Ideas and discussion from BxB2010 Summit

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

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