Interview with Deanna Fisher - Publisher of Heights Observer community media

Deanna Fisher

The Heights Observer, a program of FutureHeights, supports an involved, informed citizenry by cultivating citizen journalists and neighborhood news. A not-for-profit, volunteer effort, the Heights Observer serves the cities of Cleveland Heights and University Heights, Ohio. Comprised of a web site and a printed newspaper, it operates independently of any other organization.

Could you please briefly tell when did you create your community media? Did you do it alone? Who is in your team now?
FutureHeights launched the Heights Observer community news project in April 2008. We became the first licensee of Lakewood Observer’s software.

Our staff consists of the following: Publisher, Editor-in-Chief, E-news Editor, 2 Graphic Designers, Business Development

Did you have any funding at the start of creation? What was the amount of it?

Yes we received grant funding from three local foundations totaling $27,500.

What is the amount of funding now? Who are the donors?
We no longer require grant funding for this program. All of its expenses are paid for through paid advertising.

Do you have salaries? Is that your only work or it is more like your hobby? 
All of the staff works part-time on the project. The publisher and e-news editor are paid staff positions. The other positions are contract positions. The business development position is paid 20% commission on advertising sales. That is his only compensation.

What is an approximate amount you spend for your media in a month? 
We spend about $8,736 per month for contractors and printing costs. This amount does not include salaries for the two paid staff positions.

What are you goals for development of your media? 
We will continue to publish 12 print issues per year. The number of pages we print depends on advertising revenue for that month. We have developed 4 advertising slots in our weekly e-news publication; this is an area for growth.

Does your media earn any money from advertisement or something else?
Yes, we earn all of our revenue from paid advertising. Our local merchants appreciate and understand that our readers are local, that the community news project is of and for the community, and that their advertising support not only supports the news project but also other projects that FutureHeights does for the community.

Can you call yourself an independent media? 

What are the difficulties in your work? 
Working with volunteer writers, editors and delivery personnel.

And maybe you could give some advice for those Ukrainians who are going to start their own community media and don’t know where to start and where to get funding from. 
You will likely need start-up funding from local foundations or individual donors, but you should create a paid advertising program and hire a business development professional to sell ads to local merchants on commission. Let ad sales dictate how many pages you print each month. Our target of ads to editorial content is 40-50%.

Stick to your mission of serving your local community. Stories must be about your local community.

We had a head start because we were an established nonprofit organization that had existing relationships with local merchants, community members (potential volunteers) and local foundations. We also had a staff (of 1.5 at the time) who could devote a portion of their time to developing and staffing the community news project.

Interviews were conducted under the Project "Fostering Civic Journalism in Ukrainian's Regions", supported by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). The views of the authors do not necessarily reflect the official position of the U.S. government.