ARLnow and its sister sites celebrated another year of hard work, journalistic achievements and client service at our holiday party Monday night.
One change: the venue. Rather than eating and drinking at a local restaurant, as usual, we had beer, wine, soda and pizza in the common area of our coworking space in Ballston. It’s one example of the belt tightening underway over the past couple of months, amid a downturn in the economy and among media companies in particular.
Round after round of layoffs have been announced at U.S. media companies this fall, including at CNN, Buzzfeed, Tysons-based newspaper chain Gannett, and email newsletter company Morning Brew. The Washington Post is set to undergo more layoffs early next year, its publisher announced today, while Rosslyn-based tech publication Protocol shuttered last month.
ARLnow and our sister sites are no exception to the pain felt among advertising-supported news outlets. After a torrid start to the year, which brought about plans for additional hiring, our company’s revenue is down in the quarter to date.
We started to see the slowdown, as did other media companies, in July. October and November were particularly bad months. The good news is that we’ve seen a pronounced recovery in December.
That does not mean we’re out of the woods by any means, however. Many are predicting a recession in 2023, though projections for how deep and prolonged it will be vary to a significant degree.
Despite the economic challenges, we have committed to our nine full-time employees that no layoffs are planned and we will do whatever is needed to avoid them. Instead, we have cut back on some technology expenses, non-essential spending and our freelance budget.
You can also expect to see ALXnow editor Vernon Miles helping out with ARLnow, to offset some of the freelance cuts.
We are fortunate to be operating in a market that is bolstered economically by federal spending and to have a loyal adverter base and a growing roster of paid members. Other local news outlets are not as lucky.
Still, we can use your support. If we can add 200 new ARLnow Press Club members (less than 0.1% of our monthly readership) between now and the end of the year we should be able to keep ARLnow’s freelance budget at current levels. If you’d like to support our reporting while getting an early look at the next day’s news, please consider subscribing.
The media business is always evolving, but now seems like a particularly volatile time. In the interest of transparency, we wanted to discuss some other factors that are affecting our business now and into the future.
Artificial intelligence and automation
We have spent much of the past year working on no-code automations that allow our editorial and business teams to operate more efficiently. For instance, most social media posts are now automated and we can publish events, announcements and other user-submitted content with a single click.
ARLnow’s parent company, Local News Now, is proud to announce three new full-time hires.
These hires, two of which are for newly-created positions, are made possible by a strong recovery in LNN’s advertising business since the depths of the pandemic-induced recession. We were further emboldened to add to our team, despite uncertainty about the economy and the pandemic, by our ARLnow Patreon community and the support provided by readers.
LNN publishes ARLnow, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in January, as well as ALXnow, Tysons Reporter and Reston Now. We also provide sales and technical services to PoPville.
The new hires will allow us to improve the breadth and depth of our local journalism, while also strengthening our increasingly-popular sponsored content offerings.
Angela Woolsey is joining us as the new Tysons Reporter editor, replacing Catherine Douglas Moran, who is now an Associate Editor at Industry Dive. Angela was formerly a general assignment reporter for the Fairfax County Times.
Jo DeVoe is joining us as a reporter and copy editor for ARLnow and Tysons Reporter. She joins us from Hearst newspapers in Connecticut, including the Greenwich Time, where she primarily reported on education.
Carson Kohler will be joining the team on Nov. 2 as our new Content Marketing Manager, helping advertising clients maximize their sponsored content investment with us and better engage our readers. She is currently a writer with The Penny Hoarder.
Additionally, Scott Fields will be joining us as a part-time contributor, providing coverage for both our Arlington and our Fairfax County sites.
Thank you to our Northern Virginia and D.C. communities for your support and readership. We look forward to continuing to find ways to better serve you.
At least for now, ARLnow has weathered the storm caused by the coronavirus pandemic, and we’ve done it with your help.
Back in March and April, things were looking bleak. For a time, advertising sales were down over 40% and new sales had nearly stopped. We were staring into a void of financial losses and a worsening economic picture. But then things started going right.
Several hundred people joined our Patreon page. Others sent one-time donations via Paypal. Almost all of our ongoing advertisers stuck with us. And eventually, the financial outlook improved to the point where today we can say: we’re out of imminent danger.
