A Year Later: Jim O’RourkeBack to News

A Year Later

During the past two years, many newspapers have been acquired by independent owners. This new feature in our newsletter checks in with these owners a year later to learn about their transition and the community’s response.

Jim O’Rourke’s career in the media industry began when he started delivering newspaper routes in Philadelphia at the age of nine. He worked his way up from the circulation sales/operations side of the business into top roles for some of the nation’s largest media companies. Jim set out to build his own media company in 2018 and brings a contrarian mindset to strategically transition legacy newspaper media companies to digital.

Jim has grown his company rapidly, completing 11 acquisitions in less than four years. O’Rourke Media Group now operates in six states and publishes 24 publications and hyperlocal websites. Jim has bucked the clustering trend, acquiring properties that are spread from Vermont to Minnesota, Delaware, Wisconsin, Arizona, and as of a year ago, New Mexico.
We took some time to sit down with Jim to learn about his first year publishing the Las Vegas (NM) Optic and his experience transitioning the paper to new ownership after having been owned by a large corporation for decades.

About a year ago you acquired the Las Vegas (NM) Optic. What were the first changes you made?
We moved quickly on getting a new website up and running. What was in place wasn’t suitable for building and engaging with our readers online. The Optic had about 9,000 Facebook followers at the time, which is really quite fascinating in a market this size, but literally zero traffic to its website. We currently have over 300,000 page views and 50,000 users per month. Our team did a great job with moving quickly on this project.

Also important to note is we increased the pay for each of our employees in Las Vegas, added a new customer service rep, and bolstered local news through increased freelance (currently recruiting for a full time local reporter).

You have operations in several states. Why New Mexico?
We love these small markets in areas like Las Vegas. We have a lot of success with improving the basic business operations while layering in our digital strategy at a pace that makes sense to readers and advertisers. Revenue is on the upswing in Las Vegas, we’re efficient, and can maintain a very healthy profit margin. We’re also excited about expanding our business in New Mexico.

Did you immediately integrate the operating systems that you inherited into your own systems?
Yes, we have developed a pretty strong playbook for doing this quickly post-acquisition. The ad system was done day one, circulation moved into the cloud in month one, the website was done in the first three months, and they now use our technology to support other processes and business functions. We also provided new and upgraded equipment for our employees there.

How did the community react to your ownership after many years of ownership by Landmark Communications?
I think overall positively. The community really just expects a great news product. We recently changed to a weekly publishing frequency from Wednesday-Friday. We were very transparent with explaining to the community why this was a good change for them. The reception was quite positive, we didn’t lose any subscribers or advertisers, and we now publish a strong 24-page weekly loaded with local news.

How often do you visit the property?
Originally, a few times per month. Now, I try to get over that way every three months or so.
Las Vegas, New Mexico was in the news heavily this spring because of the large forest fires all around it. How has that impacted your operation?

It was a pretty scary situation there for people. We ended up not publishing a print newspaper on a Wednesday in early May, but other than that, our team did a fantastic job with putting contingencies in place to maintain operations remotely.