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In part 2 of my interview with Tracy Record, editor and co-publisher of West Seattle Blog , we delve right into the concept of monetization. If you missed part one, be sure to read through it as soon as time permits.

Angela: How do you attract advertisers? Tell me how you got your very first advertiser for the blog.

Tracy Record: West Seattle Blog had been up and running almost 2 full years before we
decided to offer advertising. Not even AdSense (which we still don’t do, unlike even most old-media sites). We had actually been urged by a couple of people to sell ads sooner; finally in fall 2007, my husband and I talked and decided to give it a try. We talked long and hard about what might be reasonable rates (which we have not raised, by the way, though
our traffic has more than doubled since then), made up a flyer, and he went out to talk to local businesspeople we had already had some contact with through stories we’d done or events we’d featured on our calendar. He made a few stops for first and then we got a note from the proprietor of Hotwire Coffee, who’s very involved in the local merchants’ community, and
she said, hey, I heard you’ve been making the rounds, how come I haven’t gotten the flyer yet? He ran back to give her one, and she turned out to be the first to buy a ad, which debuted in November 2007, and she’s still with us – plus we’ve gotten involved in some of the community events she and the merchants community promote, such as summertime outdoor movies in the courtyard next to her shop – with community participation in
nominating and choosing movies.

Angela: Is this a viable option for laid off journalists? Talk to me about the barrier to entry and the work it entails on a day-to-day basis.

Tracy: Barrier to entry is threefold: 1 – Is your community already being well-served with timely, interesting, frequent, relevant, REAL-TIME local news/information? If not, jump in. 2 – Do you have a LOT of time to spend on it? This is not a 9-5 Mon-Fri endeavor. 3 – You do need some basic equipment – a decent computer, fast connection, still camera, video camera
– and a tiny bit of familiarity with how the Web works, perhaps even some HTML. Day-to-day work … Once you have been at it a while, there is a LOT of e-mail to deal with, both from official sources and from “hey, what’s going on with …” inquiries, and we spend a lot of time on that – we’re speed readers and speed typists so that’s OK. This is interspersed with
following up on leads, enterprising stories, checking with contacts, and also going to meetings and other events as well as breaking news scenes. During a normal week, we may have two public/neighborhood meetings every night Monday-Thursday – I go to one, my husband goes to another. If there is a third on a given night, we pay a freelancer. But again, it’s all in
how you want to position yourself. Most other neighborhood news sites are NOT doing it the way we are doing it, covering absolutely everything we know about, rolling to breaking news, etc. And that’s OK … for them, but not for us.

Angela: How long does it take to create a substantial online community?

Tracy: If you start out with a vision, which we didn’t, it can be done within a half-year or so, as Cory Bergman has shown with in another Seattle neighborhood, launching it in late 2007 and gaining decent traction by summer. He is one of the few others around here that is operating an editorially overseen, journalist-run site, as opposed to multiple contributors who can publish directly to a site.

Angela: Does one need a high business acumen to be successful?

Tracy: Guess not, because neither of us has that. We both had parents who tried small retail businesses and failed miserably, and we repeated frequently throughout our lives, “We’ll NEVER start a business.” Ha!

Angela: Is this a model to replicate? Will you branch out?

The fascinating thing about neighborhood news, at least as we’re seeing it here in Seattle, is that there are many models. I am partial to ours – IF you are going to position yourself as a reliable, accurate, professional neighborhood news site, with community collaboration. Regarding branching out, West Seattle is a relatively large section of Seattle and it’s plenty of work to keep it all covered – the only branching out we have done is to
partner with two entrepreneurs in the neighboring community of White Center to launch a news, information, and opinion blog-format site that so far is noncommercial. Unlike WSB, White Center Now is a multi-contributor site, and it’s been interesting to experience how both types of sites operate.

Angela: What advice would you offer to anyone who hopes to do this and make money?

Tracy: Prove you can provide a community service, valued by a significant amount of community members, before trying to get people to buy space on it. Doing otherwise is unfair to your advertisers – they may not get a return on their money. And even if you sell ads cheap, that is triply bad – for one, if you have few readers, that’s a high CPM you’re charging; for two, you are doing what the newspaper publishers now admit they wish they hadn’t done – teaching advertisers to undervalue online ads; for three, how many ads will you have to sell to make a living wage? We charge very low rates given our traffic and the resulting CPM, but in the end it’s a fair price that enables us to do OK as long as we have a decent volume.

Angela: If you could go back and do one thing differently, what would it be?

I would not have used “blog” in the site’s name. Though I am periodically reassured that many people do NOT see blog as a negative, I still spend way too much time explaining that while we publish in blog format, we are not an opinion site, not a small site, not a hobby site, and that we are not “bloggers,” but journalists who happen to operate a site that
publishes in blog format. The word “blog” still carries too much baggage. But I didn’t know when we started this that it would all turn out this way!

Angela: What’s the most rewarding aspect of your work?

Tracy: Hearing about people responding to something we posted, or otherwise making connections. Yesterday I posted an urgent request for people to brave the snow/ice and show up at a local food bank to help put together holiday baskets for hundreds of clients – and I was so happy to get a note from its executive director that lots of people DID show up. Close
runner-up, covering neighborhood groups and neighborhood-level government processes like development design reviews that just didn’t get much attention before.

Angela: What’s the next big move on your radar that isn’t proprietary?

Tracy: We’ve been working with a technical/design consultant for a while on a better design. I am very mindful, though, that it’s not about bells and whistles … it’s about enabling information and discussion access … I take to heart the recent online discussion about the Drudge Report’s bare-bones design and the fact site users don’t seem to have a problem
with it, so we’re being careful to not fix what’s not broken. Main need is to showcase more of the unique content that otherwise disappears fairly fast into archiveland because of the blog format.

Many thanks to Tracy for taking the time to answer all of my questions!

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January 2008

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This is a personal blog. The opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of my employer. Feel free to challenge me, disagree with me, or tell me I’m completely nuts in the comments section of each blog entry.


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