Gapers Block: Where’s the Money?
One of the major topics at the Sept. 24 Block by Block summit was money: How can a local news site support itself financially? Journalism master’s students from the Medill School at Northwestern University interviewed conference participants about their business and revenue strategies.
We hope these posts will continue conversations that started at Block by Block. If you have ideas that will help these and other online community publishers achieve their goals or questions about how they are doing that, please join the discussion in the comments. Thanks!
By Shane Shifflett
Andrew Huff, publisher of Chicago’s Gapers Block, left the Block by Block conference with a hint of pride. The day before, a research project for the Chicago Community Trust revealed that his site serves as one of Chicago’s most important exchanges of links in the local news ecosystem.
“Three years ago we were nothing,” Huff said.
Huff built his site up over time and decided to incorporate once Gapers Block started to turn a profit. He choose to incorporate as a limited liability company (LLC) because it protects personal incomes and assets in the event of something like a libel case. He struggled with the decision between incorporating and going non-profit. He ultimately decided he didn’t have the staff available to handle the extra paper work that a non-profit would have required.
Huff said about 100 volunteer writers produce content for more than 100,000 monthly visitors (audience numbers from Quantcast, a site that provides statistics for web sites). Eight editors, the only paid staffers besides Huff himself, oversee content production.
Gapers Block also won a $35,000 grant from the Community Trust to generate more neighborhood-based, original local coverage. on the site. But Huff said he largely relies on himself, his advertising director, and a salesman to keep the efficient operation profitable.
“Our overhead is our server space and assorted paid services – we easily take care of those costs,” Huff said. “Beyond that, what is breaking even? I don’t have a target for each month.”
While the Block By Block conference included many discussions about future revenue models and turning “labor of love” local news sites into something profitable, Huff remained confident his approach can be financially successful. And even if it doesn’t, “What’s wrong with it being a labor of love?” he asked.
These interviews were conducted as part of a class at the Medill School of Journalism that’s focused on new approaches to hyperlocal publishing. To follow the class’s work, check out the class blog, Local Fourth.