Alyssa Choiniere | for editor and editor
CherryRoad Media CEO and Founder Jeremy Gulban started his company with specific goals and values in mind, but without a specific set of plans. He wanted his tech company to support local journalism, and a huge opportunity gave him that chance.
“I don’t think there was a big overall strategy other than ‘let’s try this,'” he said.
The company entered the industry with its first publication in late 2020, and now CherryRoad Media owns 64 newspapers in 10 states. Gulban is also CEO of CherryRoad Technologies, based in Parsippany, New Jersey, a software modernization company providing technology solutions such as cloud hosting and other networking systems. His father started the business in 1983 and Gulban took over operations in 2008.
Jeremy Gulban is the CEO and Founder of CherryRoad Media, as well as the CEO of CherryRoad Technologies, which is based in Parsippany, New Jersey.
Gulban saw an opportunity to support newspapers and modernize how they reach their local communities through the tech business.
Gulban’s first newspaper was the Cook County News-Herald, a Minnesota-based weekly. He saw the challenges faced by local journalism during the pandemic and wanted to take the opportunity to keep newspapers in the communities they served.
He said he viewed the Minnesota release as a trial run, which was a huge success. It wasn’t long before the company was off to the races.
Soon after, CherryRoad Media acquired four publications in Arkansas, one in Alabama, and then created the Rainy Lake Gazette as a startup in International Falls, Minnesota in July 2021.
In September, Gulban saw his biggest opportunity yet when he purchased 20 publications from Gannett.
He said his success was partly due to “our willingness to dive headfirst into it”.
“There was definitely an opportunity there, and we were ready to take it. We knew it would be tough and a bit messy, but we fought our way through it,” he said.
Kathy Malm brings 25 years of experience in the local newspaper industry to her role as Vice President of Sales at CherryRoad Media.
The acquisition also provided a new opportunity for Kathy Malm, vice president of sales at CherryRoad Media. After starting in the local newspaper industry 25 years ago, she had served as Gannett’s vice president, working in advertising and sales near her cattle ranch in Kansas. She saw the opportunity with CherryRoad Media as an exciting challenge.
“It’s really fun, I think, for all of us. We had a lot of experiences in the newspaper industry, so it was really fun to go back to our roots and dive into hyperlocal journalism,” she said.
She admires Gulban’s commitment to the industry and attributes that commitment to the company’s successes.
“CherryRoad has grown rapidly because our CEO Jeremy Gulban is committed to community journalism and community newspapers. He’s really interested in finding where CherryRoad can be a good fit in a community,” she said. In communities that didn’t have a newspaper at all, he thinks it’s important to give that to the community.”
She said the communities, in turn, expressed their gratitude for the posts and supported them.
“We have certainly seen an increase in our subscriber models and our circulation. The feedback we have from local subscribers and readers is that they are excited to see the local content that we are able to provide,” said she declared.
Malm said the business model focuses on hyperlocal content in addition to modernizing technology in newspapers.
“You don’t see the same article that is published in 20 newspapers. It’s just your hometown community news,” Malm said.
She highlighted two instances where CherryRoad has kept local journalism in communities.
“Our most recent was a startup, and it all started with a startup,” she said. “The existing newspaper was going to close, and he (Jeremy) offered to buy it.”
The company did not accept the offer, so Gulban instead started a new newspaper in its place, the Rainy Lake Gazette.
Their second start was with Lake County Press in Lake County, Minnesota, when CherryRoad Media brought a newspaper back to the community in January after two years without news.
“In this community, there was no local newspaper. It was a wasteland of news,” Malm said.
The community’s previous newspaper, the Lake County News-Chronicle, closed in the spring of 2020. Gulban relaunched publication on January 29 as a Saturday weekly.
