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The year flew by in a blink.
We didn’t have many goals for 2023, other than steady paid subscriber growth which we achieved, more than doubling paid subscriptions this year.
When we started the Observer back in 2021, we had the mentality of that old saying, “If you build it, they will come.” Okay, perhaps the saying is not that old since it seems like we recently rewatched the 1989 movie, Field of Dreams starring Kevin Costner.
As such, we have not put a ton of effort into our own advertising or selling ads, choosing to let our articles and content do the talking for us in selling subscriptions.
When we started, I also didn’t foresee the amount of my involvement in the Observer. I certainly did not foresee myself writing articles.
It happened naturally with 2022’s primary election season. As a former candidate and a former paid campaign staffer for other candidates, I knew the detailed workings of elections and found it easy, if not exciting to write about each election event.
From a journalist’s perspective, elections are very much like sports. You have your players (candidates), your teams (political parties), sponsors (monetary contributors) and matchups (debates). The grand tournament is election night. And once elected? Our players make it to the “All Stars” where many of them join governing bodies to create an entirely different team.
As deadlines for various filings approach, I become giddy to make document requests or perform lookups on the state database to see who raked in more money and who spent what where.
Yes, elections can be loathsome, especially top-ticket state races or federal races that are so hyperbolic and decisive that I tune them out for my mental health.
Yet, local races are exciting because they are here at home. We pay attention to them because it matters who we elect to govern ourselves.
With 2024’s primary elections on the immediate horizon, I hope our local readers turn to us for local election coverage. Election day is March 5.
At look back at our numbers for 2023
In 2022, our single busiest day of the year we had almost 3,500 readers crack open the Observer. In 2023, our new record is now shy of 10,000 readers (9,874 specifically) in a single day.
This year we had over half a million visits to the site: 517,033, specifically. The Observer has officially become a record for even me as the most visited site I have ever administrated.
June was our busiest month for readers with nearly 40,000 visiting our site, while our busiest single week was in late April with almost 16,000 readers hopping on to read our election coverage.
Our top local story for the year was Bass Pro shutting down its Midway operations, coming in at just over 9,000 views in a single weekend. Our second top story was the infamous article on the FOIA violations by the Mountain Home School Board with nearly 7,000 views on the day the story broke, followed by the investigation into the new RV Park at Mallard Point with 4,500 views.
Our top overall content ended up being a couple of syndicated articles from Ramsey Solutions on the topic of student loans with nearly 20,000 views each.
It’s hard to say how an average local article will perform. What we think will “go crazy” or viral doesn’t do much, while other articles we may not have spent a lot of time on blow up out of nowhere.
On Facebook, we reached 341,428 accounts this past year and we have accumulated 6,275 followers. We experimented with placing our content on X (formerly Twitter) but not enough of the community is on X to warrant continuing to spend time on this platform. We are now going to turn our focus to Instagram.
For me, the highlight this year was becoming a full media member of the Arkansas Press Association (APA). The board recognized us as a member of the media after a unanimous vote and informed us that we were the first digital-only outlet to be a member.
Not long after, the APA invited Chris Fulton, our sole classically-trained journalist, to speak on a panel about FOIA at their annual convention in Little Rock.
Last year we were not allowed to participate in submitting for awards for our work in journalism because of our previous status as an Associate Member. We are looking forward to submitting our articles in this year’s contest and competing with larger publications around the state.
The first quarter of next year is going to see a lot of changes to the Observer.
As many of our loyal readers likely picked up on, I’ve been working “outside” the home in a full-time capacity as a communications professional specializing in web design and development.
Back in November, I received the news I was to be laid off by Dec. 15. Not ideal timing given that I am now a little over six months pregnant! While I’ll be looking for employment in my field over the course of next year, I’m also going to focus on helping Chris with revenue generation for the Observer, streamlining operations, and giving the newsroom an extra boost as this year’s election cycle starts to ramp up.
This means we are getting serious about advertisement sales and will be leaning into that come January. With increased revenue comes improvements to the reading experience and a renewed dedication to our mission which hasn’t changed since we launched:
“The Observer focuses on providing quality, neutral, and locally focused news to the great people of Mountain Home and the surrounding area.”
We are kicking off our holiday season by modifying our publishing schedule this week and next week. We will not publish an edition for Thursday, Dec. 21, Friday, Dec. 22, Monday, Dec. 25, and Tuesday, Dec. 26. Editions will resume on Dec. 27.
There will be no edition on New Year’s Day, Jan. 1.
Additionally, our offices will be closed from Dec. 20 – Jan. 1 to allow us to spend time with our family. We hope that our readers will also unplug from the news (especially the doom and gloom variety the TV spouts) and relax this holiday season.
Merry Christmas, Mountain Home, and a Happy New Year!