With small-town newspapers struggling across the country, some even closing their doors, a Durango entrepreneur sees an opportunity producing videos to help keep local news viable.
Laurie Sigillito’s Local NEWS Network began in Durango by producing 3- to 5-minute videos to air on Durango’s Spectrum Cable Channel 15 to fill the ample programming space remaining after the channel had aired four hours of news from KUSA-TV, NBC’s affiliate in Denver.
“We quickly learned with great news, we need more reach beyond television and that led to development of an online portal,” said Sigillito, who also owns FastSigns franchise in Durango.
Today, Durango Local NEWS Network features one video a day. Recent topics touched on issues such as dealing with grief in the workplace, touring Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, and examining why exercise alone can’t take off weight.
Video topics should go beyond one day’s interest and are something the community will find of value for five to seven days – “evergreen” stories in journalistic parlance, Sigillito said.
The videos – available on wide variety of sites, from Local NEWS Network Durango’s own website to its YouTube channel – are free for viewers and shown across town, from regional airports to Serious Texas Bar-B-Q, the local Department of Motor Vehicles office, the lobby and drive-thru displays at Alpine Bank and several other businesses around Durango.
In addition, any resident can register to receive the videos via their email.
Businesses that show the Local NEWS Network feed receive the videos free and are given free advertising for providing exposure for LNN videos.
“The distribution is all online and we realized we could reach 25% of a community with very little cost,” Sigillito said.
But it’s not the videos that Local NEWS Network produces, rather the technology to bring the videos to online and television audiences that Sigillito sees as the key to allow Local NEWS to open affiliate franchises across Colorado, the region and eventually the entire country. She’s aiming for affiliates in “micropolitans,” cities and towns ranging from 10,000 to 50,000 people, that increasingly are losing their local newspapers.
To expand beyond Durango, Local NEWS Network is looking to form partnerships with local producers of videos, who would control the editorial content and sell advertising, while LNN would provide back-end support – handling technical issues, billing, human resources and distribution.
“We’re more a technology company than a media company,” she said.
Durango Local NEWS Network has about 45 separate advertisers, and three were added in the last week, Sigillito said.
While Durango Local NEWS Network isn’t making a huge profit, it is sustaining itself while newer affiliates are just getting started selling advertising.
Advertisers can create their own ads, which are normally 15 to 30 seconds long, sometimes longer. Viewers can also submit their own content to Local NEWS Network’s website, which decides which ones to publish on its digital display network.
About a year ago, Sigillito partnered with Telluride Publishing, which owns Telluride Magazine and San Juan Skyway Visitor Guide, as its first affiliate franchise. Local NEWS Network added a Montezuma County affiliate in December 2019 and an affiliate in Pagosa Springs in February.
Local NEWS Network affiliates are expected to launch in Farmington and Montrose-Delta this year, and Sigillito would like to have 50 franchise affiliates operating within the next three years.
The types of stories covered by affiliates vary based on community interest.
Bert Carder, LNN’s chief operating officer, noted Durango Local NEWS Network produces a lot of videos about educational and taxation issues and local government policies of interest to Durango families. However, in Telluride, with second homeowners the norm and an even heavier emphasis on tourism, videos tend to focus on arts events, festivals, skiing and other outdoor activities.
“If we tried to do exactly the same thing in every town, it wouldn’t work,” Carder said.
Durango Local NEWS Network tends to focus on evergreen feature stories, Sigillito said, but editorial content is flexible and can pivot to cover the big news.
“When the 416 Fire broke out, we dropped everything to focus on that,” she said.
Local NEWS Network has caught the eye of state and local officials eager to support entrepreneurs with ideas that will generate jobs in Colorado and Durango.
Local NEWS Network has received a $150,000 loan from Region 9 Economic Development District of Southwest Colorado and a $100,000 grant from the state Office of Economic Development and International Trade.
Local NEWS Network has also participated in events with the Rockies Venture Club, which provides educational workshops as well as access to investment conferences for promising startups and it is a member of the current class of the Southwest Colorado Accelerator Program for Entrepreneurs.
SCAPE typically brings in five regional startups and fledgling firms for a series of business development sessions, mentorship from experts and meetings with venture capitalists and other financiers.
Local NEWS Network’s ability to attract grants and loans from governmental and quasi-governmental entities has drawn criticism from some quarters of the journalistic community. The firm is seen by some as yet another threat to the already-endangered small-town newspaper.
But Sigillito and Carder disagree.
“Existing publishers could be great partners,” Sigillito said of forming Local NEWS affiliates with small-town papers.
Carder said the Local NEWS Network may be a model that helps keep local news operations viable in a rapidly changing media landscape.
“We may be the bridge to the future to keep local news profitable and sustainable, and that’s the whole point – to rebuild an industry that is struggling and create a few jobs,” he said.