Columbia Journalism Review: Online, Local and Positive – One Community News Website’s Path to Profitability

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By Anna Clark/Columbia Journalism Review

What’s the right formula for a for-profit, local online news startup in a smaller market?

There’s probably no single answer to that question. But in north-central Ohio, the people behind Richland Source say they have a recipe that’s working for them. It includes original content that’s free to read, a diversifying revenue base anchored by digital ads, engagement with live events, a relaxed approach to the traditional “church-state” divide—and an unapologetically upbeat attitude about the local community.

The editorial vision behind the site, he adds, is “to tell the story of the community as a whole, rather than just the things that are challenging.”

Richland Source is headquartered in Mansfield, the seat of Richland County and a city of a bit less than 50,000 people located midway between Cleveland and Columbus. It’s a part of the Rust Belt that has faced a “slow-motion butt-kicking” over the course of a few decades, Jay Allred, the site’s publisher, likes to say.

But the editorial vision behind the site, he adds, is “to tell the story of the community as a whole, rather than just the things that are challenging.” Or as Larry Phillips, the managing editor, puts it: “Not everything in Mansfield, Ohio, is a disaster.”

Richland Source was launched in July 2013 with an investment from Carl Fernyak, the CEO of a local printer and copier supplier. Today, the site has six full-time editorial staffers, and is, Allred says, “on track” for a planned five-year path to profitability. It’s also expanding its reach: In March, the site launched Crawford Source, covering Richland’s neighbors to the west. This summer, it will move into Ashland County, over the eastern border.

“We believe it’s our obligation to put into the public record all of the things that people do in this community to make it a good place to live.”

The outlet delivers enterprise reporting on complicated local issues, like a recent multimedia piece exploring solutions to farmers’ flooding concerns. It also routinely covers council and school board meetings in Mansfield and Shelby, a nearby town.

But what most stands out about the editorial focus is an emphasis on uplift and community growth. “We believe it’s our obligation to put into the public record all of the things that people do in this community to make it a good place to live,” Allred says in a promotional video. That means plenty of features, local lore, schools, and youth sports, ranging from a piece about a day spent riding every Mansfield bus line to a story about a play written by a former high school basketball coach to a video series on how to prepare locally foraged food…

Read the full story at



Hike It Baby: New Morgantown Mom Launches Outdoor Events for Kids

hike babyThe West Virginia Physical Activity Network joined the Morgantown Chapter of Hike It Baby for a hike in Cooper’s Rock State Forest on Tuesday morning.

Hike It Baby is a parents group dedicated to getting families together and out into nature with newborns and young children.

The organization began in the summer of 2013 when founder, Shanti Hodges, had her son, Mason, in Portland, Oregon. There are now 200 branches across 47 of the United States and into Canada, the United Kingdom, Italy, South Africa, and Australia.

There are five Hike It Baby chapters in West Virginia (Charleston, Harpers Ferry, Huntington, Morgantown, and Pineville), with summer hikes lined up in Brenton, Oceana, Mullens, Bruceton Mills, and Morgantown.

Join the Facebook groups to join the hikes already happening in West Virginia:

hike baby2If you don’t have a branch near you, you can start one in your community or participate in challenges. You can get help to do this at and

The Hike It Baby Morgantown Chapter is led by Molly Fetchter-Leggett. Here’s the info about a great hike for young kids they’re doing on May 30.

We love the Hike It Baby ethos: “As part of an active, judgment free community, parents and caregivers can find the safe, supportive environment they need to help raise a generation to love the outdoors.”


Gazette-Mail: The Not-So-Secret Creative Financing Model That Could Rebuild Charleston’s West Side

Photo by Tom Hindman/Gazette-Mail

Photo by Tom Hindman/Gazette-Mail

By Elaina Sauber/Charleston Gazette-Mail

It won’t be a secret for long: One of Fayetteville’s best-known eateries may be opening a new spot on Charleston’s West Side.

Secret Sandwich Society owner Lewis Rhinehart says he’s pursuing some avenues that could lead to another location in the former Staats Hospital on Washington Street West in Charleston’s Elk City District.

“It’s very, very preliminary. I’m heading in that direction, but there are no guarantees at this point,” Rhinehart said. Developer Tighe Bullock, whose company Crawford Holdings LLC owns the Staats building, approached Rhinehart a few months ago.

The costs to tenants for building out their space can be used as “prepaid rent” for a three-year period.

The Tamarack Foundation for the Arts is already planning to develop a creative business incubator in the Staats building once it reaches its $100,000 fund raising goal.

With the building’s first floor renovated and ready for leaseholders, Bullock offers prospective tenants a unique financing incentive.

