A Fading Institution
For a local paper, staying afloat can be difficult in this era of constant technological change. The Welch News, a small paper serving McDowell County, West Virginia for almost a century, nearly buckled under the weight.
But only nearly.
Because even for hyperlocal papers like the Welch News, which serves a community of only 2000 or so, a metered paywall can be the difference between shutting its doors and keeping the lights on.
A Fresh Start
In 2018, Melissa Nester looked at the flagging Welsh News and saw possibility. She purchased the paper and then turned to the West Virginia Community Development Hub.
“They were a a strictly print-only product; they had no website at all,” recalls Tyler Channell who met Nester through a West Virginia Hub workshop. “But I would consider the Welch News a community hub. I think the community comes around it, they celebrate the Welch News; it’s a vital part of their community.
“I think that’s the key reason [Nester] purchased the paper to begin with. She recognized that it was more than a paper, it was a community. And she was adamant that ‘We’ve got to get a website up and we’ve got to join the 21st century.’”
With a background in journalism, as both a graduate of and lecturer at WVU, Channell saw the plight of local papers and found a way to help.
“I saw a need in publishers who were looking to build websites and also for new revenue streams and so I started focusing my attention on what could I do to help them get online and make it affordable. A lot of publishers are constantly dealing with these super expensive softwares and integrations,” Channell says.
He created The Paywall Project (in partnership with ZEEN101) to work with local papers and help them become viable online at a price they could afford.
A Promising Future
Channell’s efforts, alongside the hard work and dedication of Nester and the Welch News staff, and bolstered by Leaky Paywall’s robust, flexible content protections, have brought new life to the old paper.
Channell and his Paywall Project created a website and trained the staff writers how to use it. And once the website was up and running, the Welch News proved that small papers can still thrive.
With nothing more than a few Facebook posts, the small community rallied around the rebooted publication.
“Within, I think about ten days,” Channell remembers, “they had about 100 new subscribers.”
While the pace of growth has slowed down, the increased subscriptions have kept the Welch News vital.
“They’re doing great. Obviously it’s not coming in as fast as it was in those ten days, but I always tell people it’s compounded. You might get 20 or 30 or 50 in your first month, but usually these people stick around and continue to pay you monthly or yearly.”
And the difference from adding a Leaky Paywall as revenue stream has been enough to keep the lights on for the publication.
“Leaky Paywall has really been transformative,” Channell states. “It’s allowed them to purchase new computers and do some renovations on the building and stuff like that, so it’s been a good thing.”