our competitor the News & Observer, did several articles on us, linked to our some of our stories on their blogs, and on occasion, we even took the pleasure of sharing information with their reporters on stories and certainly vice versa. In addition, I was asked on several occasions to speak at UNC (where he teaches journalism) on newswriting and online technology classes, so perhaps his peers can fill him in on trends in new media.

Despite Mr. Bechtel's comments, after starting three print newspapers and one online paper in the News & Observer's own market, rest assured that I am very familiar with everything that the N&O does, as our operations continue to gain readers and advertisers from their fold. Perhaps its better if they continue to not "know" about us. That being said, the N&O is one of the best papers in the country and we're glad they're here.

We wish all the best to everyone in the newspaper business, no matter which paper you work for or who owns it. All papers perform a public service, but we do hope that more locally owned papers continue to spring up.

Although I am moving on to yet another project, if any locally owned newspaper needs any help or guidance on how to take their news operations online or even what NOT to do, please feel free to contact me. We have always been happy to help promote local ownership of your community newspaper and even more so now as we move into the 21st century.

Cheers, R.Gregg, Publisher Emeritus, The Raleigh Chronicle

At 6/10/08, 7:34 PM, Blogger Andy Bechtel said...

Mr. Gregg,

To clarify: I have heard of the Chronicle and even looked at the site a few times.

My point is this: No one in town was saying, "Hey, did you see what the Chronicle had on their site?" People do say that about WRAL and the N&O. You have to have that kind of word of mouth to succeed.

At 7/11/08, 1:15 AM, Anonymous R.Gregg said...

Mr. Bechtel,

To clarify: I respect your opinion about our newspaper, but please allow me to respectfully disagree.

You may not read our material or think other people do, but evidently your peers don't feel the same way.

According to our own visitor logs, people at the News & Observer check out our material quite frequently. Thanks also to your former employer for referencing our coverage, as the News & Observer has linked to Raleigh Chronicle articles several times.

Furthermore, every single TV station in the area with a news department has mentioned our coverage or referenced articles in the Raleigh Chronicle.

On a national scale, our staff have been interviewed on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC regarding our coverage.

And most importantly, our readers evidently also disagree.

I can't tell you how many times local blogs in the Raleigh area have praised us when we beat the N&O to the punch on stories or how many emails we have received from readers thanking us for our coverage.

Also, I'd like to thank professors at the UNC School of Journalism and also, the NC Press Association who have invited us to speak to audiences about our coverage and online efforts.

So, when you say "no one in town" is saying "did you see what the Chronicle had on their site" then I just don't really believe you.

We have made a discernible difference in news coverage in this market and I believe, in the lives of our readers.

Also, thanks for the advice on how to "succeed" but after starting as many newspapers as I have, I'll just keep doing what I've been doing. If you would like to learn how to actually start a newspaper from scratch, building something out of nothing, please feel free to give me a call as my door is always open to anyone wanting to start a paper. Cheers, R.Gregg


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