Headlines of newspapers shuttering their doors and cutting staff haven’t deterred Neal Robbins from publishing his recently launched newspaper, the North State Journal (nsjonline.com).
Before he became a publisher, Robbins, 36, served as a legislative liaison for the state’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources in Raleigh; however, living in a rural town outside of the capital, Robbins realized there was a big disconnect in news coverage and consumption between people living in big cities versus the smaller towns.
“I felt like people weren’t getting the whole story,” he said. “In Raleigh, everyone knew what I knew, but people at home didn’t know. People were always coming to me for news.”
Although working in government allowed Robbins to make a difference in his community, he felt like he could make a greater impact running a newspaper. So, in January 2015, Robbins left his job at the DENR and began to plan the first statewide newspaper in North Carolina.
“I left my private law practice to move to government because private practice let me affect one person at a time and government let me impact large groups,” he said. “North State Journal will affect every community in North Carolina.”
To get started, Robbins sought out advice from other publishers and people in the newspaper industry and began developing relationships with community businesses.
With office space he described as an underground basement, Robbins hired former DENR’s chief spokesman Drew Elliot as opinion editor, and Donna King, a former reporter for Reuters, as news editor. Together, they launched a website called Jones & Blount, covering political and capital news. Robbins later added a features editor and a sport editor to round out the editorial staff.
Jones & Blount became wildly popular, but launching the website reinforced for Robbins why having a print product was so important. “There’s not enough dollars in clicks,” he said.
With this information, Robbins began pre-selling print and digital subscriptions and gathering advertisers. A yearly print subscription to the Journal will cost $200 and $150 for digital. Currently, the newspaper only offers three ad packages to provide an uncomplicated sales process for advertisers.
The Journal prints Tuesday through Friday and on Sunday because Mondays proved to rake in more online traffic on Jones & Blount, which has now folded into the Journal.
By this time next year, Robbins hopes to celebrate the paper’s first calendar year, prepare to launch a Saturday product and to have at least one day off.
“(Launching a newspaper) hasn’t been tougher than I expected,” he said. “If you launch a brand new newspaper in 2016, you better expect to work hard. It has been a grind to get to where we are, but a worthwhile endeavor.”