Evanston news sees increases in readership


Daily file photo by Evan Robinson-Johnson

A newspaper vending machine under an “L” bridge in downtown Evanston. Local newspapers have reported an increase in readership since Illinois’s COVID-19 stay-at-home order was put in place.

Ellen O’Brien, Reporter

Evanston residents have increasingly turned to local news sites for information and updates on the pandemic.

Evanston Now and Evanston RoundTable, two of the city’s news sites, have reported increases in readership since the start of COVID-19. While newspapers have faced financial setbacks due to losses in advertising revenue, some are also seeing an increase in readership.

Mary Gavin, publisher of Evanston RoundTable, said she estimates her site has seen readership numbers increase by about 20 to 30 percent since the stay-at-home order was put in place.

Evanston RoundTable depends on advertising revenue to support its website, which has decreased as local businesses closed in compliance with the stay-at-home order. Gavin said she has seen an increase in the number of donations to the newspaper.

“One woman had sent us a donation, and then she sent an email the other day about how she really appreciated the coverage,” Gavin said. “I noticed through her email that she’s a medical worker. I thought, ‘Wow, that’s really nice.’”

Evanston resident Evan Girard posts a daily recap of Gov. J. B. Pritzker’s press briefings in the Evanston area COVID-19 community support Facebook group. Girard said she posts the recaps to fill a need for news coverage at the state level.

“The feedback has been very encouraging and positive,” Girard said. “If I didn’t feel like people were appreciative, I wouldn’t spend the time doing it.

Bill Smith (Medill ‘70, ‘71), publisher of Evanston Now, said web traffic tripled in the month of March. Traffic fell a bit in the months of April and May, but was still double normal readership numbers, he said.

Evanston Now operates on a paid subscription model, which requires readers to purchase a subscription in order to receive full access to the site. Smith said he has seen a substantial increase in the number of readers purchasing subscriptions.

With support from the Local Media Foundation, Smith said Evanston Now recently launched the COVID-19 Local News Fund, which allows readers to contribute to the publication’s coverage of COVID-19. To date, the fund has raised over $1,800.

“There’s a lot of experimentation going on on how to find new revenue sources, many of them based on getting the readers to directly support the publication,” Smith said. “Ad sales for most publications have been way down…It’s becoming more important than ever to have multiple revenue streams.”

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Twitter: @ellenobrien0

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