The battle for readers in Kelowna's tech-savvy media market has claimed a casualty with the demise of Kelowna.com, a sleek news and information website launched last year to serve a growing appetite for local online content.
"We're not shutting down completely, but we are taking the entire news component off of Kelowna.com," said Rob Montgomery, CEO of the website's parent company, Ogopogo Media. "All the news people went with it and also the extra sales people that we had hired to handle the extra business."
Mr. Montgomery and his business partner, Shaun Pilfold, started Kelowna.com three years ago as a tourist information site featuring ads for hotel, wineries and golf courses.
Last June, the two Web entrepreneurs leapt headlong into the city's highly competitive news business, hiring a 10-person editorial department to provide breaking local news on a flashy new home page that also featured national and international stories.
The move put them in direct competition with Castanet, an online newspaper that has operated successfully in Kelowna for the past decade. However, the abundance of free, high-quality content failed to shake the loyalty of Castanet readers.
"Clearly, just giving better news to the public wasn't enough," Mr. Montgomery said. "Castanet has really strong forums and strong content in online classifieds. … Those are user-generated content areas and it takes time for that to build."
At its peak, Kelowna.com employed 19 people, including a dozen in the editorial department. A half-dozen staffers were laid off earlier this spring, while the remaining workers received their pink slips on April 9.
Despite the website's failure, former managing editor Marshall Jones said he's convinced Central Okanagan residents are growing increasingly comfortable with online news sources.
"This is a pretty tech-savvy community and they're well accustomed to pure online news and all that it can deliver," Mr. Jones said. "They're not waiting until the next day for anything."
Castanet also struggled in its first few years, but became a household name as a trusted source of real-time emergency information during the devastating fire season of 2003, Mr. Jones added.
Castanet general manager Chris Kearney suggested that Kelowna.com might have survived in a less competitive market. "Kelowna has two newspapers, seven radio stations and had two online newspapers," Mr. Kearney said. "If I was going to start an online news service, I'd go to a market that's underserved."
Mr. Montgomery and Mr. Pilfold, who own a string of .com domain names belonging to B.C. cities, plan to return Kelowna.com to its former role as a tourist information website.
"I've learned that if you're going to do free content, you have to do it in a way that doesn't cost you a lot of money," Mr. Montgomery said. "By getting rid of the newsroom, we're getting rid of 99 per cent of our problems."
Special to The Globe and Mail