OLD Media Moves

The demise of the Pocono Biz Journal

February 2, 2010


The Pocono Business Journal, a monthly publication in northeast Pennsylvania, announced last week that it would close with the publication of its February issue after more than four years in publication.

Marynell Strunk, the publisher and editor, cited the economic conditions for the demise.

Strunk founded the newspaper over four years ago, launching the first issue in November 2005. She hired Debbie Burke as editor in August of 2007. The journal was also known for its Editors on the Road presentations and the monthly Business and Books events, as well as its weekly e-mail update “Taste of PBJ.”

Strunk talked about the publication and what caused its problems in an e-mail conversation with Talking Biz News. What follows is an edited transcript.

1. Why did you start the Pocono Business Journal?

To fill a void and capture a niche in the Pocono business community.

2. What experience did you have in running a print publication?

When I starting in 2005 it was a different landscape then 2009. Initially I had the challenge of making a name for the publication, but once it was established it was fairly easy to place print advertising. The faltering economy coupled with the perceived — I’m not convinced — decline of print, PBJ took a huge hit in decreased print advertising in 2009 with no end in sight for 2010.

3. What was the hardest part of starting a publication?

Building a reputation and getting advertisers to support the publication. Yes, there is a lot of work and details, but, at least to me, that was the exciting part.

4. As a monthly publication, how did you try to set your content apart from other publications?

By the nature of the publication, PBJ set itself apart. We were the only business journal in the region. In addition to filling this void, PBJ also developed an editorial calendar a year in advance and built in specific issues throughout that year that gave the business community a chance to be highlighted based on their particular achievements or efforts. We offered an annual Green List, profiling the top ten environmentally conscience companies and we also had an annual Women in Business issue. After the first year or so, PBJ started offering monthly Business & Book seminars featuring PBJ columnists. These seminars were free and held at a venue open to the public. It was a great way for the columnist as well as PBJ staff to reach out and get to know the readers.

PBJ staff also developed a program called Editors on the Road. This program outlined to businesses, large and small, how to write a press release and get your company news in PBJ as well as other media outlets. PBJ coverage also included regional politics and how it related to and impacted the business community. Within the last two years of publication, PBJ also provided a weekly e-newsletter to the readers, with interesting soundbites of business news that occurred in between the monthly publication dates.

5. What was business news coverage like in the area before you started?

The Poconos was kind of like a red-headed stepchild, sandwiched between two established metropolitan areas — the Lehigh Valley and the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre region. There was some coverage, but hardly any.

6. Do you think the dailies got more interested in business news as a result of the competition? Did they change in any way?

In some ways, yes. They started reporting on mortgages and deeds, but I didn’t see any dramatic difference.

7. Where did your funding come from?

Primarily advertising. Some revenue was generated from subscriptions.

8. Were you ever able to make a profit?

Yes, but limited.

9. How many subscriptions did you get?

At the height, 53 subscribers. This is not something that I aggressively pursued.

10. When did the economy begin to have an impact on your operations?

Mid- 2009.

10. Is that the main reason for closing, or were there other factors?

Economics are the main reason.

11. What steps did you take to try to save the Business Journal?

I looked to share economies of scale with other newspapers. Tried to forge relationships with publishers in hopes to work together and merge or sell. I was rather shocked at the lack of willingness to entertain a merge or sharing economies of scale. In some cases I never even got a return phone call. This I still don’t understand. It’s interesting that now after announcing that the paper will cease publication how many people have come forward looking to purchase it or figure out a way to save it. I’m entertaining every option.

12. Is there any hope of a comeback?

It truly depends on some conversations that will take place over the next couple weeks. If it does, and I hope so, I will be happy to offer my experiences, but if the paper has a future, it will be without me.

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