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Baristanet: Where’s the Money?

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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 Elizabeth Bahm

Since it launched in 2004, New Jersey’s Baristanet has served as a model for hyperlocal Web publishing.  Baristanet’s Liz George explained how the site’s business model works.

George said Baristanet began as a for-profit organization because “it seemed a natural way to compete with existing media in our market who were receiving advertising dollars.”  The site’s primary source of revenue is display advertising.

An ad-supported model builds opportunities for community engagement, George said.

“Readers are often local business owners — and as a hyperlocal start-up, we too are local business owners,” George said.

Baristanet is owned by George and Debbie Galant, former New Jersey columnist for The New York Times. Its staff includes “a number of paid contributors and paid regular writers, tech and design people,” George said. Volunteer contributions, which account for about 20 percent of content, take the form of emailed photos and eyewitness accounts, story leads, and some content contributions such as essays or other stories.

Baristanet relies on advertising revenue, sold by the site’s sales representative.  While George declined to release specific figures, she said that Baristanet is profitable and brings in a six-figure annual revenue.   She says plans for future revenue sources include developing “performance-based advertising, events and video ads.”

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 their class blog, Local Fourth.

Written by richgor

October 22, 2010 at 12:12 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

California Watch: Where’s the Money?

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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 Lori Bernardino

It’s only natural that California Watch became a non-profit when it was created about a year ago — its parent organization, the Center for Investigative Reporting, which has been around 34 years, is the longest non-profit investigative reporting center in America.

There wasn’t even a debate over profit vs. non-profit, says California Watch editorial director Mark Katches, who previously was an editor at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

“We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t non-profit. We launched with about $3 million in foundation support,” Katches said. “Although there might be some idea we could be a for-profit operation one day, we wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for contributions.”

The California Watch staff has 17 full-time people, all paid, with a few interns.

“We don’t use much volunteer work, it’s almost all paid staff,” Katches said. “I don’t like taking hard work from people and not giving them something back in return.”

Other sources of revenue? California Watch sells its stories to other publications, generating close to $100,000 a year, and the site also accepts advertising. The organization is working to diversify its revenue sources, including a small donor program and corporate sponsorships.

There is a designated person who sells ads and two people who work on raising money full-time. They write grant proposals, network, develop fundraising events and create lists of potential funders.

But these sources won’t come close to covering California Watch’s annual budget of more than $2.5 million, Katches said.

“We don’t expect to be able to sell enough content, ads and corporate sponsorship to get anywhere close to break even in the next three to five years. That’s why we have foundations supporting us,” Katches said.

“We definitely do not want to be as reliant on foundations by the third year,” Katches said. “Even though they love what we’re doing, we don’t expect them to support us with the same level of commitment. They want to see us diversify [our revenues], and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

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 their class blog, Local Fourth.

Written by richgor

October 21, 2010 at 12:11 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Charlottesville Tomorrow: Where’s the Money?

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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 Eddy Rivera

Charlottesville Tomorrow covers Charlottesville, Virginia — home to the University of Virginia — and the surrounding area, with a focus on land use, transportation, and community design issues. Brian Wheeler, the site’s executive director, is also an elected member of the Albemarle County School Board.

Is your site for profit or non-profit? Why did you go that route initially? Have you learned anything since that makes you think about going the other direction? Why do you think one or the other is more promising?

Wheeler: Our site is non-profit.  We launched as a non-profit because our initial funding included major gifts from individual donors and this allowed them to make tax-deductible charitable contributions. Based on the feedback from the Block by Block 2010 conference, it appears both for profit and non profit approaches have their challenges and a key goal of this meeting is to help identify best practices and tools that will help both approaches be sustainable.

How much of your site is powered by volunteers and how much by paid staff? Can you briefly describe how they’re organized?

Wheeler: Charlottesville Tomorrow has two paid staff and up to two paid interns.  We do not utilize volunteers for core news reporting.  We are starting to engage and train volunteers to work on two special initiatives.  The first is a community wiki called cvillepedia.org and the second is a project to ‘build’ our community in Google Earth using Google Sketchup.

What are your sources of revenue? Do you have a dedicated revenue person? What does that person do exactly?