A one-percent interest loan from the Charleston Urban Renewal Authority permits Bullock to keep construction costs low enough when restoring commercial buildings so that occupants also benefit. The costs to tenants for building out their space, Bullock said, can be used as “prepaid rent” for a three-year period.

“It allows tenants to build out the space, but not pay more than they would normally pay just to occupy a space. It’s a really good business model,” Bullock said…

Read the full story at

Follow the author on Twitter @ElainaSauber

Daily Yonder: Here’s a Game-Changing Idea for Appalachia – Release Bankrupted Coal Acres for Homesteading

Photo by ehpien/FlickrCC

Photo by ehpien/FlickrCC

By James Branscome/The Daily Yonder

Appalachia, especially its coal mining region, is experiencing a revived bit of attention as shuttered mines, a rise in income inequality and longstanding poverty received flashes of concern from both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump…

The Appalachian Homestead Act may be today’s single best solution to the enduring problem of mountain poverty.

Anyone who has spent time in the mountains and hollows from Middlesboro, Kentucky, to Beckley, West Virginia, understands that most of the land is owned either by coal and timber companies or the federal government with its national forests and parks.

Coal companies alone own 1.3 million acres in the Cumberlands of Kentucky and even more in the Alleghenies of West Virginia. The federal government is actually the largest single landowner in Appalachia.

With the region’s largest coal companies in bankruptcy or nearly so, I have an idea for Clinton and Trump: Let’s buy those bankrupted acres and let’s release some of those federal holdings. And then we can give the people something they have not had since industrialization and coal mining started in Appalachia in the 1880’s — land. Land for farming, for gardens, for housing, for grazing cattle, horses and hogs, and for sustainable forestry.

We can give the people something they have not had since industrialization and coal mining started in Appalachia in the 1880’s — land.

Let’s call this the Appalachian Homestead Act, in homage to the federal initiative that helped settle the West and build wealth in the 19th century. The Appalachian Homestead Act may be today’s single best solution to the enduring problem of mountain poverty. And it may well be the most important opportunity for a new generation looking for a place to build an economy and a community that make sense in a time of global warming and economic dysfunction…

Read the full story at

Courtney Roark: We Must Break Down Barriers to Being More Active in West Virginia

WVPAN-bannerMy name is Courtney Roark and I am from London, Kentucky. I graduated from Western Kentucky University in 2015 with a Bachelor of Science in Exercise Science and soon after obtained my Personal Training Certification.

Throughout college I was involved in exercise programming and research for underserved populations such as older adults, intellectually and/or developmentally disabled adults, and impoverished youth.

It was during this time that I developed a passion for community service and the desire to improve access to quality physical education and activity opportunities for underserved populations.

Supporting volunteers leading physical activity programs on the community level, the barriers West Virginians face became apparent.

I moved to West Virginia in 2015 to work as an AmeriCorps VISTA for Active Southern West Virginia to recruit, train and support volunteers leading physical activity programs at the community level. It was in this position that the barriers and challenges West Virginians face became apparent.

I have seen that regular physical activity leads to improved overall quality of life, which correlates with reduction of drug abuse, better performance in the workplace, and more driven involvement in community and social life.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure; being proactive about the health issues that we have been on the defensive side of can and will save money in the long term. Public health works in synergy with economic and community development.

Physical activity changes lives, and one by one.

I’m excited to begin my position as the Coordinator of the WV Physical Activity Network and to work with the WV Community Development Hub, WVU’s School of Public Health, and other partners to work through the West Virginia Physical Activity Plan and create solutions to the barriers our communities face.

Physical activity changes lives, and one by one, if we can plant a seed of positive change in each community in the state we can create a better future for West Virginia. “This is the time for vigorous and positive action.”


Seeking Young Community Action Heroes for $1,500 Award

Some of the 2015 Hasbro Community Action Heroes.

Some of the 2015 Hasbro Community Action Heroes.

Do you know a young person between the ages of 5 and 18 who has done remarkable community service in the past 12 months?

The Hasbro Community Action Hero Award recognizes outstanding young volunteers who show that you are never too young to make a difference in your local or global community.

Hasbro Children’s Fund and generationOn will celebrate 10 young people between the ages of 5 and 18 for their extraordinary community service and volunteer activities. Each winner will receive a $1,000 educational scholarship and a $500 grant to their selected non-profit partner.

Here’s some of the awesome young people that won last year’s Hasbro Community Action Hero Awards.

