Examiner Media, a publisher of free weekly newspapers in New York’s Lower Hudson Valley, has started a digital magazine, Examiner+, on the digital platform Substack.
Subscriptions to Examiner+, whose first issue appeared on Tuesday, will cost $5.99 a month or $49.99 a year. In creating a subscription publication for Substack, Examiner Media is testing whether a company known mainly for its ad-supported community newspapers — a sector of the media business that has struggled greatly in recent decades — can find success by asking readers to pay for news content online.
Examiner+ will include articles not available in Examiner Media’s papers, which include The Northern Westchester Examiner and The Putnam Examiner. “It can’t just be a rehash of what we’re already serving up in print,” said Robert Schork, the company’s digital editorial director.
He cited a coming feature on the April closing of the Indian Point nuclear power plant. Examiner+ also has a profile of the actor Chazz Palminteri, who recently opened Chazz Palminteri Italian Restaurant in White Plains.
Adam Stone founded Examiner Media in 2007, the same year Gannett, the large newspaper chain, shuttered The Patent Trader, a 50-year-old paper in northern Westchester County. Last year, after pandemic-related lockdowns froze advertising and in-person events, Mr. Stone cut Examiner Media’s full-time editorial staff to two people from six. He also solicited funds for the first time and received more than $30,000, mainly in small donations.
“It felt like there was opportunity in reader revenue that we weren’t tapping,” he said.
Enter Substack. The venture capital-backed start-up is best known for persuading nationally popular writers to leave established publications and go into business for themselves with subscription newsletters. This spring, it announced Substack Local, a $1 million initiative to support local journalism with grants. In June, Examiner Media was selected as one of 12 winners, a group that included local news publishers in Australia, Britain, Nigeria, Romania and Taiwan.
“We wouldn’t consider ourselves a success if we just took famous people and made them famous in a new context,” said Hamish McKenzie, a Substack co-founder.
Another locally oriented news publication, The Charlotte Ledger, founded two years ago by the former Charlotte Observer reporter Tony Mecia, has found success on Substack, with 10,000 subscribers, around 2,200 of whom are paying, he said.
“You hear a lot of doom and gloom on local news,” Mr. Mecia said, “but that’s mainly newspapers. There are people trying a lot of exciting things, and some of it is very encouraging.”
Examiner Media will receive $75,000 from Substack in four installments, as well as 15 percent of the first-year revenue for Examiner+, Mr. Stone said. The money helped Mr. Stone build the staff back to five full-time editorial employees. After a year, the company’s share of subscription revenue will go to 90 percent, the Substack standard.
“If we can crack the code,” he said, “we can announce the blueprint to the wider world. All community newspapers could follow this model.”
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