Manchester Ink Link - Leading New Hampshire's News (R)evolution

by Pat Hammond on Wednesday, January 09, 2019

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Carol Robidoux, Editor/Publisher Manchester Ink Link

It's a sunny Wednesday when I sit down with Manchester Ink Link publisher Carol Robidoux at WBC's Elm Street co-working space. We're in the same networking group and I've been after her for a few weeks to do an interview so we sneak out of our bi-weekly networking meeting to make it happen.

I know Robidoux in the way people in a small community are aware of each other.  She shares my content on her website, but we've never had a conversation beyond a quick smile and hello and I am curious. I want to know why a talented, experienced reporter with no business background would don an entrepreneur's hat to start an online news service in an unlikely market.

It turns out her motivation had as much to do with serendipity as inspiration.

The industry has changed a lot since her first job writing an award-winning weekly feature column for the Bucks County (Pennsylvania) Courier in the late eighties.  While computers improved the speed and cost of printing a newspaper, the internet forced a digital revolution print news couldn't handle. 

People didn't want to wait for an evening or morning paper. They wanted the news now, online and on their phone. 

As readership dropped, advertisers followed. Many publications scaled back or closed their doors. 

After being downsized out of her job as an editor for Patch - Nashua in 2014, Robidoux says she knew firsthand how fast the traditional news media's footprint was shrinking.  It was her second industry layoff since coming to New Hampshire as a reporter for the Union Leader in 2001 and given the choice of changing careers or chasing after dwindling jobs in a dying industry, she took a leap of faith and chose door number three.

Pathway to Work

Robidoux's employment counselor told her about a new program called Pathway to Work

Designed as a "solution for out-of-work New Hampshire residents who are not likely to find jobs in their fields," Pathway to Work was a joint initiative from New Hampshire Unemployment Security and the New Hampshire Small Business Development Center (NHSBDC) to provide a way for unemployed Granite Staters to start a business while collecting unemployment benefits. [1]

Looking for a way to leverage her skills and experience, Robidoux decided to start a hyperlocal (news) website.

More than a blog and less than an old school newsroom, hyperlocal websites, also known as micro-news sites, have been popping up in large metro areas for several years. They're a great way for reporters and citizen reporters to share information faster and cheaper than traditional newspapers in a way that suits modern readers. The challenge was there's never been a good way to monetize them, especially outsidemanchesterinklink_screenshot1-9-18.jpg larger cities like Boston or New York.

The Pathway to Work program didn't provide any funding or offer much guidance, but it gave her six months to start a business while collecting unemployment benefits. With few other options, Robidoux trusted her instincts and launched Manchester Ink Link.  

She started with breaking news, local government, and op-ed pieces from local bloggers. Her experience as a reporter and an editor set the tone for a local news outlet that was professional and relatable for local readers. 

The first two years were a struggle with long hours and little pay.  Like a lot of other startups, the business made very little money and Robidoux was forced to supplement her income by picking up contract jobs and working as a freelancer with local magazines such as Boston Globe and Business NH Magazine.  

Her lack of business experience proved to be a liability but she held on.  After almost thirty years as a journalist, she was in a position to make a difference when her adopted hometown needed her most.

The recession had been over for a few years but Manchester was in crisis.  Business growth was sluggish and the job market was tight.  The Queen City was making national headlines about the drug problem, but in the background, there was a renaissance.

It didn't make the national news, but people were coming together to find solutions to the problems holding the Queen City back. In addition to new treatment centers like Hope for NH Recovery, people were starting businesses, creating jobs, and improving the quality of life by embracing the arts.  And Robidoux reported it all. 

She had an understanding of the importance of an informed public and a commitment to the community.  While the old school press focussed on the negative news, Robidoux shined a light on the people who were providing solutions.

Community is a word that pops up often during our conversation. Her face lights up as she talks about connecting people to information, empowering people to become interested in government at the local level, and building a statewide independent news network.

She says "there is a need for real local news, from a source people can trust," and she has steadily built a reputation as that source.

After four years, Manchester Ink Link boasts a monthly average of around 150,000 visitors and over 10,000 followers on Facebook. For a city of 111,000 people, that's phenomenal.

Coverage has expanded to include business, dining, arts, sports, and events.  And her crew of freelancers and part-time writers maintain a steady flow of local content in a format that is easy for today's readers to find and digest.

And it's completely free.

She uses a straight advertising model so there is no subscription or paywall to access content.  Articles can be viewed on the Manchester Ink Link website or social media.  They even have a daily digest you can get right in your inbox. 

granitestatenewscollaborative.jpgShe's never going to be a threat to Rupert Murdoch, but Robidoux is making enough of an impact that her dream of building a platform to connect and empower the local community has become a reality.

When asked what she sees for the future she smiles and says she wants to expand coverage with "deeper stories, statewide news, and culture."  She sees Manchester Ink Link as a platform for local reporters and citizen journalists in underserved towns across the state to connect with their own communities and beyond. 

Part of that dream has already come to fruition with the creation of the Granite State News Collaborative

As a founding member, Robidoux sees the possibilities of building public trust in the news and local journalists and creating a network to share important news throughout the state. 

To learn more about Manchester Ink Link, please visit their website manchesterinklink.com

Resources:

1. For more information about the Pathways to Work program, please visit: https://www.nhes.nh.gov/nhworking/pathwaytowork/

DISCLOSURE: Manchester Ink Link shares Queen City Buzz content including the Weekly Roundup, STEAM Events, and miscellaneous features on their website and social media. but I do not make any money for promoting their products. The goal of Queen City Buzz is to promote and support Manchester area businesses and that includes sharing information about business resources, promotions, and events of interest to local small business owners. If you have an event or special you'd like to share drop me a line. I can be reached at buzz@queencity.buzz