Media Pro Tips: ThisisReno Fills Gaps and Keeps Growing

ThisisReno, tagline “Reno’s Online News & Events Source”, was founded in 2009 to, according to its own about us description, “fill the gaps left by downsized newsrooms.”

In the first in a series of Media Pro Tips, the Reynolds SandBox caught up with ThisisReno “editor / publisher / housekeeper” Bob Conrad to find out how his website is faring, which in its own order of priority is its Facebook page followed by the main website, the Twitter feed, its Instagram and finally its LinkedIn. Photo by Reynolds Sandbox at the Reynolds School of Journalism, University Nevada, Reno / February 2017.

Q: Take us back to your beginnings, and how specifically ThisisReno has evolved?

Conrad: “We started actually at the peak of the recession. What we had seen at that time was a severe lack of not only depth of coverage of news and events in the Reno area, but also the quality was really suffering in terms of local media. So originally, we hatched this idea, Ryan Jerz and I, of setting up a website where we would basically promote press releases as news. It was a way for local public relations professionals, marketing people, advertising people, to get their news published and then we would kind of fill it in with original content. We have completely reversed that model since that time. We are now I would say 80 percent original content and have completely diminished the amount of press releases we publish. The reason for that is that we found over time that we got more interest, better traffic out of original content, original stories, breaking stories, stories that only we cover, than we did with the press releases.”

“ What we’ve done in lieu of doing press releases is offered sponsored content. So we can give those same public relations professionals a very, I believe, competitive deal to get their content up. It is paid because we now have paid freelancers and we are a for-profit model,” Conrad said. Above an example of sponsored content from ThisisReno.

Q: Does ThisisReno now have staff?

Conrad: “We do not have full time staff. I guess you could say I am full-time, but actually the bulk of my income comes from consulting, advertising, some of that through ThisisReno, but primarily separate from ThisisReno, sometimes intermixed with ThisisReno. So we will actually run advertising and marketing campaigns for local nonprofits, small businesses, large businesses, to promote their events, or news, or whatever it is they want to do. So, that is sort of our business model is that we are ad-supported and supported by sponsored content.”

“Dana Nollsch has been doing a tremendous job. He is one of our contributors for the last couple of years now. He has been doing a tremendous job with live video on Facebook, particularly covering recent flooding, and different events downtown,” Conrad said. Screengrab from ThisisReno

Q: Tell about some of your contributors and why they are important to the community?

Conrad: “In addition to Dana Nollsch (described in caption above), we have a couple of photographers who are producing, in my opinion, top-notch photo journalism. Some of it is entertainment and music-related, some is concert photography. Ty O’Neil has been doing a fantastic job covering a lot of the demonstrations and political events in the area, so I am very, very proud of that. Sometimes we are the only reporters at City Council or County Commissions. Carla O’Day is sometimes the only person reporting on the Washoe County School District, or the Reno Sparks Convention Visitors Association. She covers stories here at the university as well. So I think overall we just have a great crew of people who over time have contributed. Some go away, a lot of them come and go and that is fine. But I am just very proud to say that I believe we fulfill a niche, even to this day, that is still not receiving a lot of attention by other media.”

“This means basically the MGM can purchase those tax credits but then have a reduced liability on their own taxes. It was all legal and all of that, but nobody had covered it to date, and it really drew a lot of attention,” Conrad said of a ThisisReno investigation. “It got picked up around the world. The AP in Las Vegas picked it up and re-covered it and gave us credit which is great.” Screengrab from ThisisReno

Q: What about your own reporting? Have you broken any important stories?

Conrad: “I am proud of my own reporting of just general City Council, County Commission reporting. Last year, I broke what I considered to be a pretty major news story on Tesla. When they came to the Reno area, they are actually outside of Reno, they were granted by the state what’s called transferable tax credits, which basically means, if they hire a certain number of employees and devote a certain amount of dollars into the local economy, they earn what’s called transferable tax credits. And what had never come out about that story is where those tax credits ended up, and so we broke the story that they were selling them to the MGM Grand out of Las Vegas.”

