BY CHUCK VANDENBERG – EDITOR
FORT MADISON – Fort Madison residents and businesses will have now have another option when it comes to how they receive their local news, sports and advertising information with the launch of a new 24/7 digital news product in North Lee County.
A local business couple very familiar to the news and advertising industry in Fort Madison have launched two new digital news products called the Pen City Current and www.pencitycurrent.com. The products are a combination of a fresh up-to-the-minute website and a 6-day daily newspaper published in PDF format. Both products are offered to anyone with Internet access on a computer or other device such as a smartphone or tablet.
Former Daily Democrat Advertising Director Lee K. Vandenberg and former Publisher Chuck Vandenberg are in the middle of a soft-launch – effective Dec. 5, where the website is currently publishing live news complete with photography and videos.
“We wanted to do a hard launch on Dec. 12, but there is just so much news going on right now we wanted to try to help with that information process,” Chuck Vandenberg said. “You’ve got breaking school referendum news, someone new possibly picking up the downtown rehab efforts and that’s all important news to this community.”
“We just weren’t ready to be done helping this community move into the digital age with regards to how we help disseminate news and advertising.”[Chuck] Vandenberg, who was publisher for a mere 10 months under the Brehm Communications company from February to November, has more than 15 years experience as a reporter and editor at various locations in Iowa, Illinois and Nebraska. He has been writing since high school – first as a stringer with The Hawk Eye in Burlington, then as a sports reporter and Sports Editor at the Western Courier during his college career at Western Illinois University in Macomb, Ill. Vandenberg has amassed several awards for writing and photography during his professional career.
“I started with the Daily Democrat back in 1995 as a news/sports guy, then moved to Nebraska as a city/crime reporter and then northern Illinois as a managing editor for 3 newspapers,” he said. “So we’ve been down this road before.”
Lee K. Vandenberg led the advertising and graphic design departments at the local paper for the past 12 years and was an account representative for five years before that. Her quarter century of experience in helping customers craft their message began at the Daily Democrat in the 1990s where she began work in the front office as a classified advertising representative and continued as account representative, classified and inside sales manager at newspapers in Nebraska and Illinois.
“Since beginning my career in the newspaper industry almost twenty-five years ago, I’ve never looked back. Working in this industry, serving readers and advertisers, grabbed hold of me and it’s been in my blood ever since. Now, with these new products, I’m looking forward. I’m excited to be able to offer business owners and managers products that are going to help them grow their business and connect with customers in ways that weren’t imaginable when I started my career.”
Chuck Vandenberg said the news hole will be very similar to any other digital formatting you’ve experienced. “I’m after a fully integrated North Lee County news hole. There’s even a place on our website where you can request a reporter come to a public event and we’ll do everything we can to get there,” he said.
“But I want this product to be customer friendly, very compelling reading and something that you can read over with a cup of coffee in the morning.”
“The newspaper industry is moving digital. All data backs that up, but there are still those that like the feel of a paper in their hands and there is a company in this community that will still provide that. We’re just trying to enter the digital framework for the current and younger generations that want their news mobile. It’s not so much competitive, but another option for people to get their information timely and in a format they desire, whatever that may be.”
He said residents are encouraged to visit the site, a value-based subscription service has been set up, but the goal was to get people the news for free. If they see a value in what we’re doing there are different levels of subscriptions available for purchase.
“We think people will like the name-your-price subscription option. It’s a great low-cost option for college kids or those who have moved away to keep tabs on their community. We’re just trying to gauge the value on that option.”
“We’re also going to be very heavy in the social media push,” Chuck Vandenberg said. “It’s very critical as younger people turn to digital news that the news they get is put together properly, based on fact and fully vetted. It’s worrisome to me as a parent to see where some of our young minds are being molded by unsubstantiated news stories. We need to make sure they have a local option that is rooted in fact and investigation, not just who said what first.”
Most news stories will be pushed to social media and up-to-the minute information will be found on Twitter, Facebook and other vehicles as the company comes together.
The publication will function as an all digital format with a simplified advertising structure. Typical packages will be all-inclusive packages that are one-time monthly payments and basically we can do whatever you want with your advertising…from posting web banners, to display ads to classifieds, help wanteds…anything. Instead of buying into this package or that, you get in on everything and we post it all. For one low monthly rate. Traditional one-time advertisements are obviously available as well, but we wanted the advertising to be simpler to handle, simpler to upload and reflect what you want in your package.
The new publication is also looking to publish obituaries, real estate, help wanted ads milestones and auctions all in real-time and all as part of monthly sponsorships. For one sponsorship you can literally have all your auctions listed for the month at your word count, the way you want it.
“We really want this to be a collaborative effort with the newsmakers, the advertisers, the community and the company. Just take a look, see how fresh this will be and that will be the true gauge of how successful we are.”
You can reach the Pen City Current at 319-371-1670 or 319-371-4125 or by email at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.