By Ted Nesi
PBN Web Editor
Lynne Tungett is founder and editor of Newport Now, a two-month-old blog-style news site that publishes updates on local affairs and culture alongside features like obituaries, real estate listings, weather forecasts and an events calendar. Tungett, who previously worked as an editor at other publications, including Newport Life magazine and Newport This Week, talked with Providence Business News recently about why she started Newport Now and what she makes of the changing media landscape in the City by the Sea.
PBN: What do you consider Newport Now? An online newspaper? A Newport blog? Something entirely new?
TUNGETT: I think of Newport Now as something entirely new for this market. Newport Now is a hyperlocal news and information Web site serving those of us who live in Newport and the surrounding area and those who want to stay in touch with this part of the world.
Designed to be a 21st-century meeting place, the site is fashioned with the reader in mind; more or less what might be recognized as a blog format. But blogs typically are laced with opinion; our mission is to report rather than opine on the news. Beyond our homepage, we also make extensive use of social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook. In fact, we announced our launch online via Twitter.
Newport Now still reflects the fundamental things that have made local newspapers such mainstays: trust, thoughtfulness, and the ability to connect with the community. Having been in print publishing for over 20 years, I know what traditional media looks like. If there is a model I could point to, it would be to that of MinnPost or Voice of San Diego.
PBN: What were you thinking that led you to start Newport Now?
TUNGETT: When Newport Now was first launched, the goal was simple: To provide an immediate, online source of local news for Newport and the neighboring towns. Our motto is that we want to cover Newport like a morning fog. But as our readership grows, we hope to become like the community square or coffee shop where people meet to learn of and discuss the issues of the day, in real time.
The future form and function of traditional media companies has been the topic of much debate. Old media companies, which rely on a printed product for their revenue stream, are saddled with high overhead of buildings, printing presses and large staffs; their declining print readership and ad revenue cannot support those “old” expenses.
PBN: What type of structure do you have at Newport Now, in terms of paid staff members, facilities and so on?
TUNGETT: Currently, Newport Now is staffed by three experienced, part-time paid contributors, who are compensated on a per-post rate comparable to other online ventures. In terms of facilities, we all work remotely. We’ve even had a post or two written in true Newport fashion – from the water.
PBN: What has been the response so far since you launched the site, particularly since it coincided with the Newport Daily News’ decision to put its content behind a paywall?
TUNGETT: The site has been received extremely well. I think people have really been craving an online source for local news. This is a dynamic community featuring world-class attractions, a defense industry that’s one of the driving forces in the state’s economy and a vibrant event economy. Free online news will bolster that dynamic.
While it would certainly make for some good journalistic fodder had we launched in response to the Newport Daily News’ paywall decision, the truth of the matter is we had been working on the concept, and on the site for months before their marketing shift.
One of my philosophies is that news, while it is a commodity, is also a necessity. We believe in the democratization of the news and the importance of its dissemination as a vital part of our civic tradition. To that end, we won't hesitate to reference other news organizations' work, or point out a good editorial when we see it. Rather than retreat behind walls, we believe in throwing open the gates to public discourse.
While Newport Now’s free online access fundamentally differs from that of the local daily paper, I know that we are both committed to reporting on community issues to the best of our ability. We simply have a different vehicle with a different financial model to gain readers.
PBN: So do you consider yourself direct competitors with the Newport Daily News?
TUNGETT: We’re just offering people a new method for getting news. For example, we’ve been very aggressive in utilizing social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook to not only keep up with our readers, but to report on news, as well. During the Newport Folk Festival, for example, we went as far as setting up a dedicated Twitter stream for mobile reports throughout the day. That day, we did everything from reporting on traffic conditions on the way to the venue and the latest weather conditions as rain threatened to move in to putting up a photo stream of performing acts. •