an introduction, a City Controller debate announcement and more

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Here’s introducing one of the first regionally-focused community news portal in Philadelphia:, home to anything and everything that happens in Northeast Philadelphia.

In a true testament to its rapid growth in its first few months of existence, tonight it is partnering with WHYY, Philadelphia’s NPR affiliate, to host the third and final primary debate for Democratic city controller candidates. If you’re in the Philly area, I welcome you to come see a down and dirty triumph of a small media venture.

This could be the future of news coverage.

Last fall, Shannon McDonald, who is now on the tail end of a media firestorm, began plans to launch a quarterly print publication called NEast magazine, covering Northeast Philadelphia. I pushed her to think of beginning online — even if her core demographic was a working class community not heavily entrenched online. I thought it was an opportunity to begin a brand for cheap, making her known to what potential advertisers, readers and sources she could.

She’s now the founder and editor of, an online news portal for her native Northeast Philadelphia and hopeful one day home of NEast magazine, aimed to begin quarterly production in spring 2010. I’ve served as Web editor — launching and maintaining the minimalist and simple site — and an occasional contributor.

The results aren’t in yet. While has clearly developed a small reputation, partnering with WHYY, collecting a small but loyal readership and adding three other regular columnists, we haven’t yet moved to monetization, nor have we made a bold step toward Ms. McDonald’s dual goal of a robust Web presence and print reality for her print-leaning community.

Still, I think a formal introduction of the site here is overdue, particularly after presenting with Ms. McDonald on the possible fiscal viability of the NEast brand at BarCamp NewsInnovation, a journalism “un-conference” held at Temple University two weeks ago.

I already wrote about my thoughts on the BarCamp and shared the speaking notes I used with fellow co-founders of Technically Philly for my first presentation of the day.

But Ms. McDonald and I thought NEast could offer its own conversation. So in the spirit of spontaneous presenting, we threw together some notes and spoke to a small group of ten about the lessons we’ve found in the early stages of our work.

Those notes below.

Branding online in a Print-Heavy Community:
National BarCamp NewsInnovation Philadelphia
April 25, 2009

1. Site Preview

  • Basic, cheap template
  • Neighborhood-centric
  • Breaking/latest news focused interface for those unfamiliar with blog format

2. Northeast Philadelphia

  • Authenticity in living/background
  • Demographics
  • Its place in the city and relationship with big media

3. Why Online, Why Now

  • Loss of community news coverage, serve that community we love
  • Print-heavy readership, but brand-trusting
  • Develop relationships with those online
  • Introduce to broader city, which is online
  • Find contributors (free now, pay later)
  • Cost ($10.19 plus time)

4. Profitability

  • Conversation cannot be on advertising alone
    o But, opportunity to develop ad relationships
    o Northeast advertisers not trusting of online
  • Creating trusted brand to find community support
    o Regular presence
    o Broader media recognition
    o Events and promotion (beef & beers and political forums)
  • Longterm alternative revenues
    o Niche sites look to fill all niches
    o Northeast swag (books, business partnerships, T-shirts even)
    o Common Northeast purchases (school uniforms, little league trophies)

5. Take Aways

  • Little to no cost to begin brand
  • Small town hybrid model brought to cities
  • Advertising cannot be king
  • Easy to launch, agile
  • Impartial, but involved

I’ll be interested to see what progress we can make, if only for learning for the future. I’ll keep you posted when fitting. If you live in the region, have ties to the Northeast or just want to see what we’re doing, feel free to check out the site or subscribe.

Read about other cool things my peers are doing.

This is founder Shannon McDonald and me in Annenberg Hall at Temple University after the BarCamp for NewsInnovation April 25, 2009.

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