The rise and fall of Windy Citizen

Windy Citizen
Brad Flora is closing down Windy Citizen for a couple of reasons, “but the main one is that for some time now it has cost more to keep up than it’s been generating revenue-wise,” Flora writes in a note to readers. Also, he notes, “the internet is a lot different today than it was just over 4 years ago. …Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, Everyblock, these sites do a great job of keeping people up to date on what’s happening in the communities they care about.”

Windy Citizen was something of a darling when it launched; Steve Johnson wrote a mostly positive review of the site after it changed its name from Chicago Methods Reporter. Tim McGuire of Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication raved about Flora:

To my old media, hidebound mind he will make some savvy investor big-time money. I was blown away by his creativity, his practicality and his passion.

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Why some hyperlocal sites struggle to attract audiences, generate revenue

Reports about the death of hyperlocal have been greatly exaggerated.

That was the takeaway from a panel of entrepreneurs and observers of hyperlocal and local news sites at a South by Southwest Interactive panel Monday.

Local news sites continue to pop up across the country, despite a high churn rate among small local sites. In 2007, one in eight Americans lived in a city or town with a local blog, panelist and Placeblogger Founder Lisa Williams said. Now, closer to half of Americans live in a city with a local blog. Data from Placeblogger, an index of local blogs, show that between 50 and 60 percent of the local blogs indexed by the site don’t make it, Williams said.

Jan Schaffer, executive director of J-Lab, wrote last month that of the 1,200 sites in J-Lab’s database of community news sites, about half are now inactive.

That doesn’t mean hyperlocal is doomed, panelists said. Read more


Former Patch editor says wall between editorial & advertising was too high

Columbia Journalism Review
Sean Roach reflects on his stint as editor of Tarrytown-Sleepy Hollow Patch. The 60-hour weeks were invigorating, he says, even if advertising was a frustration. Rather than feeling muscled by the folks in shiny suits, he wishes they’d asked him for more ideas: “It seemed I could control every aspect of my site’s being, but making it sustainable was out of my grasp.”

In many small-town publications there is a thin wall between advertising and editorial. At my previous job, with a twice-weekly newspaper, the wall literally had a doorway that connected the two departments. At Patch, the dividing wall between editorial and advertising seemed so high at times that it was impossible to know where we stood in relation to those on the other side.

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Street Fight reports that the number of unique visitors to Patch sites more than tripled from December 2010 to 2011.

“Our first towns that we launched ranked high on our methodology, and we knew that we were going to see some good growth from there. … The big question was: if we launch hundreds of these, will they all follow the same or better trajectory? And the great thing is: yes they do. So while it would be possible to launch in some great towns, and some not so great, we’re seeing generally consistent growth across all of the different Patch sites.”

Patch Media president Warren Webster

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Afternoon digest: Nov. 21, 2011

Additional news that developed Monday:

In case you missed it:

Evening reading:

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Advice from hyperlocal journalist: ‘It’s not worth trying to be comprehensive’

The Richard Jones Journalism Blog
Richard Jones shares 13 things he has learned since starting Saddleworth News to cover his community near Manchester, England. Several focus on how a hyperlocal site is different from a newspaper website: “You can cover the same story as many times as you like,” without an editor saying “we did that last week/month/year.” He also advises, “It’s not worth trying to be comprehensive,” and “don’t cover the same things the local paper does, unless you can do it better.” A couple other important lessons for journalists operating independently: Read more


New trade group for hyperlocal news sites won’t include Patch

Street Fight | Vouchification
A group of 20-some hyperlocal news publishers around the country decided at last week’s Block by Block conference to form a trade group to provide business services such as liability and health insurance, sales training and revenue studies. Mike Fourcher, who runs Center Square Journal in Chicago, told Street Fight’s David Hirschman that the function, members and name of the organization are still in flux, but one thing isn’t: It won’t include corporate networks like Patch. “They have a completely different set of needs, and we’re not interested in serving their needs,” Fourcher said. Hirschman’s take on the group: “While previous incarnations of hyperlocal have focused more on journalists serving their communities than on CPMs, the launch of this group seems to further indicate that publishers are thinking about their sites as revenue-generating entities.” || Related: 15 Chicago-area community news sites create an advertising network (Nieman Journalism Lab) | Michele McLellan describes ‘newspaper replacement syndrome’ and other challenges facing independent publishers (Poynter) Read more

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McLellan describes ‘newspaper replacement syndrome’ and other challenges facing independent publishers

Reynolds Journalism Institute
Michele McLellan describes the challenges journalists face as they build independent news sites. The first stage of grief, as she calls it, is “newspaper replacement syndrome,” in which people “visualize themselves creating a newspaper on the Web, ignoring the fact that this is a failed model. Instead, publishers who make it to the next stage focus early on about how to create community — and value around the content.” The other stages:

  • “Engagement stress disorder,” the feeling of being overwhelmed by everything publishers must do to connect with their audiences
  • “Sales-phobia,” as journalists deal with the reality that they must sell to survive
  • “Capacity conundrum,” the challenge of being able to expand to take advantage of opportunities
  • Growth

Related: Hyperlocal site RiverheadLocal looks for lessons in sustainability at Block by Block summit | How to: Lisa Williams lists 10 skills independent publishers should masterFollow Twitter conversation related to the Block by Block conference. Read more


Hyperlocal site RiverheadLocal looks for lessons in sustainability at Block by Block summit

The theme for the homecoming parade was board games, and Denise Civiletti, the publisher of RiverheadLocal.com, moved into the street to get a shot of the senior class’ Candyland float as it rumbled along Osborn Avenue in Riverhead, N.Y.

She had photographed the khaki-clad ranks of Riverhead High School’s Navy Junior ROTC, leaned into the window of a fire department rescue vehicle to greet the driver, joshed with the Riverhead Town Board as its members walked five abreast toward the high school. She stopped to chat with two little girls in blue-and-white pleated skirts, their hair tied up with matching ribbons, two specks in the stream of cheerleaders and fans heading north to Coach “Mike” McKillop Memorial Field for the Riverhead Blue Waves home opener.

At the field, Civiletti met up with her husband, Peter Blasl, with whom she started RiverheadLocal in January 2010. The hyperlocal site had been his idea. Read more


Memo to Patch editors: If you’re going to work that hard, why not start your own hyperlocal site?

Howard Owens
Howard Owens writes that the duties described by a Patch editor, while vast, are pretty standard for anyone running an independent news site. “But here’s the thing about the work load for Patch editors: They’re not owners. They are expected to do all of the things they would have to do if they owned their own web sites, but merely in service of building wealth for AOL shareholders. … Patch editors should know that what they’re being asked to do on salary they could do for themselves far more successfully and with some chance of building a valuable business for themselves and their families.” Owens has owned and operated The Batavian, a local news site in upstate New York near Buffalo, since 2009. Read more


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