“LION is the professional organization devoted to, it stands for Local Independent Online News,” Conrad said. “So it is the professional organization for people such as myself who run online-only news websites and social channels.” Screengrab from the LION Publishers website

Q: Tell us about the recent LION conference you attended in Chicago?

Conrad: “We are in a very interesting position in that we both have to figure out how to sustain ourselves, so we do a lot sales, but we also play the journalistic line as well. So we have to kind of keep that editorial separate from advertising. But we are the people doing both. So it is a fascinating position to be in, so that is kind of a big lesson. We learned a lot about effective ways to get public records, doing live-streaming. I mean you name it, anything you can think of related to running an online news entity is covered.”

“Carson Now out of Carson City, Nevada- I believe is a member of LION. And Carson Valley Times, even further south, is another local online independent publication done by entrepreneurial people,” Conrad said. Screengrab of the Carson Now website.

Q: Are there other online entities you admire?

Conrad: “There’s one out of Tucson called the Tucson Sentinel, also a member of LION that I think is really well done. Kind of one of the pioneers in this genre of news websites is The Batavian, in New York. They’ve been around for a long time doing it and I think they’ve done a good job.So there’s a lot of these popping up all over the place and I would say the market is really ripe for more kinds of websites like this, because there has been so much downsizing in newsrooms across the board. And as a result there’s just so many niches out there that independent journalists can fulfill whether you are doing a blog on food, or dining, or local culture, we have a great Reno Moms Blog run by Lynnette Bellin. Nobody’s doing that in this market. Our Town Reno is covering homelessness, affordable housing, same kind of thing. So, I think there’s a lot of opportunity.”

“There’s another local website, I think it’s called They cover a lot of events and shows and things like that,” Conrad said. Screengrab from the Reno Hipsters website.

Q: Any warnings for up and comers?

Conrad: “The warning I should put out there is that, this is the joke we make at LION, is that local independent online news is not scalable. Meaning there’s only so far you can go with this, it is not very profitable, if at all. Really, we bring in money and we’re doing well, I have no complaints. This has sort of become my dream/retirement job is what I joke to people about, but it is hard work.”

“We have a model for a publication, I don’t think it will see the light of day anytime soon, if at all. An actual paper publication. I don’t think it pencils out, you know the dollars just aren’t there in terms of the resources you would need to put into it. But we do have a model that could see the light of day,” Conrad said. Screengrab from the About Us page of ThisisReno.

Q: Are you thinking of growing in other directions?

Conrad: “We do have a new web redesign coming. I think you’re going to see more video content and more partnerships with other local personalities in media. We partner with Reno Public Radio, we partner with an entity called Deerfield Media, which gets our media content on channel my21TV on the weekends. So that is a neat partnership. We recently have started cross-promoting Kylie Rowe and her interviews with local business personalities through Dickson Realty. She’s just great at that, it’s something I could never do and it’s such a great fit for us to be sharing her work and what’s she’s doing and vice versa for her to have the ability to get her work out on our channels.”

“The big thing on the horizon which I should mention is that our podcast is going through its third iteration,” Conrad said. Above a screengrab for a ThisisReno podcast episode about recent flooding.

Q: What about your podcast?

Conrad: “We spent a year and a half at least doing, with the kind of sub-theme of the big brains of Reno and focusing on local experts in their fields- researchers, scientists, people who know their issues really well in kind of really more in-depth discussions. We dropped that I want to say maybe a year ago, and focused more on news and events. That has ceased as of January of this year and we are now in our third iteration of the podcast which will be taking a look at local issues, but how they fit within a national context. So it might be an issue such as homelessness here in the Reno area, but also looking at what other cities are doing about homelessness, what works, what doesn’t, and what can we learn from the rest of the world? So we really hope to put the podcast on more of a national scale. Which I think for a podcast is a better way to go. The hyper-local thing, I think only goes so far. I mean we have great listeners, people would email and say ‘hey where’s you podcast?’ and I’d say ‘oh you actually listen to it?’ But we didn’t have a huge amount of traction on it, and so what we’re hoping with this next iteration and we’re going to spend a year doing it, is to focus on a theme and focus on a series. So it will be five or six episodes and we’ll probably do two series in 2017.”

February 2017 interview with Reynolds Sandbox transcribed by Sarah Parks

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