A Hasbro Community Action Hero is a young person who makes an extraordinary mark on the world through service. The nominee’s achievements must demonstrate one or more of the following characteristics:

  • Outstanding service to one’s local, national or global community
  • Extraordinary effort in creating innovative solutions to community needs
  • Leadership of an exceptional service or advocacy activity

Applications for the 2016 Hasbro Community Action Hero Award must be received by Monday, June 13, 2016.

Visit for more information.

Gazette-Mail: West Virginia Rafting Industry Numbers on the Rise

By Rick Steelhammer/Charleston Gazette-Mail

After 15 years of steady decline, West Virginia rafting outfitters experienced a welcome uptick in customer numbers in 2015, according to recently released data compiled by the state Division of Natural Resources.

Last year’s modest 3 percent increase in customer numbers followed a 2014 season that brought the number of whitewater rafting enthusiasts to the state’s commercially outfitted streams to its lowest ebb. A total of 134,082 people paid to take guided raft trips down the New, Gauley, Cheat, Shenandoah and Tygart rivers last year, up 3,870 from 2014.

“We used to be a one-horse show. The horse is still there, but it’s being helped by a bunch of ponies to keep the show going.”

“We’re excited to see the increase,” said Dave Arnold, spokesman for Adventures on the Gorge, the state’s largest whitewater outfitter, based at Lansing in Fayette County. “A lot of people don’t realize it, but as an industry, we’ve lost about half our rafting business since 2000. We’re glad to see the numbers moving up again.”

In 1996, West Virginia whitewater rafting outfitters guided 250,646 customers down the state’s five commercially run rivers, but by 2006, that number had dipped to 201,358. Rafting client numbers lingered in the 150,000 range until 2012, then dropped to the 140,000 range until 2014, when just over 130,000 people paid to raft the state’s rapids.

Rafting outfitters went through a series of mergers as the customer numbers declined, and branched into other outdoor activities, including ziplines, mountain biking, rock climbing and guided angling floats.

“We used to be a one-horse show,” said Arnold. “The horse is still there, but it’s being helped by a bunch of ponies to keep the show going.”

Read the full story at

Follow the author on Twitter at @rsteelhammer

Kent Spellman: Which West Virginia Are They Measuring? Not Mine.

kidThere is one commonly-cited statistic about West Virginia I’ve always thought was a bit fishy.

For years, whenever I’ve heard the latest results that West Virginia is the most miserable state, or that one of our counties is the most unhappy in the nation, the first thing that comes to my mind is: “wait, but I live here and I’m not miserable.”

“And none of the dozens of people I know and work with everyday are miserable either. They’re all optimistic, creative, passionate and empowered people doing cool things. Who, exactly, are these survey people talking to?”

“Wait, but I live here and I’m not miserable. Who, exactly, are these survey people talking to?”

That’s the world The Hub inhabits. Optimism. Creativity. Passion. Empowerment. And we are seeing this world expand to include more West Virginians – local or imported – every day.

It’s why we decided this year to launch New Story: Changing the Narrative in West Virginia.

In partnership with our friends at WVU’s Reed College of Media, we are throwing a shindig of great storytellers – communicators, journalists, bloggers and savvy citizens who are changing the public perception of what’s happening in West Virginia.

Already, some of West Virginia’s most creative media and communications innovators have signed up. Here’s just a few featured participants.

If you’re interested, get involved. Check out the landing page at: RSVP, and, better yet, tell your friends.

Good times await.

Hello Kent.

One Small Step for West Virginia… Celebrating Some Awesome Physical Activity Firsts in the Mountain State

Photo by Anna Jarvis Elementary School PTO

Photo by Anna Jarvis Elementary School PTO

It’s only May and there have already been a lot of great physical activity “firsts” in West Virginia. Here’s a quick recap of some of them to inspire you and get you thinking about something you could try!

Opening Day for Harrison Rail Trails

This newly formed rail-trail group is going strong! On April 16 they hosted a Spring Discovery Walk to invite people to walk on the rail-trail and learn about all the different things they can do on the trail, including meeting with a local cycling club, learning about geocaching, joining a “gratitude walking group” (more on this below), and learning about West Virginia flora from certified herbalists.

Check out their Facebook page for more information about what they’re up to next:


Gratitude Walking Group

This brand new idea is just getting off the ground in Harrison and Marion counties.

The idea is, we spend so much time complaining about things; why not take 30-60 minutes to move and to think about all the things we’re thankful for? The weekly walks take place at different times and in different locations, so there’s probably one that fits your schedule. More info:


Anna Jarvis Elementary School Color Run

A color run, at an elementary school? Yes!