Wheeler: As executive director, all financial and administrative work, including fundraising, is my responsibility.  We utilize an outside bookkeeper who specializes in non-profit accounting to handle accounts payable.  Sources of revenue for 2010 are budgeted as follows: major gifts (73%); annual campaign gifts (4%); and grants (23%).

How much revenue did you bring in January-June this year? How much would you have liked to bring in to break even?

Wheeler: $176,000 represents revenue for first half of year, which is above break even for the period.  Our 2010 budget is $286,350 and we expect to just break even.

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 their class blog, Local Fourth.

Written by richgor

October 20, 2010 at 4:11 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Twin Cities Daily Planet: Where’s the Money?

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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.

Stay tuned for a series of posts in the coming days. 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 Steven Melendez

The Twin Cities Daily Planet is an online news source covering the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. Its executive director, Jeremy Iggers, said that its parent organization, the Twin Cities Media Alliance, was organized as a nonprofit in order to take advantage of foundation support, which provides more than 80 percent of revenue.

The rest comes from advertising, individual donations and income from events such as fundraising dinners. The organization recently hired a director of development to focus on raising funds.

For 2009, the organization had total expenses of $200,763, according to its annual report.  Most of its revenue came from foundations associated with the Twin Cities area.

The Daily Planet has a number of nominally part-time employees, Iggers said, although many of them contribute quite a number of hours to the site. The site relies a great deal on contributions from citizen journalists, some of whom are compensated for their work and some of whom are not.

Mary Turck, editor of the site, gave a presentation at the BlockByBlock conference.  She said it can be difficult to recruit reporters to work on in-depth investigative stories. The Daily Planet does offer training to citizen journalists interested in learning traditional reporting/writing style.

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.

Written by richgor

October 19, 2010 at 12:10 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Broward Bulldog: Where’s the Money?

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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 Eddy Rivera

Broward Bulldog is a news site covering Broward County, Florida. Its editor and founder is Dan Christensen, a veteran South Florida journalist who has worked for the Miami News, Miami Herald and the Daily Business Review.

Is your site for profit or nonprofit? Why did you go that route initially? Have you learned anything since that makes you think about going the other direction? Why do you think one or the other is more promising?

Christensen: Nonprofit. I went that route because I did not feel I could sustain the business on an advertising model. Nonprofit gives you the added dimension of pursuing large foundation grants. I continue to believe that, although I am learning about a number of for-profit ventures that might include subsidiaries of the not-for-profit.

How much of your site is powered by volunteers and how much by paid staff? Can you briefly describe how they’re organized?

Christensen: No one has been paid, including myself. I do virtually all the reporting and writing, and have two part-time editors. I also have a part-time marketing person.

What are your sources of revenue? Do you have a dedicated revenue person? What does that person do exactly?

Christensen: Revenue sources today are contributions from individuals, plus the sale of stories to newspapers and news services. No dedicated revenue person, though my marketing person is developing fundraisers, etc.

How much revenue did you bring in January to June this year? How much would you have liked to bring in to break even?

Christensen: About $2,000. I personally fund the Bulldog, and expenses are limited without any personnel costs, so that was actually more than break even. The key to survival, however, is to be able to earn a living doing this. I believe it can be done.

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.

Written by richgor

October 15, 2010 at 6:40 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Church Hill People’s News: Where’s the Money?

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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 Eddy Rivera

Church Hill People’s News is a neighborhood-focused site in Richmond, Va. It is part of a network of neighborhood sites in the city. John Murden founded Church Hill People’s News in 2004.

Is your site for profit or non profit? Why did you go that route initially? Have you learned anything since that makes you think about going the other direction? Why do you think one or the other is more promising?

Murden: The site is for profit. Initially, money was not a part of the picture — the only cost was hosting and that was low enough to eat as part of my hobby.

As we worked to launch other community sites in the metro area, we became aware of our reach and have since begun to make some money. The real catalyst for this was having a specific individual join our collective who brought a stronger entrepreneurial instinct. We had a working network of local community blogs first; he moved to make an advertising collective and arrange for a salesperson to sell the space.

We like the idea of making money, though only our two or four most trafficked sites are really making anything worth talking about. The sales rep is living off of the income, and within a year or two, we could have a few more of us as professional bloggers. Then we can really get this going.

How much of your site is powered by volunteers and how much by paid staff? Can you briefly describe how they’re organized?

