WEST SEATTLE BLOG
Commercial news site operating in a blog format.
Case study first written January 2009
March 22, 2011:
Tom Murphy of RedwoodAge.com interviewed Tracy Record, who provided some important updates:
Murphy: You were about to hire a part-time editor to help cover stuff and
watch the site so that you and your husband could take a little time
off now and then. Did you? How’s that going?
Tracy: We pay a lot of freelancers. I have never found the right part-time
editor although I have an interview with someone tomorrow who I might hire for
a couple hours a day to handle a few things I cannot do justice to any
longer – handle the inbound flow of event announcements/calendar
submissions, put them on the calendar, turn them into postable tidbits.
We also took a vacation last year and paid for someone to be on duty
half the day, someone else to be on breaking news and meeting duty, someone
else to be on scanner duty. That was a triumph.
Murphy: Your blog grew fast in the year of so before you spoke — to about
6 mln PV/year. What is your size now?
Tracy: More than 9 million pageviews last year, on track for perhaps 11 million
this year. Without any format change to account, just continued growth.
Murphy: I’ve visited the site and it looks like you’re pretty much doing the
same thing now. Any major changes?
Tracy: No, it’s all subtle and incremental. The former police blotter reporter from
the local weekly writes a weekly “other police incidents” column, which is
somewhat popular. We have our partnership with the Seattle Times which
really only means they link to us a few times a week and that brings in
a thousand or so pageviews a week maybe. Also of course there is social
media. We have 9,600 followers on Twitter, 5,000 friends on FB (but I am
finally changing to a “page’ format so we will have some switchover
pains), and that is a major place to be.
Murphy: Any “fresh” advice to pass along to the fellows at Berkeley?
Tracy: CONTENT IS KING. Do not sweat bells, whistles, fanciness. OWN YOUR
CONTENT NICHE and it doesn’t matter if you are on a barebones Blogspot blog, you
will own your market. That has been proven time and again. Also DON’T LET
THE HATERS GET YOU DOWN. We have been besieged by haters of all kinds,
from true competition to people who got pissed off because they broke our
rules and got evicted. We have been threatened. We have been assaulted.
I am not exaggerating. And we just keep on keeping on because it seems to
matter to somebody somewhere.
Also: ADVERTISING IS NOT DEAD. People keep saying “you need other
revenue streams.” WHAT other revenue streams? There is nothing else viable at
least for what we do.
I could go on. But I have to go write something.
Oct. 5, 2010:
Update: Joy Mayer, RJI Fellow 2010-2011, did a nice interview with Tracy Record about what community engagement means to her.
FOUNDERS and STAFF:
Full-time paid: Two people
Tracy Record, editor, reporter
Patrick Sand, ad sales, business manager
Ironically, Patrick has the degree in journalism, and a background in radio. He’s WSB’s public face…the WSB rep for luncheons and functions. Tracy’s domain is a mix of traditional journalist and community manager, i.e., she’s a jurno. She’s never met 90 percent of WSB’s advertisers. She’s worked in newspapers, radio, Web and TV for decades; she left her job as assistant news director at KCPQ-TV in December 2007 to work on WSB full time.
Part-time: Several part-time contributors.
Freelancers: Pay $50 – $75 to cover event. Three photographers do work in exchange for promoting business.
COMMUNITY SERVED: West Seattle, Washington, pop. 68,000. Patrick estimates that 20 percent of population visits the blog regularly.
December 2008: 800,000 page views, 9,000+ visits/day, average time on site: 5.5 minutes.
2008: 6 million page views — four times the number in 2007
Number of posts/day: About 11.
Number of days/week posting: Seven days/week
Other content added: Updating events calendar, moderating comments, moderating forum, updating pets page and replying to email
Community-generated content: About 30 percent of the site.
FOUNDED: January 2006, as a “regular old blog, talking about the neighborhood in general,” says Patrick.
WHY: “People were blogging IN West Seattle; nobody was blogging ABOUT it,” says Tracy.
