There’s a new news service in Fremont County that exists solely on the Internet. County-10-dot-com is powered by a full-time reporter and a Lander software company, and offers hyper-local, to-the-minute reports on its website and social media outlets. The service exploded since its launch in early December – it had 15-thousand views its first month – and it’s still growing. Wyoming Public Radio’s Rebecca Martinez visited their Lander office and filed this story.
ERNIE OVER: Oh hey, here’s an interesting one. Someone’s been stealing power for the past year.
REBECCA MARTINEZ: Veteran reporter Ernie Over is on the beat. From the laptop in his sunny office, he peruses police reports looking for unusual incidents. Over has been a reporter since the 1960s. He’s strayed at times into the public relations realm, and even spent a stint in Hollywood as the assistant to Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry. But Over feels at home in journalism, and prefers his new web-based medium and its inherent freedom from deadlines, and waiting for his work to be published or aired.
OVER: With this platform, when can get news we can go down and put in on instantly. For example, last Friday there was a house fire in Lander. And I grabbed the Flip camera, shot three minutes of video, came back and edited it up and had it online before the fire department even gotten the fire extinguished yet.
MARTINEZ: County 10 is named for Fremont County’s license plate code. It wasn’t hard to get the site off the ground. It was launched by and is based in the offices of a Lander-based software company called Pitch Engine, which allows users to make public-relations websites. Founder Jason Kintzler used to work in photography and design at a newspaper, and felt that Fremont County residents had limited access to local information, especially on the web. For instance, the county’s newspaper, the Riverton Ranger, has yet to launch its website. So Kintzler wanted to see what could be done to bring county news coverage into the 21st Century.
KINTZLER: Not to sound too cliché, but we’re doing it because it was a need. It was a void in our community. We had the skills, I knew of Ernie. We said lets plug him in. Because it’s a website, we can do all mediums, video images, whatever.
MARTINEZ: And they can do it on the cheap. Local businesses pay to advertise on the site, and with Ernie Over as the sole full-time reporter – cranking out around 10 short, sweet stories per day – his salary is pretty much County 10’s only overhead.
It’s not the first web-based news service to set up shop in Wyoming. In 2009, Sue Wallis founded the non-profit Cowboy State Free Press, which reported on state government. Despite enthusiastic readership, Wallis says the group had trouble securing grants and it eventually ceased operation last year. So, does she think a tiny for-profit website could succeed as a news service in Wyoming?
SUE WALLIS: I think it could, I think it could locally, and I think it could on a state wide basis. Keep your costs low… that way you can do a lot with a little. And if you have committed contributors and committed readership, the conversation starts to take over.
MARTINEZ: Non-profit news site WyoFile has been more fortunate. Founded with private funding in 2008 and later run with national journalism grants and private donations, WyoFile publishes long-form in-depth features about statewide issues.
WyoFile’s former editor Rone Tempest says all news media is headed to the Web, but the ones that thrive there will tell good stories and establish integrity with their followers.
RONE TEMPEST: People who survive are gonna be the same way that newspapers survived in the age of newspapers, which is… There were a lot of newspapers, and the one that emerged probably had the most trust or the most authority. And as we’ve seen now, with the Murdoch paper folding in London, trust is everything.
MARTINEZ: But while international news sites compete for the global spotlight, smaller sites have the opportunity to seize local loyalty.
TEMPEST: They’ll be replacing in part what the local papers do, but the efficiency at which they work and the speed at which they are able to work will improve what existed before.
MARTINEZ: In addition to putting out news fast, County 10 is trying to get its readers more involved. The site prioritizes news stories according to their popularity, and readers are welcome to post free classifieds there. Soon, the site will post news stories generated by readers. After two months on the web, the County 10 has attracted about 28-thousand unique visitors and hired a part-time contributor. A second full-time reporter is about to join the staff.
For Wyoming Public Radio, I’m Rebecca Martinez.