The Post and Courier of Charleston is going the length of the state to start a local digital news site in Greenville

The digital-only news site will focus on 'arts coverage or other things that have been cut out' and doesn't aim to compete with existing publications.

May 21, 2020

The Post and Courier of Charleston, owned by a wealthy local family’s business, is ambitiously expanding into other parts of South Carolina at a time when the rest of the newspaper industry is contracting.

The news organization, an industry leader among small-city newspapers, announced earlier in May that it will launch a local digital-only news site this summer in Greenville. Greenville is 213 miles from Charleston — essentially at the opposite corner of the state.

The Post and Courier said Wednesday it will create another local digital site in Myrtle Beach.

The press release on the Greenville initiative described the new venture as “a modern news operation” that will “hire and station reporters and editors in the area to cover news as it occurs — direct from the source.”

President and publisher P.J. Browning told me in an interview that each of the new sites will initially have a full-time staff of five and additional freelancers.

“We will have an audience executive … to engage with the community and civic organizations. … An editor, who also writes, will lead the reporting team.”

The sites will be paywall protected from the start. While digital ads and sponsorships will be sold, Browning said, “our projections are entirely based on audience revenue.”

The Post and Courier already has a staff of 11 in South Carolina’s capital, Columbia. Those journalists cover business and other local news as well as state government.

The Greenville News is owned by Gannett, the nation’s largest chain with 261 dailies. The State in Columbia and The Myrtle Beach Sun News are part of the McClatchy chain.

“South Carolina has been on our minds for a while,” Browning said, “and we have tried to be very respectful of other outstanding news outlets around the state.” The aim, she added, is supplementing what is being reported on in a given community, while perhaps reviving “arts coverage or other things that have been cut out (with layoffs).” She said there is no intent to drive a competitor out of the market.

Incursions into established news markets this last decade have been rare but not unprecedented. Two years ago, a group of Memphis businessmen launched the nonprofit, digital-only Daily Memphian, hiring away several prominent writers from Gannett’s Commercial Appeal.

The Advocate, based in Baton Rouge, established a seven-day-a-week paper in New Orleans in 2013, and ended up acquiring the Advance chain’s Times-Picayune and NOLA.com site last year.

The Post and Courier fields a staff of 82 journalists. Under editor Mitch Pugh it was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 2015 for a series on the abuse of women. The paper has won one other Pulitzer and been a finalist five times.

Its business structure provides strong support for the news operation. As I wrote in a story five years ago, a parent company, Evening Post Industries, is owned by the old-Charleston Manigault family. Evening Post has other publishing ventures but unrelated lines of business, too, including real estate and pharmaceutical sales.

Evening Post’s CEO is John Barnwell, a former banker. The local ownership stability and revenue from other ventures allow for keeping a sound news operation and can be tapped for resources to launch something new if there is an opportunity.

Browning said that statewide investigative reporting projects are common at The Post and Courier and will form part of the editorial mix in the other cities. Might the new outposts grow to an even larger statewide network if successful? Browning said that she wouldn’t rule that out.

Rick Edmonds is Poynter’s media business analyst. He can be reached at redmonds@poynter.org.