New Jersey tech entrepreneur Jeremy Gulban didn’t want to be a hero. Yet publishers and journalists across the country hail him as such. Gulban acquires rural community newspapers, but he does not empty them for their assets. Instead, he works to save community journalism.
The reason: He thinks helping these newspapers use technology to improve their offerings will be good for newspapers, good for communities, and good for his business.
The CEO, who took over Parsippany-based CherryRoad Technologies from his father in 2009, buys community newspapers through its subsidiary, CherryRoad Media, and lets their editors and reporters run them.
Investing in technology to make newspapers robust
In the meantime, it is investing in technologies that will make newspapers more robust and give them a healthy online presence. As of this writing, he has acquired over 60 newspapers.
These are not online news sites. They are mostly printed newspapers that are the heart of rural communities in America. These are newspapers that community members still rely on for news, in places where there may not be other sources of local coverage and where people still don’t use the internet.
As it states on its website, “CherryRoad has a proven track record of enabling technologies that play an important role in the ‘digital fabric’ of the community, and we will use this insight to improve the online experience of these assets. media. »
Gulban is a New Jersey native who grew up in Denville and went to college at Drew University, Madison. Meanwhile, his father had started CherryRoad Technologies. Gulban moved to Chicago to lead the family business’ operations in the Midwest. In 2009, with his father ready to hand over management of CherryRoad, Gulban returned to New Jersey to take over the business.
“Our original systems were ERP (enterprise resource planning) systems, such as payroll systems and financial systems, and that’s what we continued to do when I took over,” Gulban told NJTechWeekly.com. Most of the company’s customers at the time were major city, county or state governments, he said.
“We continued on this path until 2017, when we decided to diversify into other service offerings. We looked at our customers, and we saw that they had a lot of needs. So we made some acquisitions. One was an internet service provider in Massachusetts that focused on schools. Another was a web hosting company that also had its own proprietary cloud solution. What we really wanted to do was have our own solutions to market, rather than sell services to other larger technology providers. »
The company might have continued down this path, had it not been for the pandemic, Gulban told NJTechWeekly.com.
“In 2020, during the pandemic, we were in our homes for months,” he said. “We wanted to do something to help our customers. Between government clients who needed help hosting remote town hall meetings and school kids trying to do remote learning, we thought we could help and started creating solutions. And what we found out was that nobody really needed our help because they all went on Zoom. They were able to post information for free on YouTube or Facebook. Google stepped in and gave them free educational apps. And, so, there just wasn’t a market to do anything.
It was around this time that Gulban discovered the hyperlocal community newspaper market, which was ripe for help and had been ignored by others. He said he wanted to find a market where his business could impact people’s lives, and he did.
Make a difference in the community
“We looked for where we could make a difference in the community during this difficult time. Newspapers came to mind because in 2020 there was story after story of local newspapers closing because they had no advertising during the pandemic. So we said, “Let’s try this.”
“I found a community newspaper for sale in northeast Minnesota. I had never been there before, but found it on a website, and called the business broker and he was a really nice guy, like most people in Minnesota. They are very, very talkative and we continued to engage in the process and keep things moving. Eventually I went there in September 2020 and took a look, and we drove to the owner 10 miles out in the woods on a dirt road, and we signed a contract to buy the log. And I remember thinking, “That’s the best idea ever, or the worst, and we’ll find out.” » »
Collect 20 Gannett Logs
News companies have taken on a life of their own, Gulban said.
“We made another acquisition in Arkansas. We started a newspaper in International Falls, Minnesota, after the newspaper there closed, and it caught the attention of a lot of people in the industry,” he said. “And, along the way, we ended up connecting with Gannett, obviously the biggest news company in the country, who was looking to sell some of his papers. We did a transaction with them in October 2021, for 20 newspapers in the Kansas and Missouri areas.
During the transaction, Gulban noted that Gannett was following a similar path to CherryRoad, trying to bring more digital solutions to their newspapers. It had extensively trained its staff in online advertising sales and digital marketing services. Its staff knew how to use Facebook and Google to market their businesses, both to get discovered in searches and to generate leads. And they were getting into website development and hosting.
“It fitted very well with some of the tools and technologies that we had. So that’s where the light bulb kind of went out. I thought this vision might have legs. We made a few more acquisitions and today we have 63 newspapers,” Gulban continued.
“The disappearance of the newspaper industry is greatly exaggerated”
NJTechWeekly.com asked Gulban how he was going to make money from these kinds of newspapers when others couldn’t.
He replied, “I think some of the stories you read about the demise of the print media are greatly exaggerated. There is certainly, in my opinion, a bigger problem in metropolitan markets than in rural markets. Technology adoption just isn’t as great when you go to a small town. You have the Internet here in New Jersey; everyone has internet access for the most part. But, if you’re going to a small community in Kansas, that’s probably not the case.
This means that small, rural newspapers don’t have the same level of competition from the Googles and Facebooks of the world for advertising dollars.
“And there’s just a different sense of community in a small town than I think we find here in New Jersey,” he added.
“So I think newspapers can make money on their own, if you have the right staff in place, and people are willing to wear many hats and do what they need to do to make the newspaper continues to operate locally. I think the advantage is that the technology will come to these communities over the next five to ten years. The question is: how do we position ourselves? The local newspaper is probably one of the most visible brands in town, especially a small town. How do we become the face of technology, the trusted advisor to help the newspaper understand how to use technology appropriately? »
Preparing the newspapers of the future
NJTechWeekly.com spoke with Gulban for a few minutes about technologies that have yet to reach the heart, like the Metaverse, and how his company would prepare small town markets for these technologies, which will reach them in the next five years. years. years or more. Gulban told us that the learning curve will be huge, but there is an opportunity here to help these companies understand, survive and thrive in these technology-based environments.
He added that in rural communities, print journalism seems to be preferred and people like to receive something in the mail. However, local newspapers need to have an online presence for the younger generation; and, to keep their attention, they will have to find creative solutions.
The whole point of this is to generate revenue for both the newspapers and CherryRoad, Gulban said, but there’s also a big part of it that involves giving back to the community.
“And, you know, it’s very rewarding,” he told NJTechWeekly.com. “We get a lot of recognition for trying to do something for an institution that has a lot of people.”
Contact CherryRoad Media at: cherryroad.com/cherryroad-media or call 973-402-7802.
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