Meet Utah's New Media - "Utah Stories"

by Jeri Cartwright and Lisa Davis
UtahPulse.com  10/01/2009

Utah Stories

Website: www.utahstories.com

Geographic Location: Salt Lake City, UT

Creator: Richard Markosian

Focus: Hyper-local issues from the perspective of small business owners

Website Followers: 12,000 monthly unique visitors

Twitter Followers: 650

Twitter ID: @utahstories

Making money: Yes

Allowing advertising: Yes

Employees: Yes

His passion? Producing in-depth news and documentaries. His niche...traditional news outlets that once supported these formats are fighting for their financial lives. What chance did he have of pursuing his profession? His action plan? Richard Markosian created his own online newsroom. A place, he says, where average citizens can be heard. It's called www.utahstories.com.

"When I first began the site in 2006, I put a few of my favorite local businesses up as ‘free' advertisers," said Richard. Most of his original news content was in video format. "Once Utah Stories was receiving more than 200 page views per day and we were also printing hard copy stories about the downtown Farmer's Market, we had four paying sponsors."

Richard initially covered concerns about City Creek Center and the Sugar House Granite Block. "I found a niche in examining issues from the perspective of small business owners," he admits. "They are often the first to be sacrificed when local leaders have their eyes on attracting new corporate business to their cities."

Working full-time, with the assistance of four part-time staff writers and one video editor, everything he has made for the last 15 months has gone right back into the business. He says he is "getting by" and very happy about growing his business organically without borrowing to meet expenses. A little recognition sure helps. In 2009, Utah Stories was chosen as "Best Citizen Journalism" by City Weekly's Best of Utah issue.

Our questions for Richard:

Do you consider yourself a new media outlet?

New media is such a catch phrase right now, but I really see "new media" as just an evolution from paper to digital. Many bloggers believe that they can operate without any journalistic integrity -- no fact checking, basing their "news" on other blogs that may or may not be accurate. I was taught that if you are ever breaking something new, facts must be checked with three different sources. This is the old way of doing things and I think this tradition will stand the test of time.

What is your ultimate goal for Utah Stories?

To provide stories that are engaging and provide insight into the changing world. I especially like stories that don't just report what, but also how and why. This format requires digging, which is why sometimes our writers will spend weeks on a single topic. One reader described it as "news you would never find from a wire service."

Do you hold events for your readers?

We offer weekly giveaways to readers that help steer our coverage and content. These giveaways feature some of our great sponsors such as Divas, Brewvies, Dodo and Blue Star. One of the features of Utah Stories magazine is our Go Local Guide, which features the best local restaurants in different categories. We also hold monthly events at various local businesses.

What advice would you give to people who try to persuade you to write about them or their product or business?

Utah Stories is the only news provider where readers have a huge impact on editorial decisions. We strongly rely on the feedback we receive from our readers to help drive future coverage. We want to use the website and magazine to build community of informed and engaged citizens who understand that their opinions count and they can make an impact through citizen journalism. If someone has an interesting local business and they contacted me to write about them, I would look into it, but we get our best leads from our readers rather than PR folks.

How do you advertise the existence of Utah Stories?

We have a unique method for getting advertisers: We distribute 12,000 hard copies of Utah Stories magazine to 420 locations. We still have no sales staff because we have the best advertising rates found anywhere. We can do this because we don't pay commissions. Utah Stories is a guide to the best of local Utah. Rather than offer a free publication saturated with ads, every advertiser in our magazine or on our website is a great business we personally endorse.

How are you applying Twitter and Facebook to Utah Stories?

We Twitter our stories and post them on Facebook. I like both of them to a degree.

I think there is a disconnect with kids that are 12-18 years old. They get all of their news from Facebook and Twitter. News to them is news about their friends -- who is dating who, who did something dorky or mean. They need to learn from their parents that news is about more than gossip. If the younger generations never learn that being informed is an essential component to democracy and freedom, our future looks grim.

When you want the latest local news, where do you go?

Very good question. If you find out please let me know. I don't consider local news to be about the guy who was hit by a car or the latest police chase. I want to know what my local city council is doing. I want to know what the state legislature and my elected members of congress are up to. These people can have an impact on my life.

Richard Markosian landed a job at Allen Communication less than a year after graduating from high school. He worked his way up to become an art director in e-learning, working with many high level companies, including Toyota, Boeing and 3M. In 2001 he enrolled at the University of Utah to pursue a degree in filmmaking and journalism and graduated with a BUS degree customization between several disciplines. Richard loves gardening, hiking, mountain biking and road biking and taking his wife and dog, Keeks, to the mountains. "The mountains recharge my batteries, and restore my creativity. I think if I didn't have the mountains to retreat to I probably couldn't work nearly as hard as I do."


Article originally appeared at UtahPulse.com.

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