Anna Jarvis Elementary in Grafton organized their first color run fundraiser this year. On April 30, 2016 the Anna Jarvis PTO held its first AJ Mother’s Day Color Run. With 350 in attendance, the event was a roaring success. Mark your calendars for next year’s AJ Mother’s Day Color Run: Saturday, May 6, 2017.

Check out some great photos from the event! 

Photo by hopeless128/FlickrCC

Photo by hopeless128/FlickrCC

West Virginia Bike Summit

The first statewide bike summit, organized by WV Connecting Communities, was held in Charleston on April 17-18. It included group rides, presentations about the best places to cycle in the state, and lots of great information about biking and health, quality of life, and economic development.

West Virginia Public Broadcasting has more information, plus a video of a group ride.

Ready to attend the 2017 summit? Stay up to date about what’s happening on WVCC’s website:


Active Southern WV Bridge Day 5k, October 15, 2016

Okay, this one hasn’t happened yet, but it’s a very cool physical activity first…

This is the first ever, in history, running event across the New River Gorge Bridge in Fayetteville! It benefits the Active SWV Kids Running Clubs. Start on the north side, and run across the bridge with a police escort in a closed lane. Exit the event onto open town streets, lap around the Fayetteville Town Park, and finish beside the Historic Fayette County Courthouse.

Pretty awesome. Heads up: due to tight Bridge Day event timing, no walkers are permitted this year.

Register now (like, right now – participation is limited to 100 runners).


Got a physical activity “first” happening in your area? Share the good news with the West Virginia Physical Activity Network!


One Woman Sowing the Seeds of Change in Southern West Virginia

VISTA Marsha Shonk, right, makes a donation of seeds to God's Storehouse Soup Kitchen.

VISTA Marsha Shonk, right, makes a donation of seeds to God’s Storehouse Soup Kitchen.

Marsha Shonk is an AmeriCorps VISTA for the town of Whitesville. She’s been dubbed the “Seed Lady,” the “Garden Lady” and even the “Seed Queen,” thanks to the remarkable success of her new seed donation program. Here, Marsha tells us how she did it.

When I was a child I promised myself that I would never grow a garden as an adult. I dreaded working in our family garden every summer. It was hard work and I always ended up knee deep in the cucumber patch.

But my love for fried green tomatoes is what eventually led me to start growing tomatoes in large planters. As I grew older I realized that using planters was the perfect way to garden, and was a lot less work on my hands, back and legs!

For most of my adult life I have lived in areas with populations of more than a million. I didn’t see much evidence of a sense of community, but life was full of conveniences.

$13,720.80 in seed donations from 10 different seed companies.

Ten years ago I came to Beckley from southern Arizona because of my Grandma’s failing health. It was quite a transition. In 2014, I moved to Rock Creek in Raleigh County. I’d always been a  “city girl.” Moving to the country was never on my bucket list of things to do!

Living an hour away from Beckley made it impossible to keep my job there. Even though I now resided on “Green Acres,” we were too broke to really invest in what it takes to plant a garden. We bought and planted several strawberry and tomato plants on our property. An elderly couple from our church offered us half of their garden space so we could plant a garden. They also gave us corn and bean seed as well as giving us about 10 tomato plants.

When I began working as an AmeriCorps VISTA for The Hub and the town of Whitesville, I realized that there were many people going through what I went through last year. I wanted to help those people become more independent by growing their own food and saving their seeds.

The seed project started out small. But as the donations grew, so did my perspective for the project.

I’ve contacted 74 seed companies and have received a total of $13,720.80 in seed donations from 10 different seed companies.

Marsha' seed program has sparked an interest in food gardening in communities where access to fresh produce is a challenge.

Marsha’ seed program has sparked an interest in food gardening in communities where access to fresh produce is a challenge.

I have donated to two area USDA food distribution programs, the Girl Scouts, the Whitesville coal miner’s job fair, and the clean up day in Whitesville, by providing vegetable seeds to the community as well as flower seeds for the 12 large planters throughout downtown.

I’ve donated two acres worth of seed to James McCormick with the Veterans and Warriors to Agriculture program, one acre of seed to a troubled youth program, one acre of seeds to Workforce WV’s Dislocated Worker Unit which will go to Manna Meal in Charleston, and one acre of seed each to two soup kitchens in the area.

There are still many seeds to donate, and many to plant! I am planning to have a herb clinic in the near future with the herbs that were received through the seed donations.

Last year I had no canning jars, so I froze everything. I have jars this year but still don’t know how to can food. One of my next steps is to have a canning class. I have emailed five canning jar companies asking for jar donations!

Inspired? Like to know more about being a VISTA? Contact The Hub’s Louise Henry at