What’s Up Prince William is an online news site serving Prince William County in northern Virginia. In the Q&A below, we talked with editor Stephanie Carter about how the site got started, finding the balance between good news and bad in coverage and where they are headed as a hyper-local news source.
Tell me a little bit about how What’s Up Prince William began? Was there a need in your community that you were addressing by launching the site?
What’s Up Prince William started after many conversations between the publisher and I about what was missing from the community, and what we could do to give back. We realized that a lot of news coverage in the Prince William County area was modeled after the “if it bleeds, it ledes” concept, and between crime news and political coverage, a lot of the “good news” in the area was being left out. We saw all of these great stories from non-profits and individuals making a difference, and realized we could be a voice for the community in that way, while filling a niche in news.
When did the site first go live and what has the response from the community been like since launching?
The site went live on November 1, 2015 – so we just celebrated our two-year anniversary. The response has been overwhelmingly positive. We’ve seen huge growth in our readership and presence in the community over the past two years, and it gets better every day. People have told us they really appreciate having an outlet that gives them the “good news” happening in Prince William.
What’s it like trying to find the balance between “good news” and “bad news” in your coverage for the site?
We don’t cover politics and crime, so that makes it pretty easy to avoid most “bad news.” “Bad news” to us is traffic, roadwork alerts,or some community-related issues taking place in Prince William, like the recent push to build a new Potomac Nationals stadium.
I noticed that on your website you have a “Submit a Story” section. What has been the response to this from your readers? Have you got some pieces from them that have been used on the site?
The “Submit a Story” section has been very helpful for us – especially in the beginning when we were just starting out, and we hadn’t built up the relationships with non-profits and groups that we know have, which has given us sort of an organic pipeline of information for our stories. One of the best successes from the section has been Lauren Puryear from For the Love of Others. Puryear had a good 30,000 people by her 30th birthday, all using “extreme couponing”. She submitted her story to us in the section, and we brought her in to tell her story. Larger outlets saw Puryear’s story on our site and she was then featured on The Ellen Show, the Steve Harvey Show, and countless others. Puryear ended up exceeding her goal, feeding more than 32,000 people by her 30th birthday.
We decided to roll out the idea because our focus is on the community and the people living in it. Being an online publication we try to be everywhere, but in reality we can’t be, so by having other people share their stories so we can follow up with them, it helps us a great deal.
What value do you see in each community—whether it be a county, town, or other smaller area—having its own hyper-local news source?
I see a lot of value in having local news sources like What’s Up Prince William being present in communities. There are the big national and state outlets that could in theory cover the local news stories, but with shrinking staffs, journalists expected to do more and more with less and less, and just the sheer volume of stories to cover, it’s not really possible to do that well on a consistent basis in a large publication. Local news sources are accessible to people in the places they live, and they can take a look at sites like ours and see what’s going on specific to their day-to-day lives, without having to weed through stories that may not be as applicable to them in a direct sense.
Local news sources are also more approachable. We get pitched stories by people in the community all the time that have never done so before – whether they’re an individual seeing something important going on, or someone in an organization that’s just dipping their toe into marketing and media and needs to get the word out there about what they do. We live in the community where we write, and we’ve been able to build relationships in the community with our readers, and that’s another aspect of local news sources I feel has value.
Why did you want to become a member of the VPA?
The Virginia Press Association is a well-known and respected organization within the news industry, and we’ve been following it for quite some time. For us, being a part of the VPA allows us to join a group of other Virginia publications, which serves as sort of a support network, and gives us access to training and resources we really feel we need to grow to the next level. We feel it also helps us to add further credibility to our publication and our mission to bring the “good news” to readers in Prince William County.
Where would you like to see What’s Up Prince William in three years?
That’s a conversation we’re having right now, honestly. We had no idea that we’d grow so quickly over the past two years, and a lot of things we learned through trial and error along the way. I would love to see our staff grow, and to cover even more of the community’s stories than we already are over the next three years. I’m not completely sure about expanding our coverage area, so I don’t want to commit on that one way or another, but we want to grow our readership and see what the community needs from us as a news source.