Evanston Now: 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.
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 Emily Dresslar
Evanston Now is a hyperlocal news site launched in 2006 with one primary goal: to become a credible news and information site for Evanston, Illinois, a city of 73,000 just north of Chicago.
“I think we have achieved that goal,” said founder and publisher Bill Smith, the site’s only staff member. Smith is a former broadcast journalist and journalism professor who also worked for a short-lived online venture called Interchange operated by Ziff-Davis Publishing in the mid-1990s.
Smith said he has now turned his attention to making Evanston Now financially sustainable.
Although he explored the model of a non-profit organization for his journalism start-up, Smith ultimately launched Evanston Now as a for-profit business, primarily because of the size of the city of Evanston. Smith said he found it difficult to envision that major philanthropic funders would be interested in supporting a news and information site site in a mid-size city as opposed to a larger market.
Currently, Evanston Now revenues — generated from the sale of display advertising — cover the site’s day-to-day expenses without a payroll. To move toward full sustainability, Smith said he is in the process of hiring two part-time sales representatives who will work strictly on commission. He’s also considering other revenue options, including subscriptions, paid content, donations or a pay-for-posting membership model.
Once he begins to see a more stable financial picture for Evanston Now, Smith said he would like to consider expanding into other communities near Evanston.
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.