Richland Source was founded by Carl Fernyak in January 2013 on the belief that there was an audience in North Central Ohio hungry for a different local news product -- one that was modern, forward-thinking, community-focused and truly represented what it was like to live and work in the area. We launched in June 2013 and have posted new, locally reported content every day since.
Richland Source is primarily in the business of local news and advertising. We also provide social media consulting to clients, organize community events, have built a successful small-batch apparel business, and work extensively with community foundations and nonprofits to tell their stories and communicate their missions.
Our products and services help to inform residents, both current and former, about the events in their hometown and provide a modern way for advertisers to reach our growing audience. In September 2016, Richland Source reached 195,000 unique visitors all over Ohio and served over one million page views, both of which were at or near all-time highs.
Our core values are plain to see...literally. They are printed 10 feet high on the wall of our office in downtown Mansfield. Our mission and goals are to tell the entire story of Mansfield and Richland County. That means that our news mix is decidedly more holistic than traditional news sources and devotes about 90 percent of our headlines to the lives, businesses, schools, and activities of extraordinary residents.
We aren’t all rainbows and unicorns, however. We absolutely report the challenges confronting our region, but we don’t live off of it or attempt to exploit them. Think of our news mix like you would a balanced diet and regular exercise. Spending all our resources reporting the worst parts of our region is like living off Cheetos and whiskey. It might work for a while, but it will eventually make you sick.
We have been humbled (and a little surprised) that our innovative and community-focused approach has been recognized nationally by industry think tanks such as NiemanLab, the Columbia Journalism Review, and PBS MediaShift; and has also led to employees being featured panelists at national conferences. We’re proud of the work of our journalists. In three short years, their work on flooding, infant mortality, race and other subjects has garnered recognition all over the region and made a difference. We’re happy that our advertising customers have benefited from innovative product placements and creative strategies that have advanced their brands.
Mostly, we’re grateful to report on an extraordinary region that is in the middle of reinventing itself into a modern healthcare, manufacturing, and tourism hub. In the three years that we’ve served North Central Ohio, we believe we’ve made a positive impact. From the way we do news, to how we’ve been involved in the community, Richland Source is blazing a trail. We’re raising the standard of what news reporting looks like and we’re happy for the support of the community that lets us know we’re on the right track.
As with any startup, name recognition and brand awareness were a huge obstacle in the first couple of years. Even today, some people we interact with are unfamiliar with Richland Source, and others are confused as to what we are exactly, thinking we’re merely a Facebook page or a magazine.
But we’ve come a long way in getting our name out there. Our team has been relentless in pursuing opportunities to grow awareness through deep, meaningful relationships throughout our community. Employees across all departments have worked tirelessly to be great ambassadors for Richland Source, winning fans one at a time. An endless supply of business cards has helped, as well.
Plus, we’re friendly. When out and about, we’re not afraid to tell people who we are.
A big obstacle we had to overcome initially was that most of our staff was new to journalism. After we got the basics down, we had to figure out how we would approach news reporting and what our mission would be.
Every day we are learning new things and are willing to accept the challenge that comes with trying something new. We are thankful — and a bit relieved — that we have leadership that isn’t afraid to fail and understands that’s sometimes a part of the process.
From day one, we have prioritized authentic, active and impactful contributions to Mansfield and Richland County. In a startup, that generally means creativity and sweat equity on the part of all employees. As we have grown, what was a necessity (no money to donate!) has become a point of pride in our staff. We are present and accounted for at countless community functions and like it that way.
This has meant that we think way out of the box. One employee remarked that we couldn’t find the box if we tried. Losing the box, so to speak, freed our team to work collaboratively on a number of projects that aren’t common in the journalism field.
In May 2016, we announced our most ambitious project to date, RichlandLIVE. This multi-year cultural initiative will bring attention and awareness to the amazing depth and breadth of the performing arts scene in Mansfield. The effort includes our sponsorship of the Brickyard Richland Source Pavilion; donation of $30,000 of in-kind promotion to area nonprofits, venues, and artists; and most recently, Richland Source After Hours. The brainchild of reporter Dillon Carr, this concert series features local artists playing some of their music in the Richland Source newsroom in front of a live audience.
In 2016 alone, Richland Source was the title sponsor of the NOL - OCC Basketball Challenge, a major media partner of the Richland County Fair, and a sponsor for the Maize Memorial Dog Park. We’ve also sponsored college and high school interns, volunteered at the Rehab Telethon, and was a major media sponsor of the Spherion Mid-Ohio 13ER.
In late 2015, our team collaborated with a half dozen businesses and nonprofits to host a Mayoral Debate at the Renaissance Theatre, attracting a crowd of over 700 people, easily the largest local political event in a decade.
