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Jonesboro Right Now Offers Readers Free Online News Source

5 min read

Joe Schratz had a reason to jump to a newborn northeast Arkansas online news platform after 35 years of daily newspaper work, and it’s written in the site’s name: Jonesboro Right Now.

Schratz, former assistant managing editor of the Jonesboro Sun, is chief reporter of the news site, which launches online Tuesday, April 2.

“I’ll tell you, at the Jonesboro Sun, we had a 3 p.m. deadline in the afternoon for copy, so anything newsworthy that happens after 3 won’t be published for two days,” Schratz said in a conference call with Arkansas Business. “With this [Jonesboro Right Now] we can publish things pretty much immediately, after it’s been verified and edited. And we can update the news as the story updates.”

Schratz’s new boss, Editor-in-Chief Rachel Anderson, also has an attraction to immediacy.

For the past five years she’s been a first responder — a certified law enforcement officer with the Jonesboro Police Department. There, she ran social media operations and was a real-time crime center analyst.

“My background is in marketing and communications, not necessarily reporting or journalism,” said Anderson, who earned her bachelor’s degree in communication and media studies from Arkansas State University in 2014. “I think it takes both pieces of the puzzle to make something like this successful. You have to have the content, but you also need to make it easily accessible on phones and tablets and computers. And it has to look good on all those platforms.”

Anderson and her boss, Jonesboro Radio Group President and General Manager Trey Stafford, said Jonesboro Right Now will fill a gap in immediate professional news reporting in Jonesboro, and the news will be free.

“No logins. No paywalls. Always free. Always updated,” Stafford said in announcing the new enterprise, which will be accessible at the web address jonesbororightnow.com.

‘Everybody Is Capable’

The site will use the staff of the radio group’s six local stations to put together its report.

“We have a couple of staff members that are going to be part-time reporters-slash-stringers,” Stafford said. “They have some experience writing news and we’re going to utilize them. And we have 25 staffers that all have cellphones. In breaking news, everyone becomes a reporter nowadays.

“In 2024, it’s not about the official photographer showing up. With a phone in their hands, everybody is capable of shooting a picture at the Rotary meeting or the chamber of commerce luncheon. Our whole staff is excited by the possibilities.”

Stafford said that local daily newspapers were the historic eyes, ears and voices of communities. But the internet era has undercut their business model. What hasn’t changed is the need for local journalism to reveal facts, foster accountability and engage the public, Stafford said. He said longtime cooperation between his radio group and Jonesboro’s KAIT-TV will continue.

Joe Schratz (Terrance Armstard)

The new site’s mission is to “provide timely, accurate, and unbiased news coverage for our community, highlighting the people, events, and issues that matter most,” Stafford said. To get news onto the site, he urged the public to email items to news@jonesbororightnow.com.

The site will start “with things that are manageable,” Anderson said. “We’re going to start with crime, local government, local events and education, and then as we grow with staff we’re going to do more arts and culture and food and wellness, more of the fun stuff.”

Sports is already well covered in the area, Anderson said. But business news will be part of the mix.

Jonesboro Right Now took its model from clarksvillenow.com in Clarksville, Tennessee, where Jonesboro Radio Group’s parent company, publicly traded Saga Communications Inc., has about 10 radio station brands.

Pocahontas native Katie Gamble built up the Tennessee site, starting about 11 years ago, and its digital advertising sales grew to impress Saga’s new CEO, Chris Forgy, who noted Gamble’s work in a 2023 interview with Inside Radio.

Forgy has emphasized digital sales as a revenue opportunity, and Saga is “jumping in with both feet.”

Jonesboro Right Now is one of 16 new news sites Saga is developing in markets across the country.

“The business model is, yes, online advertising with news site-slash-radio partnerships,” Stafford said. “In Jonesboro we have six radio stations all with unique and large audiences, and we can utilize those audiences to push people to the site.”

The radio group’s teams have been speaking with clients about online ads for about a month, and the response was “frankly better than I expected,” Stafford said. “And we thought it would be strong. It feels like there is a hunger out there for an alternate or at least additional journalistic voice. We’ve had great buy-in from the community.”

Buzz From a Worker Bee

When Arkansas Business first got hold of Trey Stafford to talk about Jonesboro Radio Group’s new online news website he didn’t call right back. But he did text.

“I’m a morning show host from 5 to 9 a.m.,” he typed. “Ad salesman, general manager, and right now IT director. I’m a worker bee.”

Now he’s in charge of another project, Jonesboro Right Now, but he said he’ll be letting Editor-in-Chief Rachel Anderson and veteran Arkansas newsman Joe Schratz handle the report.

“My oversight is the business side, the budgeting, managing the business model,” said Stafford, who is president of the radio group, which is one market of publicly traded Saga Communications Inc. of Grosse Pointe Farms, Michigan. “Man, I’m counting on Rachel and Joe to run this thing.”

Anderson was asked if her five-year career as a Jonesboro police officer might compromise tough reporting on the department. She did not flinch.

“I don’t think it’s a conflict at all,” she said. “I think if anything, it helps. I’ve seen the other side of it. I’ve written hundreds of police reports and can read them like the back of my hand. I can give certain insights that [reporters without such experience] wouldn’t know.”

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