WEST SEATTLE BLOG

This case study was put together by Missouri School of Journalism PhD student Mark Poepsel and Reynolds Journalism Institute Fellow Jane Stevens in January 2009. It is based on several interviews with Patrick Sand and Tracy Record. The original case study appears on Jane Stevens' blog, ReJurno.

THE BASICS

Founders/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: One person (hiring soon)
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.

Latest Stats

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 post: 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.

CONTENT

Commitment to the Community

24/7 coverage, into the wee hours, if necessary.

Posts/Day

About 11

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 Covered

Focused on nearly any issue in West Seattle.

Content from Community

About 30 percent

WORK OF A JURNO

Using Web Medium

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.

TECHNOLOGY

Content Management System

WordPress

Hosting Service

Wiredtree

BUSINESS

Start-up Funding

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.”

Ongoing Funding

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.

Advertising

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.

Marketing

Web-based: Links to other bloggers in Seattle.
Links to West Seattle community groups.
Google AdWords
Community:
Member, West Seattle Chamber of Commerce
Good friends to Kiwanis, Rotary, Lions and citizen environmentalists
RippleTV
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).

Business Costs

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.
iPhone
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

OTHER

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

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.”