Launching Local Site Can Be Simple, Fun -- and Pay

By Features FOXBusiness

Bringing Baristanet to Life … and Locals

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Jewels, clothes, fine fragrance. A typical women’s gift-wish list for special occasions. So what would you do if your husband gave you your own URL instead?

Well, New York Times journalist and author Debbie Galant ran with it. At the time, Galant was brainstorming new ways to expend her journalistic energy. Six months later, after more brainstorming and a meet up with others interested in social networking, she was on her way.

Born in May 2004, Baristanet, today run by Galant and veteran journalist Liz George, is an online community featuring breaking local news in the Montclair, NJ area. It relies on information and submissions from readers for their opinionated views—and, in the words of the Baristanet’s now 10-person staff: “it pokes fun at suburbia whenever possible.”

For bringing this local breaking news site to life, Galant has been called “the queen of hyperlocal” by veteran journalist and BuzzMachine blogger Jeff Jarvis.

"[This new media] is a mind shift from traditional journalism in which “the scoop” matters, “drama” counts and the journalist is “dispassionate,” according to Jan Schaffer, executive director for Washington, DC-based J-Lab, which helps fund hyperlocal-news start ups.

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“Hyperlocal motivations are not to cover but to build. [Creators of online communities] care about community life. They don’t just come in then leave an area but instead are more connected,” Schaffer said.

According to Jarvis and Schaffer, hyperlocal is the future of journalism. And, they contend, it can also be a lucrative field for today’s entrepreneur.

Jarvis estimated that nationwide some members of this select new media group, which has developed business models that optimize online communities, earn in the ballpark of $200,000 annually. They sell ads, sponsor events, often include a product mix and do some consulting on the side.

Jarvis said maybe even more worth noting than potential revenue is the cost to start up in this field, which is relatively little if at all existent.

“With the new media, you can serve your target with great depth and specificity with low cost,” said Jarvis.

According to Galant and George, they each only had to put out $3,000 in seed money to start up Baristanet, which now boasts traffic of more than 10,000 visits daily. It was also named the No. 1 Placeblog in America in 2007.

Looking back over the last five years, Galant said she’s glad she built “something else” beyond her career in traditional journalism. Regrets?

“I wish I had known it was ‘unbusy’ on Saturdays and Sundays. I would have declared weekends off,” she said.

Brooklyn-Based Site's Name Says it All

It started out as e-mail in 2007 and grew when Nicole Davis, founder and editor-in-chief, returned from a stay in London with fresh ideas to grow her business. Today, Brooklyn Based is an opt-in e-mail distribution with a 70 to 80% open rate and exclusive e-vites that go out to readers for sponsored events.

“[Brooklyn Based] is personal—especially when the e-mail arrives in your inbox,” said Chrysanthe Tenentes, managing editor. “We also diversified from just ad-based revenue to real-life events at local Brooklyn venues.”

And the events have their own brand of flair.

Take for example, Wedding Crashers, the wedding fair Brooklyn Based sponsored on Saturday that brought together soon-to-be brides with local designers, caterers, photographers, bands and DJs.

Tenentes said such events are not only good for business, but a fun way to give locals a chance to creatively plan a wedding that has a sensibility that’s a bit different than a more traditional commercial wedding. She said she credits the site’s success to its opt-in feature and the fact that Davis, she and Annaliese Griffin, senior editor, all came from a print background.

“We’re a great three-person partnership. It’s a great way for us to keep our ideas flowing,” she said. 

She also said another plus is that the site is not solely relying on ad revenue. Beyond events, it features product offerings and links to other sites and blogs to further build its readership.

Tenentes advice for journalists who want to survive the print-media crash: “Go out and be creative.”

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