Closing the books on 2020
For The Ledger, this was an important year. OK, enough reflection, let's get to 2021 ASAP.
Dear Ledger readers,
The year is wrapping up in just a couple days. And for us, this is the 259th and final email we’ll send for 2020.
Pretty much everyone agrees that 2020 was a rotten year. Before we eagerly flip that calendar to January, though, I wanted to take this chance to update you on what The Ledger has accomplished in the last 12 months and where we’re going next.
It was a big year for us — 2020 was the year that we transformed from a zero-revenue free newsletter into an actual sustainable business. That doesn’t happen without support from a lot of people, especially our readers, who (apparently) like what we’re doing.
Here, specifically, are a few highlights of ours from 2020:
Staffing. I was pleased to double the size of our full-time staff this year — to 2 — by hiring Cristina Bolling as The Ledger’s managing editor in April. She spent 20 years at The Charlotte Observer and previously worked for the Associated Press. Cristina has poured her heart and countless hours into building up The Ledger, and we are better and stronger because of her talents and leadership. Others playing vital roles:
Tim Whitmire of CXN Advisory, another former Observer colleague of mine, has been instrumental in helping devise our business strategy.
David Griffith, a Queens University senior who joined us as our part-time reporting intern in March, shepherds our Saturday news round-up, featured local businesses in our summer “Beloved Business” series and contributes occasional articles. He has done a great job and has a bright future.
Brie Chrisman of BC Creative, who helps us part-time with social media and administrative duties, started in the fall.
Deborah Goldberg started part-time this month. She’ll be handling our 2021 40 Over 40 Awards — which will be coming up before you know it.
Partnerships. We had the chance to work with some exceptionally talented people this year, including:
Charlotte Is Creative, with whom we collaborated on a Covid photo essay series called “Visions of the Not Normal.”
Kevin Young of The 5 and 2 Project teamed up with us on a cool drone-video series on Charlotte development that we called “Flyover Friday.”
Qcitymetro, La Noticia and WFAE. We’re working on an ongoing series examining the economic effects of Covid on minority communities in Charlotte.
WFAE welcomes us every week for a Thursday morning radio segment on local business news called “BizWorthy.”
Writers. By my count, we worked with 23 freelancers this year (2/3 of them former Observer reporters). They’ve lent their expertise and helped us cover health, universities, food, development, construction and many other topics. We have connections with some of the city’s best writers, and we are honored that they want to work with us to produce high-caliber articles for our readers.
Tipsters. Looking back on The Ledger’s biggest stories of the year, I’m struck by how many originated from people like you who dashed off a quick email that started something like, “Hey, did you know that…” We can’t get to everything we learn about, but we love hearing suggestions from readers. It’s like having eyes and ears all over Charlotte.
Supporters. We make a lot of our material available for free, but it’s not free to produce. So we are thankful for our subscribers and sponsors, whose support allows us, frankly, to exist … and to keep growing and improving.
Getting established: When 2020 started, I can confess to you that I wasn’t certain The Ledger’s business model would succeed. Nationally, there are only a handful of people writing subscription-based e-newsletters focused on local news. (The typical approach is to start a website and sell as many ads as possible.)
Today, I can say with confidence that our approach works. There is clearly demand for what we are providing: smart and essential business-y information about Charlotte, delivered in an engaging way and written by people who know this city well. Because more than 85% of our revenue comes directly from readers, we have no incentive to annoy you with attempts to unearth the most “viral” content, bombard you with pop-up ads, pump up conflict, write deceptive or half-baked headlines or publish fawning articles about companies that give us money. (If you want to know more about our business strategy, check out this interview I gave a few months ago, headlined “This local newsletter is thriving on Substack.”)
The Ledger difference: I’m proud of the work our team has done this year. When Covid hit in March, we went all-in, ramping up to daily production to meet the increased demand for reliable local information. We provided context and facts and explained how the changes were affecting people and neighborhoods and businesses. We picked up on trends ahead of national publications. In September, our Covid coverage was named a finalist for a national reporting award.
On our Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn pages the last few days, we’ve been counting down the most-read Ledger articles of 2020. I’ve been impressed by how many articles at the top of that list are meaty, thoughtful pieces. We have no need to make website clicks into our Holy Grail, and we’re attracting an audience of people like you who want smart and engaging stories, not a bunch of fluff.
Our top 10 for the year include a take-out of a new biography of Hugh McColl, an investigation into the former head of the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority (also an award finalist), an interview with a local historian about her dissertation on the 1918-19 flu pandemic, a profile of an early Covid victim and a lawsuit against Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools over remote learning. (OK, yes, the #2 story of the year was about rapper DaBaby, but in our defense, it was an original and exclusive piece that Cristina and I thoroughly reported.)
Our paying subscribers, of course, received high-quality news and insights an additional two times a week. They learned how homebuilding is moving into west Charlotte (🔒), details of the 911 domestic-abuse call against a prominent local CEO (🔒), the downturn’s effect on working women (🔒), how Covid is affecting marriages in Charlotte (🔒), exclusive real estate news and much more.
We also undertook some projects that aren’t traditional journalism but are good for Charlotte, such as recognizing people making a difference with our 40 Over 40 Awards (which included a congratulatory message from David Hasselhoff), and allowing our community of paying subscribers to recommend local charities worthy of your support. We also experimented with a couple of online events to try to foster a sense of community among Ledger subscribers: an online happy hour in October and a holiday party this month.
What’s next: Team Ledger is excited about 2021. We are working on a few new initiatives. We will keep experimenting on ways to build community. We have plans to keep growing and filling unmet needs for trustworthy local information. And, of course, we’ll keep delivering scoops and different perspectives and enlightening you about our city. If you like our work, we’d be grateful if you told your friends about The Ledger. If you have any suggestions for stories, drop us a line. We’re all ears. We work for you.
Here’s to a safe and prosperous 2021!
— Tony Mecia, executive editor
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