TURNING POINT: December 2006, when Seattle was hit with a violent storm. Local papers and TV stations were overwhelmed. West Seattle was without power, and residents could find little information about their neighborhood. Tracy began reporting locally, and blog became the focus of the community.
COMMITMENT TO THE COMMUNITY: 24/7 coverage, into the wee hours, if necessary.
NUMBER OF POSTS/DAY: About 11
NUMBER OF DAYS POST/WEEK: Seven
SITE SECTIONS: Crime (police blotter, with contextual reporting), Pets (Lost and Found service), Schools, Traffic
SOCIAL NETWORKING: Can email editor, comments, event calendar, forums, Twitter account, Facebook and Flickr pages.
OTHER: RSS feed continuously updated West-Seattle related info from Google News and Craig’s List. RSS feed of West Seattle-based blogs (compiled by hand).
TOPICS COVER: Focused on nearly any issue in West Seattle.
PERCENT CONTENT FROM COMMUNITY: About 30 percent
WORK OF A JURNO:
Participatory beat-blogging: As principle editor and reporter, Tracy Tracy takes a beat-blogging approach to covering West Seattle. This means continuous and updated original reporting of events and issues that incorporates information and comments from members of the community, rather than individual stand-alone stories.
The posts may be Tracy’s reporting only, a combination of her reporting and information submitted by people in the community, or a short intro to information from a community member. If in doubt about their information, she finds another source (e.g., report of gunshots from a member of the community is checked by calling the police). Patrick estimates that 30 percent of WSB’s content comes from the community, emailed in to Tracy or posted as a comment. Tracy calls the people who contribute to the site “collaborators”.
On many nights, many events will need covering. For example on Jan. 13, five were scheduled: a meeting to “scope” a proposed West Seattle jail, a community meeting to discuss an elementary school closure, a neighborhood organization meeting about transit and parking, and meetings of two neighborhood associations. Patrick helps out, and Tracy and he will hire local freelancers or rely on students from the University of Washington Media Lab to cover an event. Occasionally, a community member will volunteer.
Immediate and continuous. For the most popular issues — such as the replacement of an old bridge between Seattle and West Seattle — Tracy will live-blog significant events, such as the Jan. 13 meeting to announce the replacement — a tunnel. She will include questions from reporters from other news organizations, and link to their stories.
Contextual. WSB follows several issues at the same time. Posts are categorized, so that people can review all in a category. The site also has a search function. If Tracy is reporting on an issue that’s appeared previously, she links to previous posts, and provides some context.
Solution-oriented. WSB follows issues to their conclusion. It provides links within posts so that members of the community can contact people, especially their representatives in the case of an issue that could appear before a vote of a public body. Tracy also encourages community members to become involved, and provides links to sites or people to do so. If a community member asks a question, Tracy will find the answer. If another community member asks the same question in a comment, Tracy will provide the link to the answer.
Appropriate choice of media: WSB mixes it up really well. When a video tells the story best, they use video. They sprinkle photos throughout the posts, theirs and their collaborators’. They’ll drop in a Google Street View 360-degree photo to show, for example, the proposed location for a new jail.
COMPETITION, NEWS: West Seattle Herald.
CONTENT MANAGEMENT SYSTEM: WordPress
HOSTING SERVICE: Wiredtree
Personally financed by Patrick and Tracy, who was working as assistant news director at KCPQ-TV when they started the blog. She quit in December 2007. “We treat this like a start-up,” says Patrick. “I come from a family of people who owned small businesses. My uncle owned a funeral parlor. My mom and pop, a drug store. We understand what we’re up against.”
Advertising-supported; able to support Tracy, Patrick and their 13-year-old son (who does some photography for the site). Currently, they have 40 advertisers.
Rate card: Tracy and Patrick looked at different sites — BaristaNet, SticksofFire — to see how they handled ads. Patrick obtained rate cards from West Seattle Herald and two alternative weeklies — Stranger and Seattle Weekly. “We came up with an average and divided by two,” says Patrick. “That was my top rate.” They charge less than competition, which they regard as West Seattle Herald.
Advertisers: WSB has 40 advertisers. Patrick takes radio sales approach, rather than newspaper approach, which usually tries to lock in ad for three months.