Thanks to the support of our readers and advertisers, we have been able to retain our full-time staff and keep reporting, uninterrupted. We’re running pretty lean at the moment, and tired from months of a very busy news cycle, but we’re here.
The Patreon campaign was intended to be a temporary measure, and given that we’re in decent shape we are pausing billing for our members through at least September. As there is a very real risk of a second wave of infection hitting the region in the fall, we’d appreciate if those who joined can stay on until we know the coast is clear. We’ll continue to defer billing until a need returns, at which point we would let you know that the Patreon is being turned back on.
In the meantime, we’d encourage those seeking to donate to worthy local causes to consider AFAC, A-SPAN, Arlington Thrive, the Arlington Community Foundation and other local nonprofits.
The pandemic has hit the media business, particularly local news, very hard, and we’re incredibly grateful to the Arlington community for your readership and support. It didn’t seem like the right time to brag about it, but at the height of the crisis we reached 2.5 million monthly pageviews, a new record and more than 1 million views over the record we set in February.
So thank you, Arlington. We look forward to continuing to serve the community for years to come.
– The ARLnow Team
Local News Now is the company behind the site you’re reading. We aren’t usually very visible or vocal, preferring to let the reporting of our Northern Virginia local news brands — ARLnow, ALXnow, Tysons Reporter, Reston Now — speak for itself.
LNN does not endorse candidates nor publish editorials. But today we would like to make the following statement, the first of its kind in our company’s 10 year history.
Black lives matter.
We are far from the first company to state this incontrovertible fact, but it bears repeating. Black lives matter and the threat from systemic racism and racial injustice needs to be addressed by urgent policy reforms and an honest ongoing discussion.
To that end, our sites will continue our local reporting on matters related to inequitable policies, misconduct by those in authority, and the concerns of marginalized communities. We will keep reporting without fear or favor, with a facts-first approach that illuminates and informs.
We believe that impartiality can coexist in journalism with deeply held principles. For instance, belief in free speech, our democratic system, and the importance of small business is widely held among U.S.-based local news publications, including ours. We do not try to “balance” election stories by saying that some do not believe in democracy and fair elections. It’s just a given that elections are a positive part of our society.
Likewise, we also believe that Black lives matter and believe in LGBTQ equality, and do not feel the need to provide a counterpoint to either in our reporting. The worth of a human life and equal treatment under a law are objectively positive things. There’s no debate, no second side that needs to be heard in order to be impartial.
We recognize that there has been room to evolve our approach to local news over the years. More about some of the changes we have implemented can be found here. We will continue to evaluate our reporting and approach to covering the community as we move forward.
Today is Juneteenth, which celebrates the emancipation of remaining enslaved persons at the end of the Civil War. We are giving our employees — who have tirelessly covered the pandemic and protests over the past few months — the afternoon off as a time of reflection. We hope that our readers also use this opportunity to reflect on the challenge of achieving racial justice in this country, including here at home.
Special County Board Meeting Planned — On Thursday at 6 p.m., the Arlington County Board “will hold a special meeting for a listening session on racial justice, systemic racism and policing. The County Board special meeting will be conducted using electronic means.” [Arlington County]
County Commissions Still Mostly Inactive — “Faced with a growing rebellion over the lack of meetings by Arlington government advisory panels, County Board members and top staff on June 13 offered (slightly defensive) apologies – but not much of a roadmap forward. Board members were responding to a June 9 letter sent to them by 25 chairs of advisory groups, complaining that the local government has been lagging in re-starting meetings that largely have been on hold since the COVID-19 pandemic struck in March.” [InsideNova]
Pandemic Affects College Plans — From a 60 Minutes segment on Sunday: “The struggle extends to those already in college who are laboring to pay tuition and are weighed down by debt like 20-year-old Katherine Trejo of Arlington, Virginia. The daughter of a single mom from Bolivia, Katherine was supposed to graduate from George Mason next year. She is the first person in her family to attend college.” [CBS News]
Summer School Registration Underway — “Registration for distance learning secondary summer school is underway. Elementary students who qualify to participate in the Elementary Summer Learning Program will automatically be registered by APS.” [Arlington Public Schools]
Guilty Plea in Case Involving Arlington Company — “A former Arlington business executive pleaded guilty today to embezzling nearly $8 million that was intended to settle claims by children who alleged they were victims of medical malpractice. According to court documents, Joseph E. Gargan, 59, of Round Hill, was the Chief Executive Office of the Pension Company, Inc., an Arlington business that would execute settlement agreements entered into between civil litigants.” [Dept. of Justice]
ARLnow Operating Remotely — Since the first confirmed local coronavirus case in March, ARLnow’s employees have been working from home. We plan to continue working remotely until 2021, and may continue to have most employees work remotely most of the time after that. [Washingtonian]
Months of wall-to-wall coverage of Amazon’s plans to come to Crystal City and Pentagon City were recognized last night by the D.C. Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.
