Radio Boutros

A blog about online journalism.

Keeping It Local

with 5 comments

George McGrath was looking for a way to care for his kids, be involved in his community and do something interesting all while making a few bucks. He decided to form a community based blog- Metuchen Matters.

The blog is more than an answer to a stay-at-home dad’s desire to keep himself busy. It is one of a growing number of blogs with a community-based business model. Neighborhood blogs like Metuchen Matters or the Monclair, NJ based zoom into local stories that larger news outfits may ignore. Stories could be hard news, like a financial scam to defraud people out of their homes or a local feature like where to get a good cup of Greek Coffee.

Sometimes the content can be provocative. Ron Howell, veteran Newsday reporter turned blogger and author of the Bedford-Stuyvesant based Brooklyn Ron, sees his blog as a “a bridge between the Old and the New Brooklyn.” As part of that bridge Howell created a mildly addictive interactive sidebar feature, “Tainted Street Names Of Bedford-Stuyvesant.” A list of local street names allows a user to see if a particular street honors a former slave holder. Building on an initiative to give a biography to Bed-Stuy’s byways by NYC Councilman Al Vann , Howell has publicized what he calls the “sullied backgrounds” of some of the neighborhood’s thoroughfares. But the fourth generation Brooklynite doesn’t see this as activism.  “For me, it was about history,” says Howell. And although some of the street named may be “tainted,” Howell demurs when asked if he sees his feature as part of a campaign to change the names of local street.  “I think the co-naming of streets has maybe been done too easily in the past,” reflects Howell. “It’d be nice if historians were more involved in the selection than elected officials.”  The response to the article has “been fairly strong” with many thousands of hits according to Howell. Historians may or may not be involved, but the feature allows the community to be engaged in the neighborhood’s history.

Small town community blogs provide a virtual space for residents–a place to go for news, culture and discussion. “The town site was okay for municipal stuff, the chamber of commerce site is okay to get phone numbers from, but nothing comprehensive and nothing that talked about the town and allowed residents respond back.  I thought there was a void and I thought if I got the right help I could fill it.” McGrath reflects.

And judging by the response of the local business community, McGrath is indeed filling a void. Like their cousins in print–the local weekly, the community blog provides needed exposure for local businesses and community groups. McGrath immediately approached local businesses with his idea. Despite his lack of data or a proven readership, local business people showed at least some interest. “Because our costs are relatively low we’ve been able to price ourselves well below any newspapers ads, even the small papers, so they liked that aspect” explains McGrath. And by low prices McGrath means free, at least for the first few months. Skeptics were invited to view the site.  McGrath’s soft sell put potential clients at ease, “everyone we contacted eventually felt comfortable” he said.

Start-up costs are relatively low. Blog costs could be as low as zero. McGrath and his two business partners decided to spend money on forming an LLC, computer software, and other expenses. Total expenditures have so far been under $2,000, but at a price. All three partners are working for nothing. The original business plan for Metuchen Matters predicted a break even point in six months. But after evaluating site traffic and community response, McGrath altered his prediction.  When asked when he expected his first profit he said, “I would say [in] 90 days.”

Some other local blogs: Brooklyn Heights Blog, The Daily Newarker,Potrero Hills, San Francisco.


Written by radioboutros

November 2, 2008 at 11:13 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

5 Responses

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  1. I’m pretty impressed to hear that community bloggers are already thinking of selling ad space. While I am not sure I’d be interested in reading about specific Brooklyn street names of a stay-at-home-dad’s daily local accounts, I’m glad to hear that they are literally connecting with other like-minded people. Blogging is such a huge part of the next generation mass media, it would be great to have a better networking and linking system, like Google Blogs?

    Cassandra COM-206

    November 3, 2008 at 4:32 pm

  2. The concept of blogs have the misconceived notion that they are just opinions and rants of people looking for someone to listen. This blog lets people see the motive behind the action and opens the door to show how blogs can be beneficial in keeping a community up to breast on information.

    PS. There are some errors that takes away from the clarity of what this blog is trying to say and make sit hard to follow. ie, see the quotes that are used.
    “The town site was okay for municipal stuff, the chamber of commerce site is okay to get phone numbers from, but nothing comprehensive and nothing that talked about the town and allowed residents respond back. I thought there was a void and I thought if I got the right help I could it.” McGrath reflects

    Natalia COM206

    November 3, 2008 at 4:45 pm

  3. Thanks Natalia. The fact that readers could act as editors is an innovation that we often talk about. It led Jarvis to ask, “Do we need editors?”


    November 3, 2008 at 4:56 pm

  4. Cassandra, the stay at home dad runs the Metuchen Matters blog. The Brooklyn street names feature is from a different blog, Brooklyn Ron. While both are blogs, they have a news format with MM being harder news and Brooklyn Ron being Op-Ed. And even though Ron of Brooklyn Ron allows his opinions in his posts, he is still reporting. He is, after all, a 15 year veteran of New York Newsday (now it is called Newsday).


    November 3, 2008 at 6:01 pm

  5. […] been focused on what is universally called an historic election. Community blogs like the ones I blogged about are fulfilling the essential need of covering micro races which might not mean anything to the […]

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