"To do it truly bootstrap and grassroots, I would plan for a year where the business is garage-style hobby, then some variant of the above as you achieve velocity to grow into actual part-time or full-time effort.
"Base costs in both scenarios are some combination of technology and hosting, news and information gathering and content, and advertising sales process. Finding ways to shortcut any of those is a big advantage to trying to survive and build anything in this space."
- Justin Carder in conversation with ReJurno
This is an excerpt from a case study of Capitol Hill Seattle done by ReJurno, a blog by Jane Stevens that tracks new solutions for journalism. Jane Stevens is currently a fellow at the Reynolds Journalism Institute; she's also a part of the RJI News Collaboratory. Scroll down to the Read More section for the latest Media Giraffe news updates. You can read the entire case study on the ReJurno website.
Capitol Hill Seattle Case Study
FOUNDER and STAFF:
Full-time paid: One person – Justin Carder, reporter, editor, ad sales, business manager
Justin started at MSNBC as editorial intern in June 1996. "It's not a good place to cut your teeth as a reporter. I turned in a lot of bad stories. They always threw tech work to the kid, so I did a lot of production and analytics. I was the Quark jockey," he says. Two years later, he went to Microsoft proper to work on the MSN.com home page. "It was a really great education," he says. "What people want to read on a large scale is pretty illuminating."
Justin worked at Microsoft for a decade and accumulated a "good war chest" to do something on his own. CapitolHillSeattle (CHS) is a proof-of-concept from a startup called Instivate. The company makes Neighborlogs, the CMS that powers CHS and two other news blogs in Seattle area, plus 22 others around the U.S. He earns a small salary from Instivate, because it's still in start-up mode.
Freelancers: The Neighborlog system is designed to encourage small team operations in a loose affiliation. Its revenue-sharing program is part of that. After registering, anyone can contribute to the site. Justin has editorial control on what stories to feature on the home page, and rewards people based on performance. When a post does well, there's more traffic to the rest of the site.
Contributors don't earn significant money. "The range is typically $15 a month; the biggest has been $100 a month," he says. He tries to consider the increased traffic to the site in determining the amount of money he pays a contributor, but he says he's "still tweaking the right way to do that."
Justin hopes eventually to attract more bloggers, and, this summer, he will begin paying a former newspaper journalist to contribute to the site.
"The idea hatched while I was living in a different neighborhood that wasn't well defined or well represented," says Justin. When he moved to Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood, he wanted to continue the site as a hobby. "Capitol Hill is so well documented from news and information sites that I shifted to trivia. News and information was reborn later once I established myself and had a little more of an audience up here."
Then he met Scott Durham, who owns Instivate. "Scott was building services for newspaper partners to put together community driven sites," says Justin. Scott convinced him to make the switch over to the platform in Spring 2008. Justin also took over business development for Instivate.
$1100/month. Justin's been selling ads since September 2008. "It'll be a better revenue story a year from now," he says. "I have a good start on a small business. I'll see how it can support my part of a family's finances."
With the right local environment – population plus income – and the opportunity to dedicate 100% time to the project, a person can probably start generating enough money to pay someone else to start helping them in six months to a year, says Justin. It's easier if there are two people: one to devote time to the content side, the other to advertising.
With full effort, the business is likely to break even sometime during its second year of operation. Justin thinks this timeframe could compress with better tools and services – and Neighborlogs may be one solution. But it's still a long haul.
In this Journalism that Matters discussion thread from April 2009, Carder explains more about Neighborlogs, a platform for hyperlocal blogs that he's developing. According to his post there, Neighborblogs will offer bloggers editing tools, community features, and an advertising service (self-serve ads will be a major--though not the only--part of this). In a followup post, he discusses why he thinks self-serve ads (where businesses can sign in and create their own ads on your site) will be effective for the blogger with a small sales budget. According to the Neighborlogs website, the blogging service itself will be free, and they will take a small portion of ad revenue.
June 5, 2008 article on Crosscut.com--"Neighborhood blogs: the mom-and-pop news business"--covers a casual pizza-place gathering of some of the people blogging Seattle neighborhoods, including Justin Carder.