Ad plans: Patrick will sell person an ad for a day, if they want that. Best advertiser to approach is one that’s already involved with the community, sponsoring a bowling team or little league team.
Ad production: To avoid production issues, ads are uniform size. WSB does not do graphics, but has people in community who can do fast and cheap.
Other: Patrick will write text ads for clients. If a business wants to find out if community wants different products, service, WSB will put question to community.
Selling ads and managing business end is a full-time day job. It’s very difficult. Have to get used to rejection. First day that Patrick sold ad, the second store he went into the manager told him to leave in 30 seconds or she’d call the cops. In the evenings Patrick also covers meetings and takes photos. “You’re always on the horse, and always believe that it could go away in a second,” says Patrick.
Links to other bloggers in Seattle.
Links to West Seattle community groups.
Member, West Seattle Chamber of Commerce
Good friends to Kiwanis, Rotary, Lions and citizen environmentalists
Banner on Elliott Bay Water Taxi
Sponsor community events — car show, community movie series
Run a community event (inherited from nonprofit that disbanded) — West Seattle Community Garage Sale Day (more than 140 registered garage sales on WSB-created map, arranged regional promotion, covered on the site, and on a separate site — westseattlegaragesale.com).
Content Management System: WordPress, Free
Web hosting: WiredTree on a VPS, $90/month. “You don’t have to have that much bandwidth at the start, but people should research hosts,” says Tracy. Reliability is the issue. Went through two — Yahoo!, which decided not to keep supporting WordPress, and Dreamhost — that caused huge trouble. Changing hosts is difficult, because of having to move data.
Staff salaries: Prefer not to disclose exact amount, but have met Tracy’s income from previous job.
Equipment: “Everything you need you can find on sale at Best Buy,” says Patrick.
- Mac Mini
- MacBook. plus spare batteries for when the power goes out, which it has for up to
7.5 hours, but “we continued reporting. And many of our readers accessed us via Blackberry, iPhone, or their own battery-equipped setups,” says Tracy.
- Verizon aircard, for wireless ANYWHERE…”and even if the power goes out and even if Comcase (our provider) has problems.
- Two plain cell phones (one business line, one home line)
- Sony video camera (paid $500-$600)
- JVC video camera ($300)
- USB SD card “so we can pop the card out of the camera and get pictures up fast,” says Tracy.
- Fuji still camera
- Snowball USB microphone for podcasts ($75 on Amazon, free shipping)
- Radio Shack police scanner (several years old)
- Mail drop (to keep home and business apart. “I can’t say enough good things about that,” says Patrick. “We do encounter kooks and it’s better that the nut jobs are at the mailbox place than on our front doorstep.”
COMPETITION, ADVERTISING: West Seattle Herald.
WHAT NEED MOST: Technical help, says Tracy. “We had some pro bono help a year ago. Then we had to pay a fairly significant chunk to hire a consultant to make some changes this year. Even though WordPress has plug-ins and so forth, if you have a site THIS BIG, with this much content, you need help.”
WHAT THEY’D DO DIFFERENTLY: “I would NOT use “Blog” in the site name,” says Tracy. “It has way too much baggage. I am very strident now about explaining to people, we do not run “a blog” and we are not “bloggers.” We are publishing a site IN BLOG FORMAT, but we are not bloggers, our work is not “blogging,” etc. We will need to change our name but there’s a bit of a conundrum – it’s a brand – it is known – so whenever that happens, it will have to be managed very carefully.”
ADVICE FOR JURNOS WHO WANT TO DO THIS: Take your severance package, team up with someone who knows advertising, says Patrick. If you don’t think your neighborhood’s being served, step into that gap. “Get your ass out of the chair. We’re making it because we have the shoe leather. You can’t be afraid to go out and talk to people,” he says.
When you decide upon a hosting service, don’t worry about gigabytes per month “No one is going to read you on the first day,” says Tracy. “Spend some time coming up with a good DOMAIN name and then make sure you can get it. In the meantime use Blogger, TypePad, or a free WordPress account until you build traction.”