Clark County Today celebrates fourth anniversary
Substantial growth in readership has taken place since Sept. 27, 2016 launch
I will never forget June 15, 2016. It was that Wednesday morning that I officially started my new job as editor of Clark County Today. There was no fanfare, no bells or whistles, no balloons or bunting. I reported to work at the US Digital Outreach Center and I was shown to an empty office. Moments later, I was sitting in that office all by myself with just a crude business plan that I had created and a lofty vision from our founder David Madore.
At that point, I had been in the media industry for 29 years, but I had never built anything from the ground up. I had never created anything, or invented anything. Give me the keys to a locomotive and I could keep the train on the tracks, but I didn’t have a train and there weren’t any tracks. It was a feeling I will never forget.
Fast forward to today (Sun., Sept. 27), and that crude business plan and vision is now a reality. Today, those of us at Clark County Today will celebrate the fourth anniversary of the day our news website was launched. I have no problem saying that I could have never scripted what has taken place over the past four years.
Assembling the team
On that first day, I recognized that of the virtually endless number of things that needed to be accomplished was that our organization needed a staff. Our team needed talented individuals with a unique combination of skills and a willingness to embrace a new vision for journalism. Among the many ways we would differ from other news organizations is there would be no print product, only digital. We weren’t only going to present content with the written word, we were going to rely heavily on visuals, not just photos but video as well.
With that vision in mind, Mike Schultz was one of the first employees who agreed to join me at Clark County Today. I had worked closely with Mike for nine years at The Reflector Newspaper. I witnessed his incredible skills as a photojournalist up close and published many of his photos that would later earn awards. He really shined while photographing high school sports, but he was versatile, skilled and experienced enough that he could tackle any assignment. He also has developed a good, working relationship with area law enforcement and fire officials.
I also knew that we needed an adult in the room, someone to do the heavy lifting, which included many different duties including human resources, payroll, billing, finances and any of the many other things that I had no expertise or aptitude for. I knew immediately who I wanted for the position but she needed some convincing.
Heidi Wetzler grew up in the newspaper industry, working from a very early age at The Reflector Newspaper, owned and operated for 31 years by her mother and father, Marvin and Anne Case. At The Reflector, Heidi followed in her father’s footsteps, wearing multiple hats and performing many duties. Because of that experience, she essentially could fill any role needed. I will never forget that when I made a job offer to Heidi to be our administrator, it was so early in our existence that I struggled to define what her duties would be. I laugh as I think now about how many times she asked me, “but, exactly what is it that I will actually be doing?’’ I asked her multiple times to trust that there would be a very critical and necessary role for her at Clark County Today. She eventually agreed to join the team and she is truly invaluable to our success.
Recalling the story of my recruitment of Heidi, brings me to a common theme in the formation of our team. Most of our staff, which now has grown to eight wonderful professionals, is made up of people who took a leap of faith into the vast unknown. Especially those who agreed to join the staff before we even had launched the website, were placing a great deal of faith into our vision and I will never forget that.
Like Mike and Heidi, Andi Schwartz came aboard prior to the Sept. 27, 2016 launch of Clark County Today. And like Mike and Heidi, Andi had a very good job at The Reflector Newspaper when she agreed to join us. I worked with Andi for those same nine years at The Reflector. In the last six years, I was the editor and she was the lead (and later only) designer. Those two positions have to work in concert or the paper would never get out the door. When we started working together, I think Andi and I were very different people. But, I knew we were each very good at our jobs and we found a way to blend our skills and weaknesses into a strong team that worked together very efficiently.
When I recruited Andi, she and her husband Joe had just purchased a home. I took Mike Schultz with me to their home the night I made the recruitment pitch. I think I can safely say Joe wasn’t overjoyed with the idea of his wife making the leap of faith to our very much unproven venture. But, in the end, Andi and Joe decided to make that leap and wonderful blessings (including two sons) have been bestowed upon their family in the years since.
Getting the dang thing launched
Our staff could tell you stories about how limited my technical skills are. When I first went to work as a journalist in 1987, we didn’t even have PCs or email. We used an archaic word processor and even still used typewriters for some duties. Fast forward 29 years, and it’s laughable to think I could be the point person to launch an internet news website.
In those first few months, I hired a company to launch the website for us. Without getting mired in the details, it was a disaster. Thankfully, Andi agreed to come aboard in early September. She quickly recommended I scrap the entire plan with the outside company and let her build the site herself. Within three weeks, Clark County Today was launched. I still can’t believe she did it that quickly. And, I can’t believe all the ways our website has been enhanced in the last four years since that initial launch. I say it all the time, but Andi is truly a rock star. The average person has no idea the burden she carries being the one person who is responsible for keeping the website functioning 24 hours a day, seven days a week, not to mention posting and performing the presentation of our many different forms of content. It’s truly a Herculean effort by a mother of two young boys.
