Rochester’s Burgeoning New Media Environment

It’s been a year and a half since the Rochester Eccentric closed its doors. But it didn’t take long for new ventures to begin filling the void. There are now three online news sources covering the greater Rochester community, each with a unique style. That’s in addition to two local weekly newspapers, Community Lifestyles and the Rochester Post.

First to open, one year ago, was The Rochester Citizen, owned and operated by Rochester Hills resident Bruce Fealk. Six months later Tom Gendich, also of Rochester Hills, entered the market with The Community Edge. Most recently Rochester Patch, a product of media giant AOL, came online with a staff of writers culled from local residents. All three produce news strictly for online readers.

Patch started on the east and west coasts and began expanding into the Midwest last summer. Anthony Duignan-Cabrera, Patch editorial director for the northeast, said Patch chooses vibrant communities with a population of 12,000 to 75,000. The target audience is “anyone who is looking for news and information in their community to help them get through their day,” he said. “I think our sites offer a combination of news and things to do. … It’s the audience we feel is out there looking for information about where they live.”

Fealk, who became known as a political activist long before opening The Rochester Citizen, focuses on local government and politics. He believes his audience is “the people who are more interested in more in-depth stories,” he said. “We’re more focused on hard news.”

That means attending city-council and school-board meetings and keeping an eye on what elected leaders are doing. “There’s definitely a need,” he said. “I think I play a little bit harder with local government people than Patch will do.”

While both Patch and the Citizen post stories to the Web continuously, Gendich takes a different approach. He e-mails a weekly publication, expanding its reach with marketing on social media like Facebook and Twitter.

“Our vision really stems from wanting to create something weekly that would go out to the community we live in to update people, to entertain people, to inform people with a cross of political news, community events and editorials,” he said.

Being Web-based allows the publishers to track how many readers they have and where the readership comes from. Gendich said he’s been surprised to find that more than 50 percent of his readers aren’t coming via his weekly e-mail, but instead from Web searches on various topics.

“The vision when we started was that really this direct e-mail was going to generate the response,” he said. The traffic from search engines has led him to reconsider a few things.

“One thing we became a lot more open to was the amount of press releases,” he said. “Because all of those press releases are sources of traffic for us.”

That means developing relationships with important institutions in the community, like Crittenton Hospital, the library, school district and nonprofit organizations. Gendich and Fealk also have strong partnerships with The Oakland Press, which uses print, web and social media such as Twitter.

“I think a lot of the shared information goes a long way,” Gendich said. “We pay attention to who is retweeting us.”

Andrea Walker, a Rochester resident who owns Walker PWS, a public relations business, and is editor of Community Lifestyles, has two views of the new media marketplace.

As an editor, “It hasn’t changed the way the newspaper functions,” she said. “Our readership remains the same and enjoys getting a print newspaper.” The company recently launched a second edition covering adjoining communities. “It’s totally against the odds but we’ve really streamlined it,” she said.

Speaking as a publicist, Walker said she relishes all the new opportunities for her clients to get the word out.

“I really love that there are so many outlets right now and that the online outlets are updating all the time,” she said.

Walker says there’s room for both online and print operations. Patch’s Cabrera agrees.

“People use websites differently than they use newspapers,” he said. “There are certain things newspapers deliver that the Web can’t.”

Video has become a huge component of online news, and Gendich said he’s had requests to do more. But that could be expensive, and his 6-month-old venture isn’t yet generating the revenue to support that. His main venture, Rochester Media, is a book publishing business.

“Our primary business model is the publishing,” he said. “That’s where the revenues were always intended to come from.” While Patch doesn’t discuss its business side, both Fealk and Gendich admit selling advertising to cover their costs and pay writers has been tough.

Walker said Patch hasn’t yet started going after local ad dollars. “When it does decide to push with the dollars, it could put everybody else away,” she said.

The first year “has been interesting,” Fealk said. Wary at first of Patch’s entry into the market, he’s now moving forward with a new Web hosting service.

“I’m very disappointed in the Patch publications so far,” he said. “I expected something better from a company that has invested $50 million in their venture.”

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