Locally Grown News: 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 Spencer Rinkus
Locally Grown News describes itself as “an online community designed to foster the ‘eating locally’ movement. Our mission is to generate conversation around sustainable, healthy lifestyles.” Its founder is Michelle Ferrier, associate professor of communications at Elon University. She is the former managing editor of online communities at the Daytona Beach News-Journal.
Is Locally Grown News profit or non-profit, and why did you feel that direction was more promising?
Ferrier: I started the site after receiving a grant, but formed it as a for-profit entity. Why? Because I’m selling a model — that people can make a living off of building other LocallyGrownNews.com sites. So profit is essential for the franchise model I’m building.
How much of your site is powered by volunteers and how much is paid staff, and how are you organized?
Ferrier: I am a sole proprietor. I paid my daughter to do some data entry. I sometimes pay freelancers for content. I barter copy from other sites. I use some Creative Commons copy and I rip and grab from other nonprofits that let me. I have a user-generated content model, so I invite users to post content on the site. That takes time, but I’m reaching the tipping point where people see they can do their own thing and help contribute to this community site.
What are your sources of revenue, and do you have a dedicated revenue person? What does their job look like?
Ferrier: I am the dedicated revenue person. I’ve bartered a few ads on my site, but am just getting into ad sales on the site. We just launched in June and I felt it was important to focus on content and delivering a product that was informative, engaging and useful. Ad revenue is one source of revenue. I’m adding a ‘classified ad’ revenue stream. Also, I’m not shying away from a print vehicle, like many other hyperlocals. I think I’ve got a content niche that lends itself to a targeted local publication.
And do you have any idea how much revenue Locally Grown News brought in from January to June this year? How much might you have liked to bring in to break even?
Ferrier: I bartered some food and some promotional items for ads. I’ve been running off the grant money for the past year ($10,000 from the McCormick Foundation New Media Women Entrepreneurs program). But I’ve run other hyperlocals before and I think building content first is critical — demonstrating value and audience to advertisers. Plus, I’ve been out meeting those advertisers and not asking them for money . . . just making relationships. I can go back to them for money later.
And last of all — do you love what you’re doing?
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.