Airey, Vernon Miles, Kalina Newman, Alex Koma were all named winners of the 2019 Dateline Award for online business reporting, citing ARLnow’s “hyperlocal coverage of Amazon.”
Airey, who left ARLnow in November and currently works as a freelance journalist, was also a finalist in two other categories; online non-breaking news and best reporting:
- Julia Airey, Arlington Now: Inside the Fight over Access to Criminal Case Documents in Arlington
- Julia Airey, The DCist and The DC Line: D.C. emergency response coverage
“These awards recognize some of the best journalism being done in the Washington, D.C., region by some of the best reporters around,” SPJ DC President Randy Showstack said on the organization’s website. “SPJ DC applauds these journalists for their outstanding efforts to shine a light on issues that the public needs to be aware of.”
On March 25, the owner of ARLnow’s parent company — which also owns ALXnow, Tysons Reporter and Reston Now — sent an email to the manager of our local bank branch.
“My understanding is that banks will be offering some form of SBA loan for payroll support, with a provision for the payroll costs to be forgiven after a few months,” said the email, sent two days before the CARES Act was signed into law. “That is something we both very much need and want. Can you put me in line to apply for it when the bill passes and we know what the terms are?”
Four weeks later, all $349 billion of the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program is spoken for and ARLnow’s application is still listed opaquely as “under review” by our bank, PNC.
We’re not alone, millions of small business — including Ben’s Chili Bowl — are facing the same reality. And while the program is likely to be replenished by Congress soon, those left behind still have the uncertainty of not knowing whether we’ll get the loans this time around, and whether it will be too late to save the business as it exists now, even if we eventually do qualify.
Thanks to the loyalty of our long-time advertisers and the generous contributions of our readers, ARLnow will weather this storm in one form or another. But a PPP loan would make a big difference in our ability to retain our workforce and our level of original reporting going forward.
For those interested in the nitty gritty, the following is an account of our experience with PPP. Hopefully it can be instructive for those trying to understand how it worked (and did not work), or cathartic for small business owners in the same boat.
But first, three caveats:
- It’s not unique. Lots of small businesses also were left high and dry.
- It’s just a snapshot. We only applied through one bank, so those who applied through other banks would have different experiences.
- Plenty of businesses did get PPP loans. Clarendon-based media company Axios announced today that it qualified for a $5 million PPP loan. Shake Shack got $10 million, but is giving it back amid a backlash. Tens of thousands of businesses in Virginia, Maryland and D.C. collectively received $16.5 billion. And those that bank at smaller community banks seem to have fared better than those who use big banks.
Friday, April 3
We emailed the person we were told was our main point of contact at PNC’s main Arlington office, on the day that the Small Business Administration was slated to open up its PPP loan processing window.
“It sounds like banks can start lending under the Payroll Protection Program in the CARES Act.” we asked. “How can we move forward with that?”
Our PNC contact responded promptly, letting us know that “like other financial institutions, we are reviewing the additional guidance from the U.S. Treasury and waiting for the final guidelines and details from the Small Business Administration.” This would be the last time we would hear from a human at PNC until a check-in email on April 16, the day the program ran out of money.
Applying with PNC made the most sense for us. We’ve banked there for the past decade as a business, and our owner has banked there personally since he was a teenager in the 1990s. Plus myriad articles on the subject of PPP said that business owners would have the most luck applying with their existing bank, which is more familiar with their financial history.
