Isn’t print dead? That’s the question I hear constantly on my rounds to pitch potential investors on backing a print version of WEHOville.com.
If you’re reading this, you know we started online. It was late September of 2012 when West Hollywood Media Company Inc. (essentially me with the help of some talented friends) launched WEHOville.com. The goal was to fill an enormous gap in this community of 34,000 or so creative, diverse and passionate people. A city like West Hollywood needed a news medium run by professional journalists. It needed a uniquely local platform where its residents could raise and debate local issues rather than the sort of off-the-shelf model that was AOL’s now all-but-defunct Patch.
Now, as we approach our second anniversary, I’m proud to say that we’ve made major strides toward giving West Hollywood what it has long needed and deserved, all with the help of our passionate readers.
— We have become the go-to source for news about West Hollywood, as evidenced by the fact that more than 10,000 people visited WEHOville.com on a single day for information about the sad deaths at 939 Palm Ave.
— We are the only forum for public discussion of important civic issues, as shown by the more than 7,000 comments our readers have posted on our site.
— And we are the only way for local merchants to target local customers without wasting their advertising dollars on regional print media or on websites that, unlike us, don’t have the guts to share their real readership figures.
But we can’t sit on those modest laurels. In fact, not only is print not dead, but a print newspaper is the only way that a local news organization actually makes a profit. For WEHOville.com to survive and thrive, we must create a weekly print newspaper.
So back to the question at the top of this story. Perhaps the best person to answer it is Warren Buffett, whose Berkshire Hathaway has spent nearly $350 million in the past few years buying up small town newspapers. Buffett and other savvy media investors know that so-called “hyperlocal” print isn’t dead (although weekly newspaper profit margins have slipped from 40 percent to 25 or 20 percent).
That means I’m on the hustings, like some candidate for political office, trying to round up the dollars we need to create the print version of WEHOville.com that, studies show, will enable us to double our audience and appeal to local advertisers, who still are averse to online ads.
It’s not as easy as raising money for a campaign for Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. That’s because an investor won’t be able to dictate the content of WEHOville online or in print. Our journalistic integrity is what really makes us unique in West Hollywood.
And various federal regulations mean we can’t accept small donations from well-meaning supporters, much as we’d like to. An investor must be “accredited,” which the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission defines as someone who has a net worth of at least $1 million (the value of your house doesn’t count) or income of at least $200,000 each year for the last two years (or $300,000 together with your spouse if you’re married).
The good news is we believe there’s a healthy return for such an investor. Unlike our earlier, ill-considered Kickstarter campaign (and why would someone just give us money and get nothing in return?), an investor in WEHOville.com will share in what we hope will be impressive profits. We hope an investor also will see a return in the value that an independent, professional news publication brings to this creative community.
If you know of a suitable investor, don’t hesitate to send him or her my way. We’ve got an elaborate business plan to share. We can’t wait to take the next step forward in creating the news organization that West Hollywood needs and deserves.