With another Cincinnati blog possibly ending, how do we stop the bleeding?

On Tuesday, the Cincinnati blogosphere learned that it would possibly lose one of its most well-respected and popular blogs. Kevin LeMaster, Editor and Publisher of Building Cincinnati, informed his readership that, “the Building Cincinnati experiment is likely to end,” and that he was almost certain it would end on that same day.

The news is a blow to many Cincinnatians turned to Building Cincinnati for the past several years to get the detailed information the website provided on local development news. LeMaster quickly turned the site into a requisite stop on the daily must-read list as he often covered news that got zero coverage from other blogs and the mainstream media.

Unfortunately, Building Cincinnati’s departure is not unique, and the issues facing local bloggers are often uniform. Many blogs have come and gone, or have dramatically reduced the amount of content they publish. Such prominent sites include CNati, BuyCincy, and Live Green Cincinnati.

The problem is that blogs are not money generators and it can become awfully difficult to continue to put so much time and effort into something that isn’t helping to pay your rent, put food on the table, or provide you health insurance. The problem even exists here with UrbanCincy.

In late June 2009 I accepted a full-time urban planning position with CH2M HILL in Atlanta. Since then I have been living and working full-time in this southern city, but my work has not ceased in Cincinnati. Each week I devote 20 to 30 hours to research, writing, editing, and illustrating approximately eight to ten stories. This is a lot of content by most blog’s standards, and I am able to thank UrbanCincy’s team of writers and photographers that help make it possible. But I would be lying if I were to say that I haven’t thought, on multiple occasions, about shutting the whole thing down.

The secret for UrbanCincy has been the team approach. By working as a team we are able to distribute the workload so that the burden isn’t so great, while also providing a good quantity and quality of work. This however can not possibly work for everyone, so we should be alarmed by the fact that some of the region’s best blogs will continued to be threatened long-term.

As newspapers continue to cut coverage, and/or syndicate work from outside entities like the Associated Press, it is important that blogs persist so that this information can be shared with the public. The popularity of blogs has come as a direct result of these newspaper cuts. First food, then fashion, then business/development, now sports. Without these freelance writers, much of our daily news stream would be made up of crime and local politics, while the rest is left to the imagination. This is unacceptable. If you have any ideas on how to make blogs work, please share them in the comment section. I’m sure UrbanCincy is not the only blog in town that would love to hear them.

In the mean time, consider this an open invitation to join the UrbanCincy team Mr. LeMaster.  We know just how difficult it is to produce the content at the frequency in which you have produced it for Building Cincinnati.  If you want to write, discuss, or do something else just let one of us know.  We would love to have you on-board, but we extend our best wishes towards your future success however that may materialize.

  • IMO, there is no way to make a living from local blogging. The only bloggers that can do that have a national market (e.g. Engadget or Techcrunch). Maybe if a local blog grows to the size of and supplants the likes of a cincinnati.com, it could work.

    As far as amateur blogging, blogging takes time. When I blogged regularly, I could easily take an hour to compose a post that I cared about, layout the pictures, etc. At first it’s nice to share opinions, get retweeted and forwarded, but at some point it starts feeling like a chore.

  • That Dude

    While I was reading this, I was thinking to myself, well people complain about things changing but don’t do anything about it. Then at the end of the piece, you invite him on board, which isn’t something that usually happens. So kudos for trying to keep something you feel worthwhile going on. It needs to happen more often.

  • Bobby

    I agree with you Randy and can see this very real dilemma. A suggestion I have is possibly having a seasonal donation drive such as those done by PBS stations throughout the country. It’s a way for loyal followers to help maintain something they enjoy and believe in as well as take some of the financial pressure off of those who actually contribute to the blogs’ life. This also allows blogs to remain more independent. Best wishes sincerely!

  • Eric Avner

    Here’s one source of revenue: It’s clear that The Enquirer/ cincinnati.com has come to rely on its local blogger network to provide an increasing amount of “their” local content. Maybe the members of that network (of which Kevin is a member) could collectively renegotiate the terms of that agreement to increase the payments (or maybe a share of ad revenue). In the agreement’s current form, they (Enquirer) is practically getting all this content for free. As it stands, cincinnati.com-affiliated bloggers are essentially freelance contributors to the Enquirer, but I’ll bet they’re not paid as such. I’m not typically a fan of collective bargaining, but this might be one instance it makes some sense.

  • dee plair

    My first thought is wondering if you can sell more ads on your blog. Groupon seems to aggressively advertise everywhere, so, just an idea. Also, you have 1500 Facebook fans. Would they buy Urban Cincy t-shirts, hats, mugs? Yes, it is cheesy, but turning Urban Cincy into a brand is the best way to monetize your content, IMHO.

  • You have to approach blogging as a passion first, if you don’t enjoying blogging for blogging sake, I don’t think anything else really matters.
    Tony Pierce, the blog editor for the LA Times thinks you have to have minimum 5,000 visits a day to think about making a penny.
    I’m really bummed about Kevin’s blog though, I hope somewhere along the line once he’s stable he can toss a post or two out there for us.

  • Ryan

    T-shirts, etc are a really good source of revenue. I know I would buy an Urban Cincy shirt if it was not too expensive. Check out http://www.storenvy.com as they provide free online stores and make all their money on printing t-shirts (that are usually sold on their website). They also do other things like buttons and stickers I believe. Not a bad thing to check out.

  • Thanks for all of the ideas thus far. It’s a very difficult topic, but I think there is some good stuff here. One thing is that UrbanCincy has never been about generating revenue, but as the site continues to grow and develop its content, it becomes increasingly more time consuming. As a result, it becomes increasingly more difficult to justify all of the work without also being compensated for it (as was Kevin’s problem at Building Cincinnati).

    We may end up doing some products for sale, but the focus has and always will be on the content. Who knows, maybe UrbanCincy will start organizing more regular events that could help offset some costs, but I do not really know at this point. Please keep the ideas flowing.

  • Kudos to you Randy! I think Kevin would be an amazing addition to your team! It’s things like this, that can make you give up on what your doing, but then in a few years you realize no… it is something you really enjoy and miss doing, and then have to start it all back up again (ugh could I throw any more experience out there lol) But having people that truly care about what you’re doing is all it takes sometimes. No amount of money in the world can take that feeling away of ‘hey i’m loved and i helped someone out today that I’ve never met’
    Good luck! 🙂

  • Jon

    I keep wondering if you could find a marketing student at XU or UC to earn credits for school by volunteering for you to take care of bringing in advertisers, selling products, promoting the “brand”, etc. You could also send out press releases to local TV news about the site. Sounds contradictory, but you guys have a great thing going that isn’t really a threat to TV news. Another idea would be to offer your experience to teachers in the area that would have you speak to their politics, english, civics, business, etc classes. Of course, you’re in Atlanta, i just remembered that, but you get where I’m going with it.

  • Dieter Schmied

    I stumbled onto your blog and this article looking for blog sites that primarily dealt with Cincinnati (city of)politics. Is there a list of those specific sites available?

    To the point of the demise of the blog site, I think that the former dean of Cincinnati (the one before Cincinnati Beacon) had a format which seemed to have a large following, which seems to be in a blog’s self interest. It allowed for subscribers to initiate discussion threads. There were problems as with other blogs but there were solutions that were not implemented, instead they went to a whole new format, which is typical of most blogs including yours. By allowing the subscribers and the owner, of course, to initiate threads, the volume of activity was greater by far that the typical blogs. It required more moderation but so what! Another change that would have helped would be to curtail the degree of anonymity in a unique manner. You owners are putting in a lot of time but you are not effort-effective.