News Leadership 3.0

January 28, 2010

Promising online news organizations - The hunt is on

Part of my work as an Reynolds Journalism Institute fellow is identifying promising online news organizations, learning from their experience and seeing if RJI can help them flourish. Here’s my list so far. Please help me out by suggesting additions in the comments.

(Update: I have added site to the list, based on suggestions from commenters and others. See the updated list here. Thank you.)
I have a list of hundreds of the news sites (from the Knight Community News Network‘s database and other sources). With help from Missouri School of Journalism grad student Adam Maksl, I’m looking at sites and measuring them against criteria that indicate they are primarily a news site that is updated regularly, are accessible and transparent to readers, and are working on a viable business model. We’re also looking at how these sites use social media and other interactivity to engage their users.

What we’re finding is that many of the sites on various lists are defunct or fairly inactive, which is similar to the findings of annual studies by Esther Thorson and other researchers at the Missouri School of Journalism. But we’re also finding sites that seem to be making a modest go of news and possibly the news business. We want to highlight them.
What follows is our list of promising sites. So far. We’ll be adding to it in the coming weeks, and as we write more about a particular site, we’ll link to it from here. Please feel free to add your thoughts here. Also please tell us about sites you think we should explore. It doesn’t matter whether these sites are for-profit, not-for-profit or even corporate as long as they are willing to share what they’re learning.

Most of the information is gleaned from a review of the site. If we’ve missed something or gotten the wrong impression, please let us know in the comments or e-mail me at michele dot mclellan at yahoo dot com.

Please help us with our list. We need your contributions. If you operate one of the sites, please feel free to add relevant information in comments here.

We’ve created some categories for organizing the sites, with the caveat that most sites don’t fit one rigid definition. But we’ve attempted to define dominant traits or practices and acknowledge up front that the categories may not reflect nuances. (Thanks to Susan Mernit and Lisa Williams for wise feedback on the categories.)

1. NEW TRADITIONALS - These sites are dominated by original content produced by professional journalists. While the newsroom staff may be smaller than in a traditional newspaper newsroom, these sites tend to have more journalists on staff than community or micro local sites.  Many are embracing digital connectivity with their users, but traditional journalism is their bread and butter. Most of these sites are powered with grant funding and are searching for a viable revenue model, perhaps one that mixes grants, donations, sponsorships, syndication and advertising. Among others, the Knight Foundation is putting significant money into many of these sites.

* New Haven Independent is a professionally-staffed local news site in Connecticut, edited by Paul Bass and sponsored by the not-for-profit Online Journalism Project. Topics: Neighborhoods, government, politics, criminal justice, schools, business. Revenue: Foundation grants, advertising, donations. About New Haven Independent. Bonus points: With grant funding, recently spun off a sister site, the Valley Independent Sentinel (About), also professionally staffed, which serves five towns in Connecticut’s Naugautuck Valley.
* Gotham Gazette is a New York City site operated by the Citizens Union Foundation. Topics: City and state policy and politics. Revenue:  Donations, advertising, foundation grants. Bonus points: Uses interactive games to engage users in solving civic problems. About Gotham Gazette.

* St. Louis Beacon was founded by and is staffed by professional journalists, including editor Margaret Wolf Freivogel. Topics: Revenue: Grants, donations, memberships. Bonus points: Member of the Public Insight Network, which solicits citizen perspectives and experiences to inform journalism. About St. Louis Beacon

* The Tyee is a Vancouver, B.C. news site that uses professional journalists and seeks to publish stories that mainstream news sources ignore. The editor is David Beers. Topics: Government and public affairs, environment, justice system.  Revenue: Advertising, donations. About The Tyee.

* Voice of San Diego, with a high-energy look and a carefully crafted mission, is a model for online city journalism done right. Topics: Politics, education, neighborhoods, public safety, housing, economy and quality of life. Revenue: Grants, donations, memberships, advertising. Bonus points: Investigative reporting. About Voice of San Diego.

