What I learned in first year of The Victory Bell
Reflections on a risk taken and lessons learned
“I’ve kept my head down grinding/Just looked up and realized it/Damn, it’s been a year?” - Ashley Cooke
The Victory Bell turns one later this week! Do websites get birthdays?
Birthdays have always held special meaning to me. I think everyone out there deserves that one day a year where they get a little bit of our attention and acknowledgement. Maybe some cake too? After all, what is life if we don’t get at least 24 hours where we get to celebrate and reflect on ourselves?
So I’m going to take this moment to reflect on a few things that I’ve learned in the last year of running The Victory Bell. Some things are big. Some are small. All are meaningful to me in some way.
My first reflection is simply that of gratitude. Gratitude toward those who supported me and this site immediately upon launch. It means the world to me that people still support local journalism and that people took a chance on The Victory Bell. I hope it’s been worth it. (Leave a comment below if you have a favorite story or moment of the last year)
Let me tell you how strange it is to call people and introduce myself as “from The Victory Bell.” Whenever I would call and say I was from the Northwest Indiana Times, I felt like people understood that I was a reporter from a newspaper. It was understood why I was calling. Unless people know what The Victory Bell is, my introduction needs a few more sentences now.
I’m one year in and I’m still trying to figure out how this thing is supposed to make money. I feel strange sitting down with an athlete or a coach for an interview, writing the story and then hoping that same athlete or coach will pay to subscribe to the site so they can read their own words back to themselves. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all?
There have been a handful of stories that have really reinforced why I wanted to create this site. Features on Emil Freese-Vilien, Caitlin Morrison and the Art-Psychology Building stand out as pieces that never would’ve seen the light of day in the newspaper world.
Speaking of the newspaper world, it really is depressing what has happened to the Northwest Indiana Times and Post-Tribune in the last year. Both of my editors from the Times have moved on since I left the paper last January. I’ve seen a Times reporter at one Valparaiso basketball game this year and haven’t seen a Post-Tribune reporter anywhere near campus. The PT used to cover Valparaiso football every week.
But I also understand why. This industry is about page clicks and I’d be lying if I said it hasn’t been a struggle to grow readership in the last year. Paid subscriptions have gradually trickled in since the initial launch, but not nearly at the rate I was hoping. Maybe it’s the name/mascot. Maybe it’s the struggles of the men’s basketball team. Maybe it’s the current economic status of the world. Maybe people don’t want to pay for journalism or just don’t know about the site. I’m not sure how to generate more interest other than to ask all of you out there to tell a friend or two about The Victory Bell. Any help is greatly appreciated.
The fall sports season was a highlight. Covering the football, volleyball and soccer teams was a real treat. I’d somewhat covered the three teams in the past, but not to the level I did in 2022. Getting to know the athletes and coaches a bit more this year led to better stories. I can’t wait for even more coverage of these three sports in 2023.
Speaking of soccer, it was during a game against Youngstown State on Aug. 21 when I realized the new normal of what running a paid-subscription site meant. Kiley Dugan scored the lone goal in a 1-0 Valparaiso victory. I’ve joked with Dugan that she should’ve passed to someone else because she was already a subscriber! Why couldn’t a non-subscriber be the one to score the game-winning goal? Don’t worry, there were plenty more goals and plenty more subscribers to come from the 2022 Missouri Valley Conference regular-season champs.
One of the tricky things about running your own website is knowing that 100 percent of everything falls on your shoulders. Any mistakes in the copy, I can’t blame an editor. A headline someone doesn’t like? I can’t pass it off to the desk.
Eliot Aust has been a rockstar this year. He’s the photo editor for The Torch, Valparaiso’s student-run newspaper, and he reached out to me about taking photos for The Victory Bell. He’s done some great work this year and he’ll continue to do great work in the future. AJ Stevens has also been gracious in providing photographs. Their work makes the site look sharp.
The same goes for Leah Earnest. Leah and I had never met until she reached out about doing some graphic design work for a new website she heard I was launching. I’ve since gotten the chance to know her, to cover many of her basketball games and to watch her evolve into a hell of a player on the court. While I’ll still write about her 3-point shooting slump, Leah is every bit of what The Victory Bell is all about.
My 12th and final point brings me back to gratitude. This site never would’ve gotten off the ground were it not for the blessing of a few people. I’ll start with Aaron Leavitt and Brandon Vickrey. They are the gatekeepers of Valparaiso athletics and they’ve continued to open their doors to me, despite the changing nature of my role. They’re always a phone call or text away and those two are as good as it gets. Valparaiso President Jose Padilla as well as director of athletics Charles Small and former AD Mark LaBarbera have been great as well. Hat tip to Mark for announcing his retirement four days after I launched this site. Great timing. Valparaiso’s coaching staff has also been great. Matt Lottich, Mary Evans and Landon Fox were used to me being around and they’ve continued to grant me access. Carin Avery, John Marovich, Brian Schmack, Shon Washington, Maggie Kroemer and Bob Modesto are other coaches who have sat down with me for interviews in the last year. I haven’t gotten to all the sports at Valpo and I hope to in Year No. 2. I launched this site to tell the stories of Valparaiso’s student-athletes and I’m going to continue to do that for another year. Thank you again for all of your support.