“We are excited to bring a local newspaper back to Lake County,” Gulban said in a news release at the time. “Last summer, we launched the Rainy Lake Gazette in International Falls, and recently purchased seven newspapers in Minnesota communities. Adding Lake County to our growing list of Minnesota newspapers, which also includes the Cook County News-Herald, was an easy decision for us.
The newspaper serves the communities of Two Harbors, Silver Bay, Finland and Knife River. It followed the same model it did with the Rainy Lake Gazette, first distributing the publication free to all homes and switching to a subscriber model after four weeks.
“We hope to introduce the whole region to their new newspaper,” Gulban said at the launch. “We’re confident our neighbors will find the coverage we provide to their communities valuable. We hope everyone will join us with a subscription after these introductory weeks.”
Gulban said he found a niche with rural weeklies. While not all of the newspapers acquired by the company fit this model, he said rural weeklies seem to work better within their goals of keeping local news in communities while upgrading existing technology.
“It really depends on what’s going on, but it’s really settled on a target market for us in mid-size rural weeklies,” he said.
He said some publications post three to five times a week or more, but almost all of them are “more rural in nature.”
“I think we feel like there’s a sweet spot of about seven to 10 posts in every state,” he said.
This allows publications to invest in shared resources and gives CherryRoad Media the opportunity to expand across the country. He said newspaper associations provide a starting point for the business to expand into new regions.
“Our business model, at the moment, is that we want to acquire newspapers that are primarily the struggling ones, bringing efficiencies to the printing operation and looking to grow digitally,” he said. declared.
At the same time, the technology side of the business is modernizing these newspapers, which often have limited access to high-tech products. Gulban said CherryRoad gives these rural newspapers “a bit of a head start,” giving them access to robust bandwidth in communities where it’s often lacking.
“As more and more communities become more and more connected, we believe we can really make a difference on the digital side of things. There is so much technology, and it is developing so rapidly that it may not be fully understood,” he said. “We think we can help with that, and that’s what we mainly want to position newspapers to do.”
Gulban said the company’s growth spurt was not without its challenges, but they got to a good place around summer.
“Overall, it’s been a pretty big challenge here to win so many titles at the same time,” he said. “I think our team has done a really good job of figuring out what we’re going for here.”
Among the challenges was a shortage of staff at the papers they acquired, particularly on the editorial side of the papers. Many struggling publications had cut their staff so short before CherryRoad intervened that they faced daily challenges, Gulban said.
“Our biggest challenge was the lack of staff at almost every property, especially on the editorial side,” he said.
Another challenge was to convert the systems through their titles. Gulban said it was a big task to complete the massive project through dozens of publications, but it helped that the company was staffed with experts in the field.
“System implementation is core to our business, so we had a lot of skills here to do that,” he said.
He said his biggest accomplishment has been keeping each publication running smoothly.
“It doesn’t seem like much, but just getting the paper out weekly and in some cases daily has been our greatest achievement. I think it’s a huge accomplishment to build what we built because we had so little infrastructure,” he said. “People tell us they like what we do. You wouldn’t consider it huge accomplishments, but at the end of the day, I think they are because we really have come a very long way in a very short time.
Gulban said they have decided to temporarily slow down new acquisitions and now plan to take their existing publications to the next level.
“We kind of took a break from March to digest some things,” he said. “We want to get back into our properties now and start making improvements.”
He said those enhancements will likely include an improved digital experience and the introduction of new digital products in some of the publications. Its plans for digital enhancements include an increased focus on real-time news events presented to readers online. He also wants to launch podcasts in select publications to gauge interest in the communities they serve.
“We really want to find the right industry to launch this in the right markets and see what works and what doesn’t,” he said.
Going forward, he said they plan to continue to develop and improve the technology in each new property they acquire.
“We are also looking to grow as new opportunities arise, but we want to strike a balance between growth and maintenance, as well as expansion,” he said.
Alyssa Choiniere is a writer and contributing editor. She is a reporter based in southwestern Pennsylvania and covers a variety of topics, including industry news and criminal justice.