To be added: MinnPost, Texas Tribune, Seattle PI, California Watch, Wyo.file
Newcomers in 2010: Florida Independent, Connecticut News Project

2. COMMUNITY - These sites often rely on professional journalists but they tend to be bootstrappers who also focus on community building—actively seeking user feedback and content, writing in a conversational tone, and fostering civic engagement with practices such as voting, calls to action, and partnerships with local organizations and activists.

* Oakland Local is a community news site founded by Web entrepreneur Susan Mernit in Oakland, Calif. About. Topics: Environment, food, development, identity, arts & education. Revenue: Start up grant, advertising in the works. Bonus points: Savvy combination of community partnerships and strategic use of social media create community buzz. About Oakland Local.

* Open Media Boston reports local news with a small professional staff supplemented by citizen journalists. Topics: Local news, arts and living, tech, opinion. Revenue: Advertising, donations, foundation grants. Bonus points: Uses social media tools to solicit content submissions from readers. About Open Media Boston.

* Twin Cities Daily Planet is a rich community news site in Minneapolis-St. Paul founded by journalist Jeremy Iggers. Topics: Neighborhoods and communities, work & economy, politics & policy, arts & lifestyle, immigrants and immigration. Revenue: Donations, advertising, sponsorships, foundation grants. Bonus points: Aggregates dozens of community sites, including ethnic media. About Twin Cities Daily Planet.

To be added: Gables Home Page.

- Sometimes called “hyper local,” these sites provide highly granular news of a defined neighborhood or town. They may have a tiny staff—one or two people plus interns or citizen contributors—supported by highly local advertising.

* BaristaNet, run by veteran journalists Debbie Galant and Liz George, covers three towns in northern New Jersey. Topics: Locals news and events. Revenue: Local advertising, including classifieds.  Bonus Points: The site has formed some partnerships with other local organizations, including creating an online local parenting guide (Barista Kids) with a local children’s organization. About BaristaNet.

* The Batavian: Digital news pioneer Howard Owens started this New York news blog for Gatehouse Media, then took it with him when he left the company. Topics: Local news. Revenue: Advertising, sponsorships. Bonus points: Another demonstration that there is a revenue model in local advertising. About The Batavian.

* The Loop is a micro local news site founded and operated by television journalist Polly Kriesman, a multiple Emmy winner. It serves Larchmont and five other communities near New York City. Topics: Local news and events. Revenue: Advertising. Bonus points: News with good-natured attitude. About The Loop.

* The Rapidian is neighborhood citizen news site in Grand Rapids, Mich., operated by the Grand Rapids Community Media Center. Topics: Neighborhood news. Revenue: Foundation grants, including Knight Foundation. Bonus points: Active use of social media, mapping local events and news. About The Rapidian.
* West Seattle Blog is operated by Tracy Record and Patrick Sand. Topics: Local news, crime, traffic, events. Revenue: Advertising. Bonus points: Demonstrating that highly local advertising can anchor a modest business model. About West Seattle Blog.

To be added: Seattle’s Capitol Hill and My Ballard blogs.

- These are highly local, low cost sites created with a regional or national template, often by a corporation. In taking the temperature of the news ecosystem, it is important to note that corporations are interested in micro local news and the local advertising they may draw. What do they know that established news organizations don’t?

To be added: Patch, YourHub, Metblogs

5. NICHE - To be added: Health News Florida, Bargain Babe

- These sites focus on a limited number of specific topics—restaurants and entertainment or health and medical news, or they aim to engage very specific communities such as young people or seniors.
* Seattle/Local Health Guide was founded by MD/journalist Michael McCarthy. Topics: Health news from the Seattle and the Puget Sound region and information about services available in the area. Revenue: Advertising in the works. Bonus points: A flu vaccine locator widget. About.

* BeyondRobson covers mostly arts and entertainment in Vancouver. Revenue: Advertising. Bonus points: Part of a small network of sites published by, a media company that focuses on hyperlocal reporting in several Canadian communities. About BeyondRobson.

* Duke City Fix is an Albuquerque, New Mexico community Web site that is managed by volunteers.  Topics: Neighborhoods, restaurants and music. Revenue: Ads by Google. Bonus points: Active commenting community. About Duke City Fix.