Murden: We have a network of 13 community blogs. Each has an editor/publisher fully responsible for that site. They find, generate, or harvest news and post it. The established sites have very ad hoc volunteers who send stuff in as they find it.

We are working on doing community training to get more involvement. After Block by Block 2010, this has jumped way up our to-do list.

What are your sources of revenue? Do you have a dedicated revenue person? What does that person do exactly?

Murden: We have an ad network across the 13 community blogs, a local blog aggregator, and the community blog aggregator.  We have a person that sells ads across the network. There is [one common ad position] on all the sites — this is the “network ad.” You can only buy this spot across the entire group. There are smaller adverts; you can buy these spots a la carte on specific sites at a smaller price.

How much revenue did you bring in January-June this year? How much would you have liked to bring in to break even?

Murden: I’m not sure how much I made, I really need to start tracking that. Maybe $3,000 for me, my one site. This is after the sales person is fully paid, and does not include the rest of the network. A jump in ad sales means that I will likely double this for the last six months of the year.

The site that aggregated the community blogs also publishes original content, but is built on the foundation of having daily community news to pull. They pay folks to freelance, and I was able to scoop up a good deal of work this year doing that, too.

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.

Written by richgor

October 14, 2010 at 6:39 am

Posted in Uncategorized

St. Louis Beacon: Where’s the Money?

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One of the major topics at the Sept. 24 Block by Block conference was money: how a locally focused online publication can 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 Frank Kalman

The St. Louis Beacon is a non-profit, hyperlocal online news website still searching – like most others in the local news industry – for a sustainable business model.

Margaret Freivogel, editor of the Beacon, said that the publication has operated under a donor model since its conception in 2005 – a model she said has stayed consistent with the site’s mission of honest journalism.

“The revenue structure that we have right now is not the revenue structure that we aspire to have,” Freivogel said. “We are actually on the brink of a big four-year plan to move us to a self-sustaining operation.”

Under the plan, the Beacon will generate revenue from a variety of sources, she said, including event and information-based models.

Still, the Beacon has recently done very well under the donor-based model. The site had a banner year for donations in the St. Louis area in 2010, Freivogel said. “They give it to us because they support what we are doing … we’ve built up a sense of trust [with the audience],” she said.

Roughly 10 percent of the Beacon’s donations come from foundations, while the remaining 90 percent are from individual donors.

Freivogel said the organization has a staff of 18, 17 of whom are full-time. On top of its permanent staff, the Beacon actively pays freelancers for content, as well as unpaid volunteers who contribute to the “Voices” section of their website.

The Beacon, according to Freivogel, operates with a budget of $1 million in 2010, not including donations collected from its exceptional and “unusual” recent contributions – much of which is being saved for long-term growth and plan for staff expansion.

In the near term, however, Freivogel hopes the publication can expand on its revenue streams, switching the focus to a high number of small donors, sponsorships and “certain amounts of advertising.” In her view, the traditional advertising-based model is inconsistent with the mission of a journalist, something the Beacon describes as “quality” reporting dedicated to “news that matters” to the community.

Freivogel said the website is striving to create business models that center on community engagement, such as conducting paid events that inform its audience about St. Louis and the surrounding area.

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.

Written by richgor

October 13, 2010 at 6:39 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Lakeland Local: Where’s the Money?

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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 Kevin Shalvey

Lakeland Local covers the community of Lakeland, Florida, which sits roughly midway between Tampa and Orlando. Its “editor, writer, and occasional photographer” is Chuck Welch.

Are you a for-profit or a nonprofit company?

Welch: Neither. I’m a self-supported site, so I’m not set up as a business at all. I’m retired basically. If you were here last night, you heard me say that I make my living off my wife, who supports everything I do. We changed our lifestyle so that we could live much more simply, so that we could survive comfortably on what one person makes, so that I can do this and stay home and raise my daughter.

Being an outsider, what are your thoughts on the nonprofit debate? Has your strategy worked well?

Welch: I’ve worked in both, profits and nonprofits, and there are benefits to both. I think the biggest benefit of being self-profit is being incredibly nimble. I do what I want when I want. None of these questions about advertisers or sponsors. Sponsors want you to cover a story the same way as advertisers. They think that by becoming a sponsor, you’re going to be a little nicer to their field or whatever. I don’t have any of that. I write about what I want, when I want. I’m my own designer.

