Taking a village to build a news network: Sault news agency bucking provincial media trend.

Author:Kelly, Lindsay
Position::SAULT STE. MARIE
 
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At a time when traditional news organizations are folding at an alarming rate, Village Media stands out as a rare success story. Since launching its first online news site more than 15 years ago, the company has found a way to not just sustain news delivery in its group of chosen communities, but to grow it.

Headquartered in Sault Ste. Marie, Village Media has its origins with the founding of SooToday. com, its first entry into the digital news market. Since then, the company has set up similar sites in North Bay, Elliot Lake, Timmins, Guelph, Barrie, Orillia, and Collingwood.

It additionally has exclusive partner arrangements with Sudbury.com (a sister publication of Northern Ontario Business), owned by Laurentian Publishing; TBNewswatch.com in Thunder Bay, owned by Dougall Media; and HalifaxToday.ca and OttawaMatters.com, both owned by Rogers Media.

Growth has been swift and steady--the current cadre of 12 sites running under the Village Media platform is up from two sites just over four years ago.

President Jeff Elgie said since Village Media was "born digital," it's not tied to the old ways of presenting news and advertising, as are many of its conventional counterparts.

"We're not hindered with legacy business models, costs, and overhead that are difficult to keep up with as ad revenue shifts around," he said.

"But we're obviously digital first, so everything--the way we publish, the way we write, the way we attract audiences, the focus on the business of digital--to me, sets us apart from other publishers who still have to pay a lot of attention to print."

The key attractant is what Elgie terms a "hyper-local" approach to delivering content to readers. From both editorial and sales standpoints, Village Media has an eagle's eye focus on local markets.

Its sites do include national, world and business news from the Canadian Press (CP), but that only makes up four per cent of the total page viewership in the whole network, he noted.

What users are really interested in, he said, are the local stories, classified ads, obituaries, event pages, and real estate listings, that cater specifically to the cities in which they live.

"Our audience is really trained and really looks at us as local providers of news and community information, and so that to us is key," Elgie said. "We don't want to be a national news source; we have it there more to provide credibility for us. The association to CP and national news content is good, but we don't...

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