Iola, Ellsworth get incubator grants

Posted December 18, 2019

The successful applicants for Montgomery Incubator Project funding plan to rev up their digital efforts and — if successful — become possible models for other small dailies and weeklies.

Projects outlined by the staffs of the five-day daily Iola Register and the weekly Ellsworth County Independent-Reporter were recently chosen to receive a total of $5,900 in grants, underwritten by the Montgomery Family Fund in the Kansas Newspaper Foundation.

Linda Denning, publisher of the Independent-Reporter, said the Ellsworth project is designed to create a model for really small newspapers – especially weeklies with extremely limited staff – to add revenue through digital offerings.

“The reality is that even in communities where print continues to be valued, business owners are getting younger and they want to be part of the digital marketing world,” she said.

In Iola, the staff’s plan has three goals: to improve the newspaper’s podcast and grow the number of listeners, to supplement news coverage by having video interviews and to improve the image of the newspaper and modernize how the audience views the operation.

“We have an opportunity to see what future podcasts bring, to redefine what a newspaper is and can do, and to keep showing our growing and changing audiences that we tell valuable stories. Now more than ever, this is terribly important work,” said Susan Lynn, Register editor and publisher. “We’re thankful for the chance to connect with our readers in new ways and to show them that journalism matters.”

Tim Stauffer, Register managing editor, agrees: “A key part of our job is about building community. This project gives us a chance to reach and connect to readers in new ways.”

How will each newspaper measure success?

In Iola, it will be by monitoring traffic to the site and whether the podcast can generate new revenue.

In Ellsworth, it will be whether the digital side can generate enough additional revenue to hire another writer to improve its news product.

“The importance of a strong news product in any community goes beyond dollars and cents,” Denning said. “The true test would be whether our digital side could generate enough additional revenue to hire another writer to improve our news product. Many of the meetings I attend talk about websites and advertising opportunities.

“Seldom is there discussion about how to improve the quality of a newspaper or website. That is something I believe needs to be part of any new revenue proposal and the determination of success.”

Submissions were evaluated by a panel of current and former KNF trustees for implementation in calendar year 2020.

The grantees also will discuss progress and outcomes of their projects at the 2020 Montgomery Family Symposium.