Newspaper Innovation

Self-standing Gun Writer site creating new revenue for Herald-Tribune

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In 2016, the Herald-Tribune (Sarasota, Fla.) launched a new website, TheGunWriter.com, designed to provide in-depth coverage of the firearms industry, new products in the market as well as news of interest to gun owners, firearms instructors and sport shooters.

The site was the transformation of a newspaper blog penned by Herald-Tribune Senior Investigative Reporter Lee Williams, a lifelong shooter who served in the U.S. Army and as a police officer before becoming a journalist.  The blog, which began in 2013, was twice awarded first place in the Blog/Online Commentary category by the Florida Society of News Editors.

In December 2015, a review of the blog's readership proved the reach extended well beyond the shores of Florida: The Gun Writer's message extended into all 50 states. The audience mirrored the national firearms industry audience and, in many ways, the audience of the Herald-Tribune: educated adults who possessed disposable income.

The research also identified a growing niche audience that obviously appreciated the unique value of a journalistic voice. Williams and I immediately began to create a structure that provided more substance with which our readers could engage. The nine-month process resulted in the self-standing site – it lives independent of the newspaper site – that went live in late August of 2016.

TheGunWriter.com incorporates The Gun Writer column, news, features, reviews, calendar of local and industry events, photo galleries as well as a weekly in-studio web TV series that is shot in our newsroom. The Gun Writer has – and continues to build – a solid audience on Twitter and Facebook. When news coverage demands an expert in firearms topics, The Gun Writer columns and stories are also published within the printed pages of the Herald-Tribune.

The new site creates revenue opportunities with static advertising positions as well as special feature and event connections for partners. This year The Gun Writer team plans to host our first sponsored sporting clay shoot, with a portion of proceeds benefiting the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Committee's Youth Charities, extending the reach of the brand's appeal and relevance within the community.

TheGunWriter.com continues to grow organically in audience and content. In 2017, a features menu will be introduced to the site that includes: training news and information; special offers to readers from sponsors; and a new cooking show featuring game – from duck to venison to deer to boar, the segment will showcase recipes that can be cooked fireside or in your own kitchen.

Instead of building a site and hoping to attract an audience, The Gun Writer built an audience and then provided that audience with a trusted resource to follow and engage with every day through multiple channels. The result has provided an innovative voice on a complex topic for readers as well as platform to reach an underserved audience and stream new revenue opportunities for the Herald-Tribune.

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