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Examiner Launches New Digital Platform: How We Developed Examiner 2.0 in Two Head-Spinning Months

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Examiner MediaIt would have been impossible and absurd last year to forecast that Examiner Media, having just survived a life-threatening storm, would soon be picked to help pioneer the future of local news on a global stage. Nevertheless, here we stand today. 

But before I get to that, let me start with a little context and background: In March 2020, with our world suffocated by the pandemic’s early stranglehold, I assigned myself the unpleasant task of dismantling a company I started from scratch more than a dozen years earlier. 

I let go most of the staff, on an uncertain mission to rebuild an already fractured business that was practically broken by COVID’s wrath. 

Long story short: our loyal audience rallied to our cause, as hundreds of readers submitted donations (and priceless notes of encouragement) totaling more than $30,000 to inject us with new life. 

Our skeleton staff worked tirelessly to deliver you the same quality community journalism you came to expect since 2007. Thanks to their efforts, your support, advertiser loyalty and a little help from funding opportunities that I applied for and received from Google, Facebook and the feds, we regained our footing by last summer.

But as work life stabilized, I felt the future tugging. It struck me that the new normal we’d created – essentially a revised, leaner way of doing what we did before – would allow us to compete in the media marathon respectably and long-term but not necessarily without gasping for the occasional breath in the process. I was (and am) immensely proud of the print and web publications we produce but wondered what else we could do to complement those efforts, from a business and a journalistic standpoint.

Reinvention seemed important yet how to evolve was unclear. 

Serendipity Delivers  

Generally speaking, I’ve embraced the idea of Examiner Media getting back to basics, utilizing old fashioned, uncool, proven principles, largely ignoring each trendy industry pivot of the past 13-plus years. However, unlike in the past, I saw flickering flashes of light amidst the digital business darkness. For the first time, I could envision an approximate way we’d be able to build a sturdy, sustainable business in digital media to augment our still primary print publishing efforts. 

The ruminating was all a bit amorphous and vague but given our successful digital fundraising efforts last spring, my gut told me opportunity existed in reader revenue that didn’t exist in online advertising. Readers were beginning to understand they needed to chip in if they wanted their community to avoid becoming the latest news desert. 

As attacks on journalists, science and facts persisted, people gained a heightened appreciation for the importance of professionally-reported, fact-checked information while they also learned more about the metastasizing financial cancer killing or wounding thousands of venerable newspapers across the country and the world over the past 15 or so years. 

Still, as a small business, our bandwidth was limited and developing a new online infrastructure in a fresh media space would be challenging. 

Then one mid-April day, when digging through a mountain of e-mails, my eyes somehow caught a glimpse of an industry newsletter I might normally ignore.   

Substack Local

“Today, we’re announcing Substack Local, a $1,000,000 initiative to foster and develop the local news ecosystem by helping independent writers build local news publications based on the subscription model,” the California-based company stated in the e-mail. 

Substack has been a big story in media news in recent years, providing writers with a new way to make a living by utilizing the site. It’s essentially an online platform that facilitates publishing, payment, design and analytic services for independent authors all in one tidy location. 

Anyway, the newly unveiled Substack Local opportunity was clearly designed primarily for individual journalists seeking a new career path, not a company. But, on a lark, I decided to apply on behalf of Examiner Media. I spent a long evening giving the application my all, essentially as a creative exercise, and moved on, half assuming the unorthodox application would not just be rejected but also discarded as a nonstarter by the expert panel of independent judges.

Then, in late May, with the application no longer on my radar screen, I received an e-mail: “we’re awarding you a position in the Substack Local program.”

Wow. Now what? I later learned the 12 winners spanned six continents, dotting every corner of the world, with journalists from Romania to Nigeria to Brazil to the United Kingdom to Taiwan to Australia to Kentucky to little old us, right here in New York’s Hudson Valley. We were one of just six U.S. selections among the massive worldwide application pool.

Yet it wasn’t a slam dunk. I was plenty busy and happy with family and work responsibilities and I didn’t know if absorbing a giant new project was prudent, even while recognizing the magnitude of the opportunity. 

All In

Making matters dicier, Substack needed an answer essentially right away. That meant I had to know whether my already overworked digital colleagues were on board for an opportunity they knew nothing about. And I was compelled to ascertain whether they were “all in” before I had even decided if I was prepared to commit myself. 

