From blog to brand: Dan Lake (Dan News)

As the availability of the internet spreads and connections become faster, it is becoming increasingly difficult for new bloggers to find an original space that hasn’t already been occupied by scores of other keyboard tappers. In this over-populated environment, which accommodates almost 75 million WordPress blogs, competition becomes hyper-intensified and a blog’s longevity and success largely depends on how effective the author is at bringing visitors back for more.

In spite of the high odds of failure, Dan Lake has pushed through the online crowds to forge an online abode that’s well read and, possibly more importantly, well shared. 

Dan News

Since 2005, Dan Lake, who is a freelance news content producer at MediaWorks and TV News Limited, has been diseemninating media and aviation news via Dan News. In addition to providing a daily rundown of current events, Lake has also created a unique branding device in the shape of Dan News Bloopers, an annual compilation of the errors aired during news broadcasts from around the world.

Since its inception, Dan News has accumulated over 11,000 Twitter followers and in excess of 4,000 Facebook likes, and this solid fan base ensures that the site enjoys between 1,500 and 3,000 visits every day.

Given that this is no mean feat, we picked Lake’s brain to find out what it takes to run a popular website in New Zealand.

How did you start your website?

I started my website in 2005. It initially started out as an outlet for my passion and opinions about the news business in New Zealand, in particular television news. Never did I think anyone else would be interested in what was being posted there, and I still find it pretty amazing when I hear that people have heard of it.

How has it changed since the early days?

It’s changed hugely in terms of content and layout. In the early days it was a lot of cheap Photoshop mockery and parodies of the news industry with some media news gathered from already established sources. It took a while for media companies to come on board and share their industry news with me. I guess that was all about gaining their trust.

How do you go about financing your site?

Oh how I wish it made money. The site is financed by my day job as a freelancer within the industry. I spend most of my spare time on it, but it’s totally a one-man band type of operation, run from my bedroom in Grey Lynn.

How do you attract ad revenue to your site?

At the moment I’m only running Google Ads. Ideally I’d like to be running campaigns aimed at and from companies within the industry. But as I can only work on the site when I have time, it’s really just a matter of spending time on what matters … the content. I’ve never really thought about the earning side of things. It would be nice, but it’s not why I do it.

What type of advertising works best for a website?

I always think, the more clever and targeted an ad the better. In a dream world I’d work alongside broadcasters and media companies to build the type of advertising that would appear on my site, or similar sites.

Has anyone ever offered to buy your site? Would you mind sharing some stories. What is the most you’ve ever been offered?

That would be interesting. Sometimes I feel like I have a responsibility to my audience to be the first or the best at covering a story, which is hard when I’m doing it for free. The idea that the brand could lead to something in terms of an income feels like a dream, but again it’s not why I do it.

Have you got any funny anecdotes about running a news-related site in NZ?

I’ve got many! From elderly ladies calling me asking for help installing their Freeview to homophobic emails whenever I cover gay events. The biggest issue I have is when people tell me what I should or shouldn’t be covering on my website. To me, it’s my website, my Twitter, my passion. It’s got my name on it. It’s there for me to share my interests with the world. If someone isn’t interested in the content of the site, there are plenty of other places they can go to kill some time. I’m not going to spend my spare time and my money on something I don’t enjoy.

How do you get access to all the clips? Does your freelancing career make this easier?

I have been recording news ever since I was a kid. So I have a whole lot of VHS that need to be digitised. That’s not cheap. But with more recent stuff I have hard drive recorders recording each news bulletin … just in case.

As for my freelance work helping in getting content. I’d say it’s the opposite. I’d have a pretty short-lived career if I ever used any internal content from anywhere. That’s something I discuss with anyone I do work for. I will always stick to my rule that it will only be used if it went to air.

What advice would you give to newbies wanting to make it in the online industry?

Content. Content. Content. There have been many occasions when I’ve been emailed by “soon to be launched” media websites asking for my content. Sure they have the flash graphics and a nice looking website, but without something entertaining to look at then there is no point. I adore websites like The Civilian because it’s full of fresh ideas. Sometimes I will try something different on my website and it goes off, other times it bombs badly, but at least I’m doing it. For me the bottom line is if you are passionate about something then go for it. If you are after a quick buck or some meme-like internet fame then it’s probably not the best option. It takes a lot of work, a lot of grumpy friends annoyed that you’re leaving dinner due to a breaking story … and that you need a lift home. Or asking if it’s okay to listen to a live stream of a news feed on my phone while hanging out at the beach.

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