Building Your Site Through Other Revenue

By Brian Steffens on October 29, 2010 1 Comment Ideas Experiments

Presented by Jan Schaffer and J-Lab at ONA10

Brian Steffens, Director of Communications, RJIBrian Steffens, Director of Communications

Ben Ilfeld, Sacramento Press, talked about creation of the Sacramento Local Online Ad Network (SLOAN) has 54 local sites on the ad network; considering expanding into the Bay Area. Currently realizing about $10,000 a month in gross ad revenue--“It’s an incremental source of revenue,” not the big answer.

What they learned from SLOAN: Advertisers need a single point of contact, a single report (simplify).

Not everyone can replicate the effort: SLOAN was built on Adify,  an expensive platform to start and run. But an ad network is a complex operation the Press wasn’t equipped to handle. Another new, near-the-top revenue stream is social media consulting, about equal to SLOAN. “In your market, you are likely the expert in maximizing social media, a service you can sell to local businesses.”

Sacramento Press has five paid reporters, 1,250 community volunteers, and some interns. With a total staff of 13, costs run about $70,000 a month.

“Sustainability is not my metric … sustaining 2 reporters isn’t the goal,” Ilfeld said. “We need to reinvest and grow. Every time we approach profitability, we add staff and resources to grow.”

David Cohn, founder and current Reynolds Fellow. is a community funded reporting service.

Cohn related how Susan Mernit of Oakland Local put up $170 to seed a potential story, but then was able to pay out $8,000 to reporters after using to raise the additional funds from readers.

He said right now crowd funding won’t likely sustain a full-time staffer perhaps, nor a business, but it’s a way to get some of the work done. has  added community focused sponsorships to its donation model. Sponsors offer a quiz, and for every completed quiz donates $5 to the account.

Story pitches come from partners, such as Texas Observer. Within a week, TO raised $500 via the quiz model. Quizzes keep readers in front of the sponsor’s message two-to-three minutes, compared to just seconds for banner ads. That’s worth $5-$6 to sponsors, says Cohn. He next wants to approach non-journalism foundations to sponsor quizzes related to their particular service or mission. “They get something they want and need, and provide dollars to journalism as a byproduct: icing on the cake,” he said.

Advice for students? Start small. Started as a wiki. There are fewer commitments when young, you can live lean if single, childless, no mortgage, etc. That’s the time to TRY (just do it).

Brian Steffens is the director of communications at the Reynolds Journalism Institute. Read his other blog posts here, and talk back at and @BrianSteffens on Twitter.

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Small correction: Oakland

Small correction: Oakland Local has put in $770 and we've been able to multiply it by a factor of 10 so that we've paid out over $8,000. It's still a great investment in my mind - but it is larger than $170.


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