April 11, 2016

Jim Brady, the media entrepreneur behind Philadelphia startup Billy Penn, has his sights set on three cities for a possible expansion of his local news franchise: Baltimore, Chicago or Pittsburgh.

Each city would be a match for the Billy Penn’s model, which relies heavily on a concentrated population of mobile-centric news consumers, according POLITICO Media, which first reported the news:

In an interview with POLITICO conducted before the final cities were selected, Spirited Media founder and CEO Jim Brady said he was looking to launch a Billy Penn-like site in cities with a high percentage of young news consumers and a relatively compact size. More than half of Billy Penn’s audience is 35 years old or younger, Brady said, and the compactness of a city gives the company’s stories a better shot at having a citywide impact.

Notably, none of the cities Brady is considering have yet been colonized by Gannett, the newspaper company that is backing his expansion. The major daily newspapers in both Chicago and Baltimore — the Chicago Tribune and Baltimore Sun — are owned by Tribune Publishing. The major media player in Pittsburgh is Block Communications, which owns both the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Toledo Blade.

By backing Billy Penn, Gannett could have an entrée into major urban markets that it has thus far been unable to penetrate. Brady’s model, which focuses on a mix of curation and original reporting supported by events and native advertising, has yet to achieve profitability in Philadelphia. But Brady told Poynter in late March that Billy Penn is on its way to financial sustainability, having hit early revenue projections.

In the case of Baltimore and Chicago, Brady and Gannett will face competition from two news organizations with diminished but formidable reporting and editing ranks. Chicago, which already has a local news site in DNAInfo, might prove to be particularly challenging from a competition standpoint.

If indeed Brady is planning to expand into one of these three cities, his next task will be finding an entrepreneurial, charismatic editor who’s intimately familiar with both digital news and the relevant community.

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Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of Poynter.org. He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism…
Benjamin Mullin

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