I recently did an interview for Local Independent Online News (LION) Publishers covering the launch of the site in 2009, its current status, our successes, challenges and future goals.
Here are some excerpts:
When did your site launch, what geography does it cover and why was it founded?
NorthEndWaterfront.com was launched in May 2009 covering the “news and views” of Boston’s North End and Waterfront community. At the time of launch, I was acting as clerk for a few neighborhood groups and started the site to publish reports from community meetings. The site quickly became very popular, so I broadened our coverage to all types of neighborhood news and events.
What makes your site unique?
NorthEndWaterfront.com has strong visual impact, with an emphasis on photos and videos. If a picture can say a thousand words, then that’s more productive than me writing those words. Our community meeting videos capture the hard-core neighborhood issues and political debate. We have captured many of the most important discussions going on in the city. From new real estate development to liquor licensing, our public meeting videos get thousands of views.
With a strong community presence, our content is driven by the readers who now literally support the site through patron voluntary subscriptions. Our covered population is only about 15,000 in the North End / Waterfront area. But, the issues here often have citywide appeal, and that has broadened our reach throughout downtown Boston.
How would you describe your operation and business model?
I worked on the site alone for several years and continue to post the majority of articles. Today, we have dozens of volunteers from community groups, businesses, nonprofits and local columnists contributing content. These relationships have proved vital to the site’s success.
What do you consider your competition as a local news or information source?
The site has prospered through a multitude of competitive launches, including Patch and the Boston Globe’s Your Town sites. Most of those have fallen by the wayside.
What is something you wish you had known when you were starting out or would do differently now that could perhaps serve as advice for others?
I had no idea how important the site would become to the local community, its residents, businesses and visitors. That’s a blessing and a curse. Sweating the details to get things right becomes a necessity instead of a luxury.
Building relationships on all levels of the community is key, whether they be with local officials, police officers, school principals, restaurant owners or even periphery experts such as academics measuring local climate change. We find there is a lot we can do for local neighborhood groups, businesses, non-profits, cultural organizations and charities. In return, they are happy to contribute content covering their community niches.
What about your operation is your biggest source of pride right now?
It is hard to believe the site is nearing it’s seventh year of publication. I am thrilled the site’s traffic continues to grow, but I am most proud of the depth NorthEndWaterfront.com has achieved within the local community. I rarely meet anyone living in my primary coverage area that does not know about the site.
What do you struggle with the most?
I always struggle with finding a time balance that works for me and the site. Given my other responsibilities, I continue to remind myself that I cannot cover every little thing. That means focusing on what is most important to the readership and not wasting energy on superfluous matters.
What are some of your future goals for the site?
For better or worse, I have more ideas than time to execute them. Introducing new community tools is priority. We have a simple forum, but I think there is much more than can be done there.
I also manage a sister site, NorthEndBoston.com, that serves as a business directory, tourist guide and history archive. I would like to better integrate the two sites to leverage both audiences, residents and visitors.
NorthEndWaterfront.com already has a strong following on social media and via email through our daily newsletter. I am always keen on new ways to further our distribution. I am not sure the ‘instant articles’ or news aggregators by the large tech companies will takeoff, but I want to be ready.
Longer-term, I want the site to be a sustainable platform with a variety of voices, where my personal participation is less vital. That might mean joining or creating a homegrown network and/or expanding to other neighborhoods. I have seen so many news sites come and go, that I want to create something that can stand the test of time.