Community Media Website Design
August 17, 2009 1:23 PM   Subscribe

Suggest a model for a money-making, or at least self-sufficient, website dedicated to a region or small city something like "Mayberry Online." Probably advertising driven, dedicated to news, events, listings, but with active forums for 'consumer gripes,' local politics, advice columns, restaurant reviews, arts, sports, health, pets & wildlife. Think 'city paper' or alternative press but online, with an active Craigslist component. Any thing like that out there? Suggestions on website design/creation/start-up consultants would be an added bonus. Links please to worthy existing sites that fit the bill. And, TIA
posted by NorthCoastCafe to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Red Bank (NJ) Green is a good one, though it doesn't have all the functions you're looking for.
posted by Miko at 1:25 PM on August 17, 2009

Brownstoner is kind of like this, but focuses a lot on real estate (and, by extension, new restaurants and shops). Like Red Bank Green, it's essentially an overgrown blog.

Note: There is almost zero money in these things, unless you can get bought by a larger entity. The ad-driven model for sites is dying.
posted by mkultra at 1:38 PM on August 17, 2009

My town has, which incidentally is owned by the big local newspaper.
posted by waxboy at 1:39 PM on August 17, 2009

The project (more accurately, the Davis Wiki) is oft cited on Metafilter as an example of a local-wiki-done-good, not sure however if it meets your "active craigslist component" requirement. (although the strength of a Wiki is you have some flexibility to reconfig it). I've started one for my local town, but as of yet the resources (or digital camera) havent gathered enough steam to produce a result I'm happy with. (obviously a fault of the creator, not the medium)
posted by jmnugent at 1:44 PM on August 17, 2009

I wrote briefly for, a blog that covers Tacoma, Washington. Their ads not only sustain the two people who run the site, but also pay for daily columnists and useless college kids to cover city council meetings (that was me). They promote a ton of events, and engender good will by basically regurgitating press releases from local orginizations. They have succeeded by creating the impression that they represent the elusive market of young, employed college grads that cities and businesses lust after.
posted by martens at 1:58 PM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

I run a number of local websites as a sort-of hobby, and I have never been able to make a lot of money off them. Certainly won't be able replace my day job. I wrote a very long usenet post about it once, many years ago, but of course I used an X-No-Archive: Yes tag...

Anyway, to make money with a website you need a certain volume of visitors (or eyeballs to look at your ads). And because you are aiming at a local audience the number of potential visitors isn't that big. One of my websites is aimed at a local town and gets around 8.000-10.000 unique visitors a month (who visit on average ~twice a month). The town has 75.000 inhabitants. When there is big news (fire etc.) the number of visitors quickly jumps, but since I am not full time working on the site (and I work in another town) I am usually not quick to post up to date news and go over there to cover the event or something.

So, making money by volume isn't really going to make you rich unless you are covering a really big city, but then you'll compete with the big boys. The best way to make money is by getting sponsorship or private advertising deals with local companies. That will take a lot of effort however to get (and keep) advertisers. It helps if you have a decent network in the town.

For building a website I would focus on using standard software to keep costs low and be able to quickly develop something. Don't re-invent the wheel unless it is your goal to improve your coding skills. The popular CMS packages have most (or all) of the functions that you need, because there isn't much difference between a weblog or a magazine like site or a locally focused site.

I build most of my sites with Expression Engine, but WordPress is also great. One thing that does pay off is to focus on multiple towns in the same region. Most of my news sources cover all those towns, so I am getting news etc anyway (from provinces (states?), communities, charities, etc.). By heavily interlinking you can quickly increase your visitors volume). (All my sites have sidebars with headlines from the other towns, clearly marked as such, e.g. "Something happened" (Name other town, dd/mm). This is very easy to accomplish in both WordPress and EE.
posted by IAr at 1:59 PM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

West Seattle Blog, My Ballard, PhinneyWood. There are also various approaches to aggregating and discovering this stuff, like, & (the latter two both received startup funding from the Knight Foundation)

Neighborlogs looks like they aim to provide turn-key services for this, including advertising.

I wouldn't spend too much money on consultants, people are still figuring this stuff out. Start out by registering a custom domain with a registrar like Get a free account, and pay the small additional fees to use your custom domain and do some template customization (custom image, colors, etc), build from there. Once you start getting traction, you can move to self-hosted wordpress and start adding ads, integrating forums, etc.
posted by Good Brain at 2:11 PM on August 17, 2009

Magnolia's Voice is good - they've redesigned a bit, but they use WordPress.
posted by jgirl at 3:26 PM on August 17, 2009

When I lived in Parkville, Missouri back in 2004, I was working at a well-known Italian restaurant and a couple of guys that were regulars there had just started

I just went to the site and see that they're doing well. Lots of page views. They're Frosty Labs,, and they've set up a couple more of sites for the Kansas City area.

You might look into them for some ideas.
posted by VC Drake at 3:33 PM on August 17, 2009

Baristanet is a common case study in j-school and at online news industry meetings.
posted by jgirl at 3:59 PM on August 17, 2009

THe next town over has a local paper online. It does not have the Craig's list type adverts, but does have local only advertising. It covers local politics, schools, sports, town merchants, has a gardening column, a real estate section and the police blotter. It has become somewhat of a biased and gossip type thing, but they work hard. I think they got a grant from University of Maryland to start the paper. If you google around, you can find it.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 4:21 PM on August 17, 2009

I may have screwed up that link. Try http://
posted by JohnnyGunn at 4:24 PM on August 17, 2009

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