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July 21, 2015, 12:03 p.m.
Business Models

Who’s making money — and who isn’t — in local online news?

The number of independent local news sites generating significant revenue leaves something to be desired. At the top of the list: a site covering the Florida Panhandle beach lifestyle.

Michele’s List is an invaluable compilation of the most promising local online-native news sites trying to make a go of it in this disrupted age. Compiled by Michele McLellan, the list’s admissions criteria are that a site is “progressing on three fronts — content, engagement and revenue.” McLellan periodically surveys the list’s members on a host of issues; we wrote about her most recent findings earlier this month.

But along with the interesting summary findings, McLellan also provides the individual survey results, which feature more detailed information on each local site. (You can get that data here.) When I got a copy, I looked at one question in particular asked of the startups:

In what range was the total revenue of your site in the last calendar year?

Revenue numbers are sometimes hard to come by in this space, so I was grateful that these local sites were willing to share their information, if only in broad ranges. Some of the higher-revenue sites are ones that get a decent amount of attention — the New Haven Independent, Baristanet, VTDigger, Technically Philly. But there are also some who don’t get much notice outside of their local readership.

I confess I hadn’t heard of 30A, a site all about the beach lifestyle along Scenic Highway 30-A in the Florida Panhandle. Not exactly an investigative site, to be sure, but a remarkable success nonetheless, one that has expanded into podcasts, retail, online classifieds, and more. (Interested in learning more about them? Check out this podcast interview with founder Mike Ragsdale, in which he describes his aim of creating a “Mayberry meets the beach” lifestyle brand.)

Pulled from the survey data, here’s the full listing, broken down by revenue level. (Street Fight’s Tom Grubisch also has some detail on the top tiers.) To distinguish between different kinds of local news sites, I’ve bolded those sites who said producing “investigative or watchdog journalism” was the site’s “primary focus.” I’ve italicized those who said that sort of work is something they produce “occasionally.” A site that is neither bold nor in italics said investigative or watchdog journalism is something they produce either infrequently or not at all. (All such statements are self-reported; I’m sure some might quibble with some of them.)

(One other note: The sites listed below are those that responded to McLellan’s survey — not a complete census of all local news sites. There are, of course, other local sites making significant revenues — The Texas Tribune, MinnPost, Voice of San Diego, and Chalkbeat are some that come to mind.)

More than $1 million


$500,000 to $1 million

Brentwood Home Page
Front Porch Forum
San Angelo LIVE
The Philadelphia Public School Notebook

$250,000 to $500,000

City Limits
Georgia CEO
New Haven Independent
Stu News Laguna
Twin Cities Daily Planet

$100,000 to $250,000

Bedford + Bowery
Carson Now
Cary Citizen
CTNewsJunkie (RIP)
Iowa Watch
MLT News
My Edmonds News
OCNJ Daily
San Francisco Public Press
The B-Town (Burien) Blog
The Batavian
Watershed Post

$50,000 to $100,000

Billy Penn
Eastsider LA
Florida Bulldog
Lynnwood Today
Magnolia Reporter
New Canaanite
TAP into New Providence
TAP into South Plainfield
The Franklin Reporter & Advocate
Universal Hub

$0 to $50,000

Alhambra Source
Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting
Cambridge Day
Camel City Dispatch
Corona del Mar Today
Dearborn Free Press
Delaware Business Daily
Detailed Block
Eugene Daily News
Evanston Now
Farmington Voice
Jamaica Plain News
Lake Texoma
Latina Lista
Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service
Mission Local
Monroe Local News
My Cedarburg Online
My Everett News
Newport Dispatch
Now Habersham
Open Media Boston
Passyunk Post
Racine County Eye
Stillwater Current
TAP into East Orange/Orange
TAP into Edison
TAP into Madison
TAP into Roxbury
TAP into Scotch Plains/Fanwood
TAP into Westfield
The Austin Bulldog
The Berkshire Edge
The Groton Line
The Limerick Post
The Manomet Current
The Pottstown Post
The Rapidian
The Sanatoga Post
The Wrentham Times
Watertown News
West of the I
Your Arlington

Photo of a beach along Florida’s Scenic Highway 30A by clarkmaxwell used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     July 21, 2015, 12:03 p.m.
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