Local city blogs fill a niche market the mainstream media doesn't serve, three blog editors told a packed crowd at the mesh 2009 new media conference. And the Torontoist blog said it has a new plan to revive its finances.
At the mesh 2009 conference in Toronto, Torontoist editor-in-chief David Topping joined two other Toronto bloggers to discuss the impact local blogs can have on urban areas. Tim Shore of BlogTO and Matthew Blackett of Spacing.ca are well-known fixtures in the Canadian blogging community whose websites reach hundreds of thousands of people a month.
First, the metrics: BlogTO receives one million pageviews a month, and Spacing attracts between 