* Irish Philadelphia focuses on local news and culture for Philly’s Irish-American community. It is run by two Philly journalists, Jeff Meade and Denise Foley, who themselves have Irish roots. Topics: Music, dance, art, food, genealogy, sports, travel. Revenue: Advertising. About Irish Philadelphia.

To be added: The DuSu.

7. MINI SITES - These sites typically are run by one or two people. They tend to be idiosyncratic in the selection of stories they cover and not highly aggressive in finding revenue. While we recognize their value in the news ecosystem, we do not plan to study them in depth. But we will list examples we come across.
* Coconut Grove Grapevine. is a low-key local blog site for Coconut Grove, Florida by Editor/Publisher Tom Falco. Topics: Civic events, weather, business specials. Revenue: Advertising.

* Frederick Maryland Online is another low key local blog. Topics: Local events. Revenue: Advertising. About FMO.
* Lakeland Local is a microlocal blog in Florida run by Chuck Welch. Topics: Local news, crime, events. Revenue: Not apparent from site. About Lakeland Local.

* Boise Guardian is a local watchdog blog in Boise, Idaho, that mixes news and opinion; the editor is David R. Frazier. Topics: Local politics and policy. Revenue: Donations. About Boise Guardian.

* Northfield Citizens Online is a citizen-run local news site in Minnesota. Topics: Civic issues, local events, weather. Revenue: Seeking sponsorships. About Northfield Citizens Online.

* SkokieNet in Illinois is operated by the Skokie public library and invites users to contribute stories, photos and calendar listings. Topics: A wide range of local news and events. Revenue: Not clear beyond public library support.

8. AGGREGATORS - These sites curate links and headlines from other sources. While curation provides a valuable service, our study is focused on sites that originate news.

(This list is cross posted at Reynolds Journalism Institute.)

What do you think of our list? What sites should we add? Please add your feedback in the comments below!


Hi Michele,

Check out our new aggregator/news service, BringMeTheNews in Minnesota (  We do daily aggregation and distribution online, through social media, radio and print partners across the state, have some original reporting, use creative commons for our copyright and are also profitable through advertising while still adding new journalists to our staff.

You’re correct, it isn’t apparent where we get the revenue for Lakeland Local. There isn’t any. By design, I personally support the project costs. For four years, I’ve turned away all advertising. Semi-retired, I didn’t want to be in the business of selling ads.

I understand you have to categorize sites in some manner, but I hope the lack of advertising alone doesn’t keep your eyes off Lakeland Local.

We currently publish content from three ex-“old media” journalists, a photographer, and a videographer, and numerous part-time citizen journalists. Everyone is donating their time and expertise. For some, reporting was a calling as much as a profession. Even when we had to go elsewhere for employment, we continued reporting as our avocation.
We focus on local government, but include features on local citizens and businesses, and local looks at state and national issues. Yes, we say “local” a lot. I believe each community needs media that is completely focused on local news. We’re that organization in Lakeland.

In our region, we have broken numerous stories, expanded into social media long before traditional news organizations, developed interactive crime and housing maps months before they were adopted by traditional media. In short, though we’re small, we’re nimble and leaders in developing new methods to reach readers.

I recently started another site to cover Central Florida ( and help develop new hyperlocal reporters with the Florida Media Co-operative. Because of the expanding staff, I am considering expanding the sites to include advertising and sponsorships. It would be wonderful if there is enough support to add full time journalist positions.

I’m looking forward to following your work at RJI.

Please check out our site— We launched Dec. 1 with a Knight grant. We are having lots of fun with our experimental mix of community-produced television, in-depth journalism by freelancers, and citizen journalism, all concentrating on life in Berks County, Pa. Any feedback would be valued.