Your site carries a few bylines. Who contributes?

Welch: Right now, we have a few ex-journalists who have left the field but still want to write. They want to cover city hall or whatever. And then I have a mix of citizen journalists that I’ve been working with, and they do videography or photography or whatever. Three ex-journalists and three citizen journalists, a photographer and a cinematographer. It’s not a staff. They don’t have a regular schedule. I might get somebody who goes on vacation for four weeks and doesn’t publish.

For how long have you been running the site?

Welch: Four years ago with this site. I’ve run sites for years, but this is my first local journalism site. I started in journalism, but quickly went out and did something else. I worked in civil engineering. I worked at a library consortium doing systems administration. I worked for a homeless shelter and for a drug treatment center. I get bored every three years. I have the attention span of a child.

And you don’t have to worry about revenue, but you must have some costs.

Welch: The places where I notice problems with what I do is that I’m not going to be able to go out and buy some open-box answer to what I need. I have to make it myself. I did a lot of community mapping when I first started — and I still do — but I have to use all open-source materials when I do. There would be a lot better mapping programs available, but, of course, I can’t afford them.

I couldn’t live without a computer anyway. Cameras, that’s something that I always had. We’re all pretty technically proficient people.

What was your revenue during the first half of the year?

Welch: Zero.

What are the biggest threats, challenges and issues facing community coverage?

Welch: That’s hard. I think it’s forgetting the passion that brings people into journalism. If it becomes just a money issue, if we become business people, then we won’t have time to concentrate on the passion that brought us here in the first place. Newspapers work because they have a lot of those business people answering those questions while we are journalists. And I fear if we have too many one-man, one-woman shops that business will start to overload what we do for our passion.

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.

Written by richgor

October 12, 2010 at 6:38 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Edhat.com: Where’s the Money?

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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 Jason Shough

Peter Sklar founded Edhat.com in Santa Barbara, Calif. about six years ago, opting for a traditional ad-and-subscription business model so the site would be an independent source of community news. Non-profits rely too much on grants and donations, he said, potentially affecting the angle of the coverage.

The site has since expanded into two additional California communities, San Luis Obispo and Ventura, but Santa Barbara remains the most robust online forum in the Edhat portfolio. It boasts 8,876 subscribers, of whom 708 have signed up voluntarily to pay a recurring monthly charge of $4.33, allowing them the ability to post comments.

Roughly half of Edhat’s monthly operating revenue comes from paid subscribers, he said. The other half comes from local advertisers.

“The ad revenue is the low-hanging fruit right now,” Sklar said in an email. “But we see our [long-term] revenue model relying more heavily on receiving revenue from subscribers who spend many hours on our site each week and receive the most value from what we provide.”

Sklar is also skeptical of being dependent on advertising, and aired these concerns at Block by Block. The conference focused too heavily on ads as a dominant source of revenue, he said, rather than on getting users to pay for the service a site provides to a community.

“The consumer wants content. The businesses want promotion,” he said. “It seems impossible to create an online news source that makes both groups happy.”

“We are choosing to create the best website for citizens of Santa Barbara. And, what we have created is not necessarily a good forum for advertisers to promote. So, we need to find a way for our subscribers to support us.”

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.

Written by richgor

October 11, 2010 at 2:14 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Credibility Accuracy Reliability and related subjects

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Being part of “the media” brings along some baggage. There’s the whole “you brought down Richard Nixon” thing right alongside “you cheerleaders said there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq,” and it doesn’t matter if you’re the national daily or you’re the local guy with a website.

For the local guy with a website, you’ve the added problems of the fact that you’re right there, right in the middle of the community, and sometimes you’re up against established newspapers.

Following is loosely about a discussion between Tracy Record of the West Seattle Blog, Matt Hampel who works with open data, Scott Rosenberg of MediaBugs, Daniel O’Neil of Every Block, Bora Zivkovic, a science blogger with Science in the Triangle, Barbara Iverson of Chicago Talks. I’m an editor at Wicked Local, and I jump in at some parts.

Rosenberg noted “There’s this paradox for the hyperlocal sites.” There’s the Read the rest of this entry »

Written by katpowerswl

October 8, 2010 at 7:33 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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