After experiencing some utterly understandable and unwelcome whiplash from my seemingly out-of-left-field question, Examiner Digital Editor Anna Young and Webmaster Dean Pacchiana expressed a desire to proceed as project leaders. I then decided to pull the trigger and the three of us were off to the races, spending the past month-plus cooking up plans for the plating of our new journalistic feast. 

Thanks to the promise of a first-year cash advance from the Substack Local program, we’ve been busy soliciting resumes and hiring journalists. 

In fact, our new Substack publication is only half of the new digital equation. With the addition of extra staff, we’ll be able to enhance our daily online community coverage on our website and offer you the opportunity to purchase members-only access to all of our bonus content, including a new crossword puzzle option from world-renowned puzzle master Myles Mellor.

We’re also expanding our use of digital photo galleries. Speaking of photographs, you’ll soon be able to purchase our images online. And with more and more live events being scheduled, our team is developing an interactive Happenings calendar for our website to unveil in the weeks ahead. Visit theexaminernews.com to review membership options.

Subscribe Today

As for our new Substack initiative, you can subscribe at theexaminernews.substack.com. The publication will be delivered straight to your inbox, in the form of an e-mail newsletter. 

We intend to be the Hudson Valley’s most innovative, vibrant place for in-depth local news and opinion journalism from our award-winning team of reporters, as our Substack one-line elevator pitch declares. While our existing publications thoroughly explore the who, the what, the where and the when, on Substack we’ll go deeper into the why and the how. 

Our Substack reporters will often shed the third-person masks and pen their pieces in the first-person, cultivating a more intimate relationship between reader and writer. In a richer, more modern way, we’ll be reporting on Westchester and Putnam’s local news, local sports, local food and local events while also showcasing the work of the best local writers. 

While there’s a free subscription option, only paid members receive a key to unlock all of our written word journalism, community forums and podcasting audio content. 

Whether it’s taking a deep dive into the local legal marijuana dispensary debate or exploring the mental health challenges facing today’s social media-obsessed teens, we’ll be probing further than ever into region’s long list of thorny issues. 

New York Times bestselling author Jeff Pearlman, a nationally acclaimed sportswriter, will be writing a piece for us this week on the bonkers youth sports culture of today compared to what he experienced growing up locally in Mahopac. With Erin Maher on life as a millennial, Ani Greenidge on diversity and pop culture, Nancy Sorbella on local events, Morris Gut on area dining, Anna Young on mental health, Andrew Vitelli on pizza (yes, really) and his conservative politics, student journalist Sophia Spiegel on teens, Amy Oringel on the region “then and now,” Rob DiAntonio on the sports photojournalism beat and our new full-time reporter Bailey Hosfelt on LGBTQ+ issues and climate change, we’ve assembled an all-star team of talent with plans to further deepen the bench. 

And for you Shannon Becker fans out there, you’re going to love the incredible profile James Schapiro prepared for our Substack subscribers next week about the mind-bogglingly dominant Notre Dame-bound, Section 1 softball hurler.  

But the most exciting aspect of the project for the dozen Substack Local winners, in my view, is knowing that if we are successful, we’ll have helped sketch a new blueprint for the industry to follow. In order to achieve that success, we’ll need your support. 

With the paid option costing you just $6 per month, or only $50 for the year (before early bird discounts), please consider subscribing through the following link today and being a Day One part of something special: theexaminernews.substack.com. (There’s even a free subscription option for readers facing financial hardship as well as an Examiner Ambassador program for our fans to help fund gift subscriptions for less fortunate fellow readers.)

Our Substack contains three sections — The Examiner News, our eponymously named newsy newsletter; Voices, our columnist driven opinion-y newsletter; and Happenings, our events/recreation newsletter. You can pick one, two or all three sections to receive with the total cost remaining the same regardless. 

If you want to purchase year-long access to all of our paid content on both Substack and our website, you’ll receive a half-off discount code when subscribing on either platform, lowering the annual (non-early bird) total to just $75 for both instead of $100. 

All of those granular details aside, here’s the thing: when scooting around Pleasantville and Mount Kisco in my Honda Accord on Sept. 11, 2007, distributing debut print newspaper copies of The Examiner around a pair of downtowns with my ink-stained hands, today’s news (and general media technology) would have been impossible for me to conjure or conceive. However, the world changes and the bottom line is we’ll be working hard to ensure your paid subscription is money well spent and worthy of your precious time – a meaningful investment in not just us but in local community journalism more broadly.


Adam Stone, Publisher of Examiner Media

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