Ideas and discussion from BxB2010 Summit

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

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