Once we got the website launched, we had to have quality content to post on a daily basis that made it worth the while of Clark County residents to visit us. To be honest, here is where we struggled in those early months. Our original reporting staff each moved on to other opportunities in the industry. No hard feelings. I’ve never begrudged anyone for doing what is best for them. But, there were many weeks when we didn’t even have a reporting staff. It was just myself and Mike Schultz left to produce all the content.
As a direct result, our growth in the first 18 months was modest. But, all that started to change when the rest of our staff was filled, one incredibly talented reporter after another.
At the end of May 2017, Paul Valencia joined Clark County Today. Paul and I had worked together for about one year at The Columbian Newspaper before I left in 2001. He later made a name and a brand for himself as the best, and most personable, sports reporter in Clark County.
Paul and I kept in touch over the years, and he was nice enough to cover my son’s athletic exploits, but I never thought I had a chance to convince him to change teams after 17 years working for the other guys. I was wrong. A mutual friend suggested I approach Paul, which I did immediately, and like those before him, Paul (and his wife Jenny) agreed to take a leap of faith and join us at Clark County Today.
Having Paul join our team was a significant development in our ability to draw eyeballs to Clark County Today. To be honest, when David and I got together and discussed our vision for our news coverage, I’m not sure high school sports coverage was even discussed. But, we couldn’t pass on the opportunity to add someone as accomplished and talented as Paul and it paid dividends. That fall, when high school football season began, all of a sudden Paul started to create a surge in our readership. I must add that in the past three years, Paul has done an incredible job of transforming himself from a print journalist to a new media journalist in the digital era.
The momentum we gained that fall from Paul’s work grew exponentially early the following year when Chris Brown accepted our offer to join our reporting staff. Like Paul, Chris was an accomplished journalist. And like Paul, our paths had crossed. We both worked at Rose City Radio in Portland, which later became Alpha Broadcasting.
Chris joined us in February 2018 and immediately established himself as the bulldog news reporter that we sorely needed. Let’s face it, if we were going to be taken seriously, we needed a reporter capable of doing the best possible job on the most important story taking place in Clark County on any particular day. Chris proved he was more than capable of filling that role and he came to us with a diversity of skills from his background working in both radio and television. Not long after Chris joined Clark County Today, we finally started fulfilling some of our vision to venture into new media (more on that later).
About six months after Chris joined Clark County Today, we were blessed with the addition of Jacob Granneman. Jacob, who wasn’t even old enough to order an alcoholic beverage when we hired him, was fresh from graduation from the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University in Pullman. Jacob was green, but oh my, did he bring a diversity of skills to our team.
Jacob made it clear to me when he interviewed for the job that his dream was to someday be an independent filmmaker. He’s well on his way to fulfilling that dream. If you haven’t watched his three-part documentary “Rocky Mountain,’’ an in-depth look at the issues surrounding the Yacolt Mountain Quarry, you need to. It was brilliant work.
Just last month, Clark County Today added John Ley as a full-time reporter. When I shared the news with a close friend in the industry, he told me that we are one of maybe two media organizations in the country fortunate enough to increase the size of its staff during the current economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
John is obviously no stranger to our readers. We have published many articles and opinion pieces that he has produced over the years. We are thrilled to add John’s skills as an investigative, in-depth reporter to our staff. He has already produced several stories that illustrate the contributions he’s going to make to our organization.
It is because of those staff members that we have been able to accomplish what we have in these four short years. As I said, much of our success has taken place in the last two-and-a-half years, since we finally filled out our staff with our current professionals.
The efforts and talents of our staff have led to remarkable growth in the traffic to our website. In the past six months, we have had highs of 202,056 unique visitors and 788,826 page views in one month. If I did the math correctly, we have had 258 percent growth in unique visitors over the past year.
As I write this, currently on Facebook, their insights indicate that in the last 28 days, we’ve reached 323,845 people, an increase of 697 percent; our 231,384 post engagements represents an increase of 300 percent; and our 2,210 likes over that period is an increase of 989 percent.
Perhaps our greatest accomplishment in this fourth year is the fulfillment of our founder’s vision for Clark County to have its own nightly news report, which we call Clark County TODAY. Each weeknight at 6 p.m., we offer a video report of that day’s top news stories. The news update can be accessed through our website, Facebook page or YouTube channel.
The reports are presented for the first time at 6 p.m. and then can be accessed at any time thereafter. They are usually between 10 and 12 minutes in length and offer television-style reports, usually of between six and eight stories relevant to Clark County residents. It’s an incredible undertaking each of those five days and virtually every report includes contributions from each of our eight staffers.
Chris and Jacob are adept at hosting the reports. Andi does a remarkable job as the designer of all the visuals and presentation and putting it all together and we all contribute content, scripts and visuals. It is the most labor intensive thing we do. Each night when I watch the finished product, I can’t believe in four short years our efforts have advanced to the point that we produce such an effort five days a week.