Moriah Peterson, story and photos:
The Edmonson Voice is celebrating 5 years this week as the county's first completely web-based news source. The online company has 20,000 users each week to its site, EdmonsonVoice.com, which is significant in comparison to the county's total population of just over 12,000.
What makes those numbers even more interesting is that owner Darren Doyle says that despite 98% of the content of "The Voice," as it's more commonly known, is Edmonson County-based, the news site draws plenty of readers from outside of Edmonson County.
Doyle, who was better known as a local musician than newsman before the company's launch in September of 2014, discussed the origins of the site and its draw to readers.
"I've enjoyed a ton of memorable opportunities and experiences in my adult life, mostly those that revolved around music and music production," he said. "After running a local recording studio for about 10 years, the market and demand for small, hometown studios became less and less and I knew it was time to do something else."
That "something else" came to him at around 3am one morning on an August night, he said.
"I had gotten into a really low place because work was so slow. I'd been struggling for several months and it's a much longer story than I'll share here, but basically I'd tried fixing everything all by myself, which hadn't worked. I finally just prayed the right prayer and turned it over to the Good Lord. Once I got willing to follow whatever direction God laid out, I was confident something would positive would happen. I just remember waking up in the middle of the night and very plainly, these words came to me: 'Edmonson County needs an online news source, and you're going to run it.' I thought about it just for a second and then basically just nodded and said. 'Yep. Okay then.'"
Doyle said the first thing he did when he woke up the next morning was Google "how to build a website."
"That's how much I knew about websites then," he said, laughing. "I'd worked with several regional media outlets over the years while I worked in video and audio production and had built lots of professional relationships with folks from local TV, radio, and newspapers. With an interest in news, experience with media, and hometown pride, the only thing I needed to do was figure out how to create a good platform. I built EdmonsonVoice.com in 10 days and had contacted my first group of potential sponsors shortly after. I basically had a website model to show them, but with no articles. I didn't really have a product to sell them but those few business owners believed in me--and that's what helped fund the beginning of The Voice."
The first week's numbers topped the only other local news source in the county at that time (according to their own published numbers) and from there, the online media outlet has continued to grow ever since.
The Voice also has a hefty social media following on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and the mobile app, which is available on iTunes and on Google Play is used by thousands each day.
The company later signed an agreement with Edmonson County Schools to be the exclusive audio and video broadcast provider of ECHS football and basketball, where games are streamed on the site with the Edmonson Voice WildcatsLive crew. The Voice's SUV came along in 2016 and was named "The Voicemobile."
In addition to three broadcasters: Jamie Carnes, Scott Lindsey, and Granville Meredith, The Voice also has regional meteorologist Landon Hampton, along with Josh Boyd--a newly added weekly columnist, and local reporter/staff photographer Moriah Peterson, as part of the EV team. There is also an anonymous local advice columnist--who responds to questions mostly tongue-in-cheek--with a periodic feature called "Ask Mongoose."
The Voice has not existed without criticism, Doyle says, but that's part of the world of media.
"When you cover news in a small town, it's going to be rare to publish something that doesn't affect a large group of people personally," he said. "Sometimes the effect is positive, sometimes negative, but we have to strive to simply report the information and let the readers react accordingly. We'll publish something and this side over here loves it while that side over there calls it 'fake news,' threatens to sue, and all that. We've found that just staying down the middle works the best. We stay away from opinion and editorial pieces because I learned early on that people don't really care about that stuff. People don't click on the Voice to hear what I think, personally...they just want to know what's going on so they can form what they think for themselves. We don't endorse people politically or take sides with agendas. That's not the job of news, especially at a local level, and I believe that's why we've seen success."
The content of the Edmonson Voice is completely free to the public, which is made possible from sponsors and advertisers. The outlet is completely funded through ad sales, and Doyle says 92% of those sponsors are Edmonson County-based businesses.
Doyle also said that it's always an adventure when the phone rings because he doesn't know what's coming next.
"When we first began, people would call and ask the craziest things. Things like what time does this particular event start, what bus does my kid need to ride, what is the phone number to ______, or my favorite--where is that ambulance going? It used to get on my last nerve until one day when I told the caller I had no clue as to what he was asking, he replied with, "Well, you're the Edmonson Voice ain't ya? I thought ya'll knew everything that was happening around here!" It was then that I realized people really put a lot of stock in what we report and who we are, so I just tried harder to provide information people needed."
While all the team members of the Edmonson Voice make it a success, Doyle stays involved in all aspects of it, which includes reporting, conducting interviews, photography, audio and video production, attending wrecks, fires, and other emergencies, while attending local events and making the day-to-day decisions of what goes into the news.
"Studies say that if a business can make it through the first five years, they normally can stay for the duration," Doyle said. "It doesn't seem like five years," Doyle said. "I guess that's because I enjoy what we do so much. I'm truly thankful to be able to live and work in my home county, and for all the support we get. That support is not just from our sponsors, but from our readers. We keep reporting, people keep reading and watching, so hopefully we'll stay around for many years to come."
The Edmonson Voice is also hosting a 5-year Anniversary prize giveaway on their Facebook Page that includes nearly $1000 in prizes, made possible by local sponsors. Just follow the instructions on the prize giveaway post for your chance to win.