Full text of remarks at Hall of Fame induction

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Dwayne Yancey delivers remarks at induction ceremony. Photo by Michael Simon Photography.

Here what I had to say when I was inducted into the Virginia Communications Hall of Fame on March 29, 2018:

Thank you. Thank you to a lot of you.

The very first newspaper I worked for had a circulation of precisely one – my grandmother.

I was 11 years old.

Every morning that summer, I got up and wrote her a personalized newspaper – and then delivered it that afternoon.

It consisted entirely of baseball scores.

Fake baseball scores.

I invented my own baseball league and everyday wrote up little sports stories about how the teams were doing, some of which were quite good – the teams, that is, not necessarily the stories.

So I suppose you can say that I invented both fantasy sports leagues – and, perhaps, fake news.

Now that’s maybe an endearing little story that made some of you smile, but, in all seriousness, I worry that the last newspaper I work for will also have a circulation of just one.

Very early in my career, I attended a conference here on the VCU campus. The topic was something like the future of newspapers. The main takeaway that day was that we’d probably be OK, because there would always be 12-year-old boys around to deliver the newspaper. Or, because we were starting to live in an enlightened age, some allowed that there might even be 12-year-old girls who could deliver the newspaper, too.

Of course, what no one knew back then was that someday there would be this thing called the Internet, and that it would eat away at newspaper circulation – and, more importantly, newspaper advertising – like a swarm of termites gnawing at the very foundations of our industry. And perhaps even journalism itself.

At the very time we need independent journalism more than ever.

I am deeply humbled by this honor you have bestowed upon me, because I’m not entirely sure what I’ve done to deserve this. I’m pretty sure it’s not for those fake baseball scores. But I can tell you who does deserve this honor, and I hope someday soon you will be inducting that person into your Hall of Fame – and that is whoever can devise a new business model that will keep journalism alive and prospering.

Thank you.

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Were we the first to put journalists in coffeeshops?

Cathy Benson of The Botetourt View sets up shop at the Mill Mountain Coffee & Tea in Daleville, Virginia.

Cathy Benson of The Botetourt View sets up shop at the Mill Mountain Coffee & Tea in Daleville, Virginia.

Over the years, I’ve seen chatter in the industry from time to time about the idea of stationing journalists in coffee shops.

David Cohn, aka “digidave,” wrote about this concept in this 2009 blog post which envisions a newspaper that operates a coffee shop. The idea is to take journalists out from behind their downtown fortress and put them out among the people.

The Huffingon Post also reported in 2009 about a small Czech newspaper that was operating out of a coffee shop.

The Asbury Park Press got some buzz from American Journalism Review in 2010 when its Freehold hyperlocal site stationed its community reporter in a coffee shop.

I’m surprised, though, that no one has written about The Roanoke Times — whose journalists-in-coffee shops business model predates all those above.

In 2008, we closed a money-losing community news tab and in its place created three new community news publications — each with a strong web presence. Each was in outlying growth area — The Botetourt View in Botetourt County, So Salem in Salem, SWoCo in Southwest Roanoke County. And a key part of the business model was that the the community journalists for each of them would not be working out of the main newspaper building in downtown Roanoke, but would be out in the community.

Every day.

How “out in the community”?

Well, from day one, we have advertised that the community journalists hold office hours — in a coffee shop. Each Wednesday morning, the community journalist in each publication sets up shop in the Mill Mountain Coffee & Tea location in their respective zones. Sometimes people come to see them to offer stories, sometimes they don’t. But when they don’t, well, that’s where the journalists work. We don’t need a bricks-and-mortar building, just a laptop and wi-fi.

We’ve found the idea to be very successful, especially in Botetourt County. On some Wednesdays, community journalist Cathy Benson of The Botetourt View has a line of people waiting to see her at her coffeeshop bureau.

In fact, she’s found the concept so useful that she now holds regular office hours at other public locations on other days around the county, making her a true mobile journalist.

I remain surprised other papers haven’t embraced this concept, because it does two things at once — it puts journalists in closer contact with their community and . . . it saves money. Who needs bricks-and-mortar anymore?

Why you should cover homecomings and proms

The cover of our Sept. 27 edition of So Salem, our hyperlocal publication for Salem, Virginia.

The cover of our Sept. 27 edition of So Salem, our hyperlocal publication for Salem, Virginia.

One of the signature things we do with our community publications in Roanoke is cover high school homecomings and proms.

Our target audience isn’t the kids; it’s their moms. Our community publications focus very tightly on women with kids in the home — i.e., soccer moms. That means lots of schools coverage, lots of coverage of youth sports, from high schools down to rec leagues, and yes, it means we send photographers to high school homecomings and proms.

We have a “paparazzi” photo crew — a freelance operation — that shows up with an actual red carpet, and a backdrop with our logo. Over the years, these have become so popular that now, the schools often call us to schedule us before we get around to contacting them.

Better yet, these are some of our biggest traffic-drivers of the year online.

Here’s some examples of that coverage.

Here's the Sept. 27 cover of SWoCo, our hyperlocal publication for Southwest Roanoke County, Virginia.

Here’s the Sept. 27 cover of SWoCo, our hyperlocal publication for Southwest Roanoke County, Virginia.

 Here's what the inside looks like. Prom coverage looks just the same, only with fancier dresses.

Here’s what the inside looks like. Prom coverage looks just the same, only with fancier dresses.

Yes, we always do at least four pages worth of coverage. More if we can. With still more online.

Yes, we always do at least four pages worth of coverage. More if we can. With still more online.

A new species of hyperlocal or community journalism

The cover of The Botetourt View, our community news publication for Botetourt County, Virginia. We almost always feature kids on the cover.

The cover of The Botetourt View, our community news publication for Botetourt County, Virginia. We almost always feature kids on the cover.

I am convinced that here in Roanoke we have evolved a new community journalism. Our community news products may superficially look like colorful version of a traditional community news tab — but they are really web-first products that rely on a robust social media presence.

Recently a colleague went to a conference where digital products was on the agenda. I looked at the description and told him I should be the one presenting. In jest, I gave him this promotion, although as I look at it, it’s dead-on. I’m really surprised other media companies haven’t tried to copy what we’re doing.

• Do you face competition from suburban weeklies?
We can show how to compete against them and beat them at their own game.

• Is your existing community news product underperforming?

We can show you how we took a money-losing product and turned it into not one but three different money-makers.

• Do your advertisers want to reach women with children in the home?
We can show you how we’ve created an audience that isn’t otherwise engaged with a daily newspaper.


• Do you want more coverage of high school sports but can’t afford it?

We can show you how we’ve created a guerrilla army of people who now send us hundreds of photos each week for dirt cheap, or sometimes even free.

• Do you want to know how you can use online to make people want your print edition even more, instead of less?
We can show you how we now generate more than 1 million pageviews per year, and at the same time increased the demand for print.

So Salem, our community news publication for Salem, Virginia. Notice the sticky note -- advertisers love these.

So Salem, our community news publication for Salem, Virginia. Notice the sticky note — advertisers love these.

The cover of SWoCo, our community news publication for Southwest Roanoke County, Virginia. Yes, we cover rec sports!

The cover of SWoCo, our community news publication for Southwest Roanoke County, Virginia. Yes, we cover rec sports!