Saving Local News

Content by Elise Goldstein

I spoke with editor and co-owner of Door County Pulse, Myles Dannhausen, who was born and raised in Egg Harbor. He spoke about his local, prominent newspaper in a small community and what the unpredictable future might look like for the 25-year-old publication. Dannhausen acts as the editor, reporter, writer and head of the digital side. As your daily reminder to subscribe to your local news outlet, please enjoy this lightly edited and condensed transcript of our Q&A conversation.

There’s been a lot of studies lately saying that reading local news also correlates with stronger civic engagement and knowing how to vote and who’s on your ballot. Do you feel like the Door County Pulse has done its part to get the word out about the upcoming election to its local readers?

We decided in that crisis that everyone needed to know what was going on. People were staying at home, and we’re a rural area — and we’re not in tune to getting information from the internet like that. We made the decision to deliver The Pulse to every mailbox in the entire county. So that’s about 25,000 people. A huge expense, but the idea was this is where you prove your value. When I started there, I was like, ‘Now we’re going into election season,’ and it’s cliche to say it’s the most important election of our lifetime, but I think most people probably feel that way, and because of that decision, we are now delivering election information to literally every single mailbox in the county, which I think is a huge value. If people don’t know who’s on the ballot, if they don’t know what the issues are, if they don’t know who the candidates are, it’s not for lack of trying by us. 

Cave Point in Door County, Wisconsin. Photo by elviskennedy on Creative Commons

Because Door County is such a vacation spot, are most readers also people who have second homes in other places?

There are people who are connected to this place, and we see it in our web traffic, probably 80% of our web traffic comes from people who are outside of the county – and these are people who are tourists looking for information for the next time they come up, second home owners looking for information about what’s happening, and there’s people who moved away and have this heartfelt connection to Door County and even if they haven’t come back for 10 years, they still want to know what’s going on in this place that they care about. There are a lot of people who come up here and love picking up the paper because a lot of people don’t have one in their hometowns anymore.

How does The Pulse sustain revenue?

We told people to support local journalism by buying a subscription. Even if it’s in your mailbox, subscribing helps us to keep doing this. It will be interesting to see if these people will renew when that time comes. 

We lost all of our event revenue this year, which has been difficult. We’re really hopeful that we can get this virus under control because these are things that we plan a year in advance. We really can’t [plan] not knowing what the future looks like.

Can you talk about what’s working with your business model?

It’s always been looking to move things forward, holding people accountable and wanting to have conversations that move the community forward, that solve problems. We’ve always tried to focus ourselves on being a platform for ideas and for addressing issues, so we do a sustainability issue every year talking about environmental issues. We’ve done big investigation work on the future of tourism and what we need to do to be competitive in that marketplace. Keeping our water quality, because water is kind of ingrained in everything in the county – we all drink it and need to protect the water quality. We do a lot of coverage of those kinds of issues. That’s all just to say that by being dedicated to community, by being visible to community, by being here and giving a s—, people reward us. Also, diversifying those revenue streams. Not just being like, “Hey, we’re a newspaper and this is what we do and we can’t do anything else,” but trying to keep up and having the events company not only in revenue stream, but also a way to increase our standing in the community. Podcasts talk to different people and drive people to the paper, and the paper drives people to the podcast. So, a lot of different things, and we’re always trying to keep our eye out for what that next thing might be. 

With the future of local news, do you have any next steps with how you think you might be growing?

I would flip through the newspaper and I would come across things that I didn’t know I cared about, but then I read and I saw a cool picture or a good headline or a good subhead, and it drew me in. And that’s all stuff that won’t be catered to my Twitter feed or my Facebook. I’m not going to get it by just going to an app. I consider myself pretty in tune to new media, but I do love sitting down with a newspaper and actually just taking my time and flipping through it and reading stories and flipping through a magazine. Maybe it’s the nostalgia in me, but there is a place for that to come back. 

Would you have any advice to anyone who might not be subscribed to their local newspaper right now and why they should? 

Because ultimately it’s going to save you money. Subscribe to your paper, read up, keep informed and you’re going to be better equipped — like if your newspapers are doing a good job — you’re going to be better equipped to question when somebody wants to raise your property taxes, or know how they’re spending your money or developments in your community. The point is, we can tell stories and have reporters on the ground who get the word out and say, ‘Hey, there’s this development proposed, you might want to show up,’ and then people show up, and then they stop that development from happening. I could go on and on.