You should *also* check us out -  We’re a new online LGBT news and culture magazine, based in Minneapolis, and focused on serving the Minnesota LGBT community.  We’re trying to blend professional and citizen journalism, in the mold of the Chi-Town Daily News, to tell the stories of our diverse communities and their continued struggles, as well as covering nightlife, sports, news, and community events.  We’re also seeking funding for a new project that would recruit citizen journalists from 15 towns and cities in Greater Minnesota for a year-long effort to build stronger and more vocal LGBT communities in what’s usually a strongly homophobic and transphobic part of the country.  For now, we’re funded entirely by ad sales (and the editors’ pocketbooks), but we’re in the process of setting up ways to donate to the organization, and we’re looking into grants that would help fund our planned initiative.

Many thanks,
James Sanna
Assistant Editor,

The Coconut Grove Grapevine is a highly moving force in the Miami area. To call it “Low Key” and a “Mini Site” is an insult. Mr. Falco actually is quite influential through the Grapevine and takes on more than the local rotary club news. He causes change in Coconut Grove and delves into lots of major Miami politics. Slimy politicians fear him.

Thanks all for the suggestions. We will check these out.
No offense intended for Coconut Grove Grapevine. I will take another look.

Hi, I hope you will consider, for “arts related sites”  We do original reviews as well as aggregate articles/reviews from across the country.  We are celebrating our 14th year and were the first community arts site.
Thank you!
Lori Sparrow would fall under Niche Sites.  Thanks!

Hi Michele,

I believe our Fayetteville Flyer would fit into the Community category. We’ve been around a couple of years now and your description above pretty much sums us up.

Todd Gill

Fascinating list being developed here, thanks for this Michele (and all the folks adding more in the comments). Based on conversations we’ve been having at, I really believe there’s a need for a directory of local and hyperlocal blogs and web sites—and not just those covering news. It would be a lot of work, but I really think it would benefit the growing number of people/sites that are taking up this calling.

If anyone’s thinking along the same lines, feel free to get in touch.

Hi Michele, is a hyperlocal online TV station based in Hout Bay & Llandudno, a suburb of Cape Town, South Africa.

We cover all aspects of life in the town, through news & video-ad-clips shot by a video journalist as well as relying on citizen journalist input.

Hope to be added to the list!

Kind regards


is commenting working

i am extremely surprised you didn’t mention the gothamist site network, which runs among other major city blogs since 2003. or gawker. or so many others. really, i feel your mission is like one person mapping the moon with a microscope. and rather than shooting for a comprehensive directory of hyperlocal news sites like j-lab and the kcnn is building, you’re cherry picking what looks promising in blog posts? it will be very, very hard to compile an objective list of “promising news startups” without qualifying some selection criteria or sharing a more concrete methodology with your readership. it is an explosive and large landscape, picking favorites and endorsing them through these venues/brands/institutions will smack loudly of favoritism and there will be no way you can avoid snubbing a multitude of undetected and earnestly deserving efforts as you praise the few you are able to manage. your practice, while good intentioned, may have potentially a dangerous side-effects that may actually work against your purpose.

I don’t know which of your categories you’d stick us in, but soft-launched last week. Come check us out!

Thanks for all the suggestions. We’ll be looking the sites over in the next week or two.
Sorry about the linking problem. I think I fixed it. Here’s the url:

michelle – i’d like to call your attention to – a micro/hyperlocal blog covering DC’s capitol hill communities. beyond that most people think of capitol hill only as the AP W category, it is interesting in how it is working not only with the very active blogging community but also with the local free weekly neighborhood paper – – and the the free monthly neighborhood tabloid the hill rag. is my favorite “niche local” example. They’ve got two full-time employees and the publisher/e-i-c makes enough to support his family.

Hi Michelle,

In your #7 listing of mini sites, you cite Northfield Citizens Online, a citizen-run local news site in Minnesota.

Also in Northfield, Minnesota is a very busy group blog called Locally Grown:

It has a companion weekly radio show/podcast and the blog generates 700-1000 comments/month.

Hi Michelle, Too often ethnic niche sites seem to be off the radar. Check out Latina Lista (, an English-language site targeting Latino readers. Right now, we average a little over 450,000 hits a months with a very active Facebook page and Twitter feed.

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Exploring innovation, transformation and leadership in a new ecosystem of news, by journalist and change advocate Michele McLellan.

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