Today marks one year since we launched Mahoning Matters in Youngstown, Ohio. In some ways, October 9, 2019 feels like it was a decade ago, in others it feels like yesterday.
Nobody could have predicted the ups and downs we’d face in our inaugural year. We knew we’d have a long road ahead to grow our audience and build relationships with local advertisers in Youngstown. What we didn’t foresee was the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact it would have on our business, community, and staff.
As I said in a post marking our six-month anniversary in April, this year has been a terrible and inspiring time to be working in local news.
Terrible in that the coronavirus pandemic not only took the life of a member of our team, it has also struck a major blow to a region that was already struggling.
Inspiring in that our team has been able to tell stories of impact that have made readers take notice. I encourage you to check out this list of 20 milestone stories from our first year compiled by the Mahoning Matters staff to see what I mean. From data dives on local nursing homes to creating resources for navigating the COVID shutdown, our team has focused on the stories that matter most.
We’ve worked hard to find out what people in the Valley need to know — through events, focus groups, and audience surveys — and we’ve adapted our work to meet those needs. And it is working. This year, we have grown to reach more than 200,000 monthly website readers and 8,000 email subscribers.
In addition to creating good journalism, we started The Compass Experiment to find ways to make local news financially sustainable. To do that, we knew we’d have to pursue a variety of revenue lines and be ready to adapt as needed.
This year, we have built relationships with local businesses, some of whom have become advertisers and partners even during these difficult times. We have been able to expand our coverage with new series built with the support of key local business partners through our Community Leaders Program.
The Movers and Makers series, sponsored by Farmers Bank, highlights the work of local entrepreneurs. Eastwood Mall stepped up to sponsor Difference Makers, which brings attention to the work of everyday local heroes serving the community.
Our readers have also made investments in our work. Earlier this year, on our six-month anniversary, we launched a voluntary giving program that asked readers to financially support our newsgathering. So many stepped up to give us what they could, be it in monthly payments or one-time donations, to keep our site free and accessible to all.
Mahoning Matters has also been fortunate to have found strong allies in the local philanthropic community. In close collaboration with Report for America, we have been able to get support for the concept of donor-funded journalism in the Mahoning Valley.
It all started with the Thomases Family Endowment of the Youngstown Area Jewish Federation, who in July became the first local funder to support our work with Report for America.
Today, we announced the creation of the Mahoning Matters Journalism Impact Fund with the Community Foundation of the Mahoning Valley, which ensures our future contributions are managed professionally in the community. This fund will help support our accountability and solutions-oriented reporting in the months and years to come and will give us an avenue to begin accepting tax-deductible donations with our fiscal sponsor, the McClatchy Journalism Institute.
That is all to say the pieces are coming together. We’re still a ways off from breaking even, but we’re building the framework for a local news business that can succeed long-term.
In the meantime, we are running forward. We have an election coming. The coronavirus pandemic is far from over. Our community has questions about what its leaders are going to do to improve their lives. We’re going to keep on telling these stories that matter in the Mahoning Valley for the next year and many more to come.