The fact that we also have a lending relationship with PNC, in the form of a long-standing line of credit, would also help, theoretically.
PNC opened applications on its website Friday night, but did not announce it to customers (at least not to us) via email.
Monday, April 6
Not wanting to wait to hear back, we checked the PNC website, and after clicking around a bit found out that the bank was accepting applications online. Do not try to apply with a branch, the website is the only way to submit an application, it said.
Maybe it’s the lousy weather keeping everyone glued to their phones and computers. Maybe it’s people tiring of the endless stream of national political news. Or maybe there’s just been a lot going on locally.
Whatever the explanation, ARLnow has officially set a new 30-day web traffic record.
From Jan. 14-Feb. 12, a timeframe that includes a federal holiday, ARLnow recorded 1.453 million pageviews, breaking the old record of 1.43 million pageviews, set in 2016. While not a record, ARLnow also served just over 400,000 unique visitors over the past 30 days.
ARLnow’s sister sites also posted strong numbers during that time frame, according to Google Analytics:
- ALXnow, which launched this past fall, exceeded 150,000 pageviews and 55,000 unique visitors for the first time
- Reston Now exceeded 250,000 pageviews and 100,000 unique visitors
- Tysons Reporter exceeded 225,000 pageviews and 100,000 unique visitors
- In total, our owned-and-operated sites served 2.1 million pageviews and 660,000 unique visitors
Our partner site PoPville, meanwhile, recorded 2.26 million pageviews and more than 375,000 unique visitors. ARLnow’s parent company hosts and provides business services to both PoPville and RunWashington.com.
Network-wide, Local News Now sites served 4.4 million pageviews and — for the first time — just over 1 million unique visitors.
ARLnow and our sister and partner sites provide original journalism and other local content to the community thanks to the support of our local advertisers. For more information about growing your business via ARLnow — or our other sites — see our advertising information page.
On Jan. 29, 2010, ARLnow.com launched with an inauspicious post that basically no one except the family and friends of the site’s owner read. It was followed by a post about 2-4 inches of snow in the forecast.
Ten years later, despite major challenges in the local news biz, this site is still around. A quarter million people read it each month. We have a dedicated, full-time team; a newly-formed alumni group; a long list of fantastic advertising clients (thank you for supporting local journalism!); and an office in a Ballston high-rise complete with a mini fridge stocked with Diet Coke and a granola bar drawer.
Yes, we’ve come a long way in the past 10 years. And we’re looking forward to the next 10.
To celebrate, ARLnow is pleased to invite everyone who lives or works in Arlington, or just is a fan of the site, to join us at Bronson Bierhall (4100 Fairfax Drive) on Wednesday, Jan. 29 from 5-7 p.m. for a free happy hour event.
We’ll have local beer flights and a special Arlington cocktail available for purchase, local movers and shakers, and the entire ARLnow team on hand. Meet your neighbors, local notables, and maybe even an ARLnow commenter or two. Also: we’ll have 10th Anniversary cups for the first 100 people to arrive.
Please RSVP via Facebook so we can better estimate a guest count. See you there!
On his last day on the job, we sat down with outgoing ARLnow managing editor Alex Koma to talk about Arlington, Amazon, ARLnow, our new editor Airey, and a bunch of other topics that don’t start with the letter “A.”
Alex is now reporting on real estate development at the Rosslyn-based Washington Business Journal, but you can hear from him on this week’s 26 Square Miles podcast. For more about his new employer, check out last week’s episode with WBJ Editor-in-Chief Doug Fruehling.
Listen below or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher or TuneIn. We used some new recording equipment this go-round, so please forgive the resulting audio glitches — we’ll try to get them ironed out prior to the next episode.
As you might have seen, our managing editor Alex Koma is decamping for the Washington Business Journal. On Tuesday, we’ll toast his accomplishments and you’re invited to join.
Alex’s goodbye party is being held Tuesday, March 12, from 4:30-6:30 p.m. at Ireland’s Four Courts in Courthouse. It will double as a welcome party for ARLnow’s new managing editor, Airey.
Readers are invited to join us in the front bar area of Four Courts — look for the ARLnow sign — for this informal event. (You’re on your own for drinks and food.)
See you then!