And then on a lighter note, later that year we fostered a dog from the Humane Society of Richland County, who was eventually adopted by a Lexington couple.
And then there’s Made in the 419. What local news organization starts a small batch clothing line to boost community pride? Ummm, yeah, that was us.
See what we mean about thinking outside the box?
Outside of work, our employees serve on numerous boards of directors, including the Ohio Bird Sanctuary, the Mansfield YMCA, the Local Independent Online News Association, Domestic Violence Shelter, Come Home to Galion, and Bellville Revitalization. We also have three employees who serve on the leadership team with a local young adult Christian ministry known as Awakening, and one who participates in the City Gates Initiative. Another is active in performing arts and has been part of a number of local productions at both the Mansfield Playhouse and the Renaissance Theatre.
It’s not traditional community involvement, but we would be fools to not mention Tim McKee’s well-catalogued local history column. Published twice weekly, it now totals over 320 separate pieces that lovingly archive the area’s rich heritage.
One of the things that makes Richland Source especially unique is that we pay particular attention to the workplace culture. We seek to employ those who not only have the skills required for the job, but also possess qualities that we deem significant; whether that's a forward-thinking mindset, a willingness to take risks and embrace change, or a positive attitude.
Richland Source provides mileage reimbursement, a monthly cell phone allowance, a reimbursement of up to $500 per year on technology-related equipment, family days, paid time off and vacation days for our employees. The company also offers health, life, vision and dental insurance, as well as a 401K retirement program.
The company also has an array of camera gear on hand for staff to take advantage of for photography/videography projects.
Our commitment to creative thinking extends to compensation programs. Reporters have the opportunity to earn a significant monthly bonus based on their Reach Point Average. Based on a 4.0 scale, RPA is calculated using a number of criteria, including total number of page views, published stories, tweets, photos, infographs and videos for the month. Each employee has been able to hit RPA at least once, if not multiple times.
Richland Source places an emphasis on maintaining an open, collaborative culture. We have included employees in the interview process when looking to hire a new person because we believe that everyone’s input matters. We also hold team meetings once a month to ensure that we’re all on the same page. Even our application for this award was completed in a collaborative manner, with every single employee contributing.
Much of our employee development has occurred on the job, but we do hold project-based training sessions. Previous sessions have focused on data journalism, photography and videography. Two reporters gained valuable field experience when they covered the Republican National Convention this summer, and one traveled to Haiti where he spent a week and wrote about his experiences abroad.
Financial and Audience Growth
As mentioned above, audience growth has been brisk. We have averaged 24 percent growth in unique visitors every quarter since launch, and set new records this past September.
Financially, the theme is similar. The company recorded $200,000 in sales in 2014, and followed that up with $326,000 in 2015. Our projected sales for 2016 are $450,000. New lines of business such as Made in the 419, social media consulting, and a membership program have helped to even out revenue streams and show great potential for growth.
About 80 percent of our audience and 90 percent of sales come from North Central Ohio.
As the company has grown, we have been able to moderately increase our employment levels. In 2013 we employed ten people. Today, we employ 12 full time and one part time staff members.
It would be impossible to have a product without the help of our readers and advertisers. We work diligently to create a distinctly enjoyable experience for them. Incoming calls and emails are quickly directed to the right person, and our social media team prides themselves on fast responses to customer inquiries.
If a source calls the newsroom to inform us of a mistake, the editorial staff is quick and happy to make the change. If a reader cares enough to tell us about their disappointment, we make sure to listen and act appropriately.
Sometimes, stories require exceptional sensitivity. Our news staff works together to keep the best interests of our readers at the forefront of their coverage decisions. The core question we ask ourselves is this: “Does this story serve our community, or does it just serve our short-term business interests?” If we cannot point to the former, the story rarely gets reported.
We measure ourselves frequently through annual surveys, online metrics, and by just asking our customers what they think.
In a reader survey we ran this past year, our customers told us they were happy with our news content. Better than 90 percent of respondents rated Richland Source as equal to or better than competitors.
Customer satisfaction can be seen publicly on the Richland Source Facebook page, where we carry a 4.7 out of 5 star rating. A quick look at similar news organizations reveals how unusual this is. On Facebook, your rating is purely a function of user opinion. One mistake can make or break a star rating, and we’re proud (and mindful) of ours.
Richland Source is committed to being the best platform for readers who are hungry to find out what is going on with Richland County, and what they can do to drive it forward. Our employee practices, customer service and community involvement are all based upon this goal.
The 11,000 articles and 59,000 photographs published since we launched stand as evidence of the energy and dedication our team brings to their jobs every day.
We are grateful to The Richland Area Chamber for the chance to tell our story, but infinitely more thankful to the thousands of Mansfielders who have allowed us to tell theirs.