When Julia and I moved back to Prairie Village in 2009, we wanted to get caught up on local affairs. That task proved harder than we’d imagined. We turned to the familiar news sources that had been keeping tabs on northeast Johnson County for decades only to find sparse and not particularly relevant coverage.
The Star had significantly cut back on its Neighborhood News sections. The Sun’s staff had been reduced to a just a couple of reporters tasked with minding the entirety of the most populous county in the state.
The coverage had dried up. The news in northeast Johnson County, however, hadn’t stopped.
We got to talking. With a rich history and thousands of multi-generation families calling the area home, it seemed like a prime candidate for a hyperlocal publication. So in June 2010, we flipped the switch on a rudimentary version of what was then called the Prairie Village Post and started hitting the pavement.
We found plenty that was of interest to write about. Prairie Village was considering whether or not to approve a developer’s request for Community Improvement Districts for the Village Shops and Corinth, a move that would add a 1 percent sales tax at the centers for more than two decades. Fairway was grappling with budget issues that forced it to hike its property tax rate by more than 40 percent.
Within a year of launch, we were attracting thousands of readers to the site each day; emails kept popping up from people thanking us for providing coverage they couldn’t find anywhere else.
In fact, not long after we launched with our initial footprint in Prairie Village, Fairway and Mission Hills, we started to hear from residents in neighboring communities that they needed someone to cover their cities, too. Over the next few years, we gradually expanded to all of northeast Johnson County, covering Mission, Roeland Park, Westwood, Westwood Hills, Mission Woods and Merriam as well as parts of Overland Park and Leawood.
As our footprint grew, so did our readership. In 2011, our first full year of publication, we attracted 267,222 visits to the site. Last year, the number had ballooned to 1,586,925.
But reader interest, unfortunately, isn’t enough to keep a news operation viable. The internet has provided an amazing medium for publications like ours to reach their audience. But it has also wreaked havoc on the traditional news business model. After nearly seven years in operation, it’s become clear that internet advertising — which is priced at a fraction of what print publications charge for their inventory — alone will not produce enough revenue for us to staff the organization in a sustainable way.
That’s why earlier this week we erected a subscription paywall. To say that it was a difficult decision would be quite the understatement. We are all too aware that, after more than two decades of being trained to expect free access to pretty much everything you want online, the idea of ponying up for a subscription won’t be palatable to many — even some people who use the site frequently.
We’ve been heartened, however, at the early wave of subscriptions. In just a day and a half since we pushed the paywall live late Wednesday, more than
200300 (scratch that…we passed 300 about half an hour after we first published the post) people have set up accounts. And that number has continued to grow this morning.
We believe northeast Johnson County deserves its own, truly local news source — a publication that celebrates the great things happening in our community while also keeping tabs on our public institutions and tax dollars. We hope that if you agree, you’ll consider becoming a subscriber.