As a resident of a small town, I really appreciate what Dave Wheelan has been able to do with the Chestertown Spy, an online newspaper for Chestertown, MD, population approximately 5,000. Helping a whole community stay in touch and stay informed deserves our applause, and it also deserved a Batchbook customer profile!
Tell us a little bit about The Chestertown Spy?
The Chestertown Spy is a hyper-local internet newspaper serving a small college town on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. We named the Spy in honor of the first physical newspaper printed in Chestertown, which started in 1793. It actually was a great little newspaper, that not only covered the news of the day, but did a fine job with the arts, poetry and even philosophy . We thought that was pretty cool and we loved the name, as does the town.
At the moment, Chestertown has a town population of 5,000 and an additional 3,000 in the greater region. Despite this small market, we have roughly 9,000 absolute unique visitors a month looking at over 90,000 pages of content. We also have had over 100 advertisers since we started.
How did you get started?
After a career in the non-profit sector for more than thirty years, I was eager to have a “second life,” so to speak. I left the University of California in late 2008 and spent six months in a very small town north of San Francisco called Point Reyes Station to study different types of businesses. Point Reyes is well known in the area as being a great incubator of small, creative non-profit or low-profit
businesses, so I thought it would be a great place to study a few of these with the idea of bringing one of them back to the Eastern Shore, where I had purchased a small cottage some ten years ago and wanted to live.
After “shadowing” a number of organizations, I was the most impressed that this small town of about 2,000 people could support not one, but two real good weekly newspapers. I felt it demonstrated how strong the urge is for people to know about what is going on in their community. Starting a e-newspaper was made even more attractive for me when I factored in the endless resources and tools the internet now provides, at very low cost, in reporting news and stories in general. It was a great fit for what I wanted to do.
How do you stay connected with your community?
In a small town, it is not particularly hard to stay connected. In fact, it sometimes is far more difficult to disconnect. Having said that, the Spy team every day gets story tips and information simply by interacting with neighbors, going to the coffee shop, or just getting a haircut.
One of the nicer things about having an e-newspaper is the boundless ways you can interact with your readers. Since we started in 2009, over 6,000 comments have been posted expressing different points of view on a subject or issue, and all of it was quite civilized. It’s really wonderful to witness that every day.
Do you use a team-based approach to publish the Chestertown Spy?
I do. While I am the only employee, I have about ten to twelve freelance writers, art designers, web designers, photographers, videographers and ad sales folks working with the Spy at any given time. There is so much to cover, even in a small town, and therefore those team dynamics are critical for our success.
How has technology changed the way you do business?
Beyond the e-newspaper itself, the way in which the Spy team collaborates using technology is just amazing. We all use Skype, Batchbook, Freshbooks, and Mailchimp on a daily basis to get the work done. Editors work with writers on copy electronically using Google Docs or through WordPress. Photos and video clips are shared back and forth using Dropbox. I can say categorically the Spy would not exist without these tools.
How does Batchbook help you run your business?
At this point, ten Spy team members are on the Spy Batchbook account. Story assignments, programming tasks, advertising sales, and other special projects are all tracked by Batchbook. In addition, we use Batchbook to track sources and background information on stories we cover and we use it, along with Freshbooks, to help with billing. I’m very grateful to Batchbook for making their software so simple, I don’t need to do a lot of training. People just get on it and it works.
Can you offer any advice for anyone else looking to start their own company?
After two years, I’d say that patience is the key. You need to think very long term, which can be very hard to do when you have bills to pay. You also need to believe, or at least I do, that you are helping your community. Being of service to me is very closely tied into my sense of quality of life. If I didn’t think the Spy was useful to people’s lives, I don’t think I would be very successful.