Peppas speaks to Maumelle Lions Club

Jeremy Peppas, with, spoke to the virtual meeting of the Maumelle Lions Club on Monday.

An edited transcript of the meeting follows.

Tina Timmons, Maumelle City Clerk and Lions Club member: … And without further ado I didn't want to just introduce our speaker Jeremy Peppas with  He's the owner and creator, I believe, and looks like you are a freelance writer and editor for The New York Times, impressive. Lindy’s Sports,

Jeremy Peppas 0:53: Not as impressive. [Laughs]

Tina Timmons 0:59: The Wall Street Journal and some regional outlets. So Jeremy if you want to take it over.

Peppas, 1:10: Sure. Well, thank you for having me. I know that this kind of came together at the last minute so I was asked to do 30 minutes. I don't know if I'll be able to put together 30 minutes, but I'll do what I can. 

Basically, how the site came about was previously I had been with GateHouse media and we had the North Little Rock Times and the Maumelle Monitor, among others. Those were closed in 2018, the week of the closure was talking to the people who had been on staff and who had been contributors, and we talked about starting a community news website. It kind of made some progress, but it kind of got bogged down in some details and some technical things that I could bore you with if you really wanted to know but they're, they're not that exciting. So it was always kind of percolating.  … I reached out to some of the people to see if they were still interested people like Neal Moore, who you guys know, Donna Stephens, and some others.

I started working on it in September. Kind of full bore trying to figure out all the different pathways for what we could do and what we couldn't do. And then we launched at the end of November. So we've been active in December, January and now February, and I ran some numbers and we've published 174 stories, in the last two and a half months. Most of those are about Maumelle or Maumelle sports.  There's also some North Little Rock in there because it's really hard to distinguish sometimes between where Maumellel is and where Maumelle isn't. … So we decided to include North Little Rock and we've been kind of going, ever since. 

The model that we use is about the subscriber base, as we're not charging or accepting advertising. So the model is subscribe if you like, pay if you can. So far, the response has been pretty good, our monthly pageviews have increased by about 1,000, each month. But we're not really worried about pageviews because we're not supported by advertising and so we're not trying to do things like clickbait.

Most of the coverage has been really well received. Some of the things that we've done have been surprising, as well as they’ve done. There's the new QuikTrip, the convenience store that's going in at the Morgan/Maumelle exit. That's been the most popular story on the site, by far, I don't really understand why. But at one point on the day it went up there were 1,000s upon 1,000s of people who were reading that story on the website. … So that's been really popular. Brandon Achor with Achor Family Pharmacy in Maumelle did a question and answer interview about how to get the Covid vaccination and that was another story that got 1,000s of page views.

Overall, we have several hundred subscribers already and a fair percentage of them are paying subscribers which is good. The platform that we use is called Substack, and they've been really interested in what we've been doing here, because they think that it could be a model for other places where there's been a community newspaper that's been closed.

Sports [coverage] has also been a big driver. … But the thing about the Covid and the lockdown is that it is going to be lifted and the direction I would like for the site to go when that happens. It'll be more fuller and better once life kind of resumes back to normal. And I think the site will be even more engaging when that happens. 

And you know if you're here and you're a subscriber, thank you. If you're a paying subscriber thank you even more. A subscription is $5 a month, or you can pay annually $50 which saves you a little bit of money. We have some plans to do some extra benefits for people who are paying subscribers, but some of those things have been limited or still in talks because I mean I hate to keep saying Covid, but it has been a real problem.

In terms of staffing, there's about six or seven people who contribute and not everybody who contributes does so on a daily or weekly basis. We've published some things that have gotten some people talking. There's a story on the site, this morning, where Neal did a question and answer interview with Chad Gardner about the breed specific legislation that's been proposed. That's drawn some traffic right now. 

That's the kind of thing that I think Maumelle has been missing since the papers closed. … I can answer some questions if people have any but if anybody has any questions, I can do my best to try to answer them.

Tina Timmons 13:52: We'll just jump on in if you have any questions for Jeremy, feel free to ask him, I had a couple questions but you answered mine, like how would someone would subscribe to the website.

Peppas 14:11: Yeah, it's, and if you enter your email address that puts you on the free subscription list. and then you can upgrade to $5 a month, or $50 a year. We also have an option that's like a lifetime subscription but not many people have taken advantage of that.

Tina Timmons 14:47: Do you guys have a Facebook page?

Peppas 14:50: Yeah, we have Facebook and Twitter. We use the old Maumelle Monitor Facebook page ... We also have an Arkansas News page, which is the Arkansas Newsroom page. And then we're also on Twitter @ArkNewsroom. We try to post stories every day and we usually post between six to eight stories a day. And then the newsletter, everything kind of gets compiled together into the newsletter that goes out Thursday morning.

So in the last newsletter, we had Neal's column in there, Lanny Thompson, who's a retired guy who lives in Maumelle did a photo that went crazy on the internet as hundreds of thousands of people shared it on Facebook. So talked to him and how that picture kind of came together, and you know his reaction to it. 

That's kind of typical as we'll have two or three or four stories that will be in the body of the newsletter and plus the headlines. 

Tina Timmons 17:53: I'm on your site now and it has quite a bit of information. I didn't realize it was as in depth. I think I was just looking at the newsletter so we're glad you shared that.

Peppas 18:05: Sure. Oh, and the other thing I meant to add to you is that we have a partnership with Kaiser Health News, which is a national news service for health and wellness news. They've been doing a regular weekly series on aging for people who are older and how to deal with health care and kind of navigating that. It's very good stuff that's really good.

Timmons 19:41: Jeremy, really appreciate you coming to speak with us. Did I hear you say you have a newsletter that comes out every week.

Peppas 19:50: Hello Timmons! It's all by email. So what we do is that the model that we're using is a subscribe if you like it and pay if you can. And then the site. There's a companion site to it, that has stories that get posted daily. And then the newsletter comes out on Thursday mornings between 10 and 12. We're kind of using a weekly newspaper as a model. Eventually, the plan is to expand that a little bit … that's all kind of on the back burner right now because everything's been kind of locked down.

Timmons 24:03: Thank you, thank you, thank you.  This was very interesting.

Peppas 24:07: Well, thank you. And thanks to your daughter for inviting me. It was very kind of her to ask. … I wish I would have had more time to make a little bit better presentation but hopefully I stumbled through it

Timmons 24:49: Next time we invite you to our meeting it'll be in person.

Peppas 24:54: Oh, sure. And I promise I'll have a haircut by then as I haven't had a haircut in a year.

Gerald Ezell, Maumelle Fire Chief 25:29: All right, Jeremy great details. Can you hear me? 

Peppas 25:31: Hey chief, how are you?

Ezell 25:34: I'm good. Hey, on March the sixth, if you want to come out and jump in the cold water with us, there’s a polar bear plunge in the swimming pool and that would be awesome.

Peppas 25:55: Maybe. [Laughs] … I'll put it on my list. I might just make it.  I've never done a polar bear plunge. Well, you know you only live once, so why not.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The wife has given permission, so count me in.

Ezell 26:59: Well thank you, I appreciate it.

Tina Timmons 27:07: I think that's it everybody. Enjoy the rest of your week if anybody's interested, we will be live streaming the city council meeting tonight at 6 p.m.

Peppas 27:32: Thanks for having me. I appreciate it [Futile clicking] I don't know how to get out of a zoom.

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