Thriving in a digital-only landscape: publisher interview with Tom Lappas

Aaron Gillette

Jun 1, 2020

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, more and more publishers are being forced to discontinue their printed edition. Although some are hopeful that this will only be a temporary measure, for many, a future as a “digital only” publication may be the reality with which they’re faced.

The Henrico (Virginia) Citizen recently paused production of its print edition, but Publisher Tom Lappas isn’t going to let that stop the Citizen from producing news and content of value for the community.

Lappas was nice enough to join Our-Hometown’s CEO Matt Larson to discuss some of the things he’s been doing to set his publication up for success in a digital-only world. Check out the videos at to listen to his insights!


In 19 years of existence, the Henrico Citizen had never asked readers for donations or contributions until the fall of last year. While donations trickled in occasionally, the need became much greater once advertisers started dropping off due to the pandemic. In an effort to solicit more donations, Lappas revamped his strategy by inviting readers to support their community by supporting The Citizen.

The Henrico Citizen had recently donated advertising packages to local small businesses totaling $14,000 in value to help them stay relevant during the pandemic. Now, he’s shifted his focus to supporting local nonprofit organizations. On the donations page, Lappas has listed several different “tiers” of donation amounts, each with an advertising mini pack included. Anyone who makes a donation of $25 or more can select a nonprofit of their choice to receive the advertising package that corresponds with the amount they’ve donated. This way, readers can support a nonprofit cause near and dear to them while simultaneously giving money to help keep The Citizen profitable.

He’s also teamed up with the Local Media Association to set up a second stream of donations. Readers can make a tax-deductible donation to the Local Media Association due to its nonprofit status, which will then forward the funds to the The Citizen after taking a small percentage.

All in all, Lappas has been able to raise over $3,000 in a short time using these various donation techniques.


Lappas recently discussed his daily podcast, The Henrico News Minute, in his last chat with Larson. However, the Henrico Citizen has now launched a second, more traditional long–form podcast geared specifically toward its primary reader demographic: mothers.

By targeting a specific group of readers, sponsors are often more interested because they have a better sense of how that group might respond to advertising. A business that specializes in products that moms or middle-aged women would be interested in would be a perfect fit for this kind of content.

Unfortunately, the idea originally came about just before the pandemic took hold of the country, and sponsorship opportunities have been hard to come by. But Lappas and his staff have decided to forget sponsorships and continue releasing episodes, primarily to build a base of listeners and grow outreach organically.
Eventually, when things are “back to normal,” they’ll have the numbers on their side when pitching to a potential sponsor.


In the video, Larson and Lappas discuss the advantages of publishing online vs. publishing in print and how Lappas has set up the publication to be successful — even if a return to print isn’t in the cards. Being able to write an article, create a podcast and instantly publish the content to the web before the information becomes outdated or irrelevant is an important thing to consider, especially as it relates to current events and the pandemic we’re dealing with today.

Facebook has also stepped up by offering grants to help local newspapers in need. In the video, Lappas explains the application process and how he plan to use the money, should Facebook approve his application. His idea involves a trickle-down effect where any money they receive will go directly toward assisting local businesses and local nonprofits, much like they are already doing with donations.

Aaron Gillette is the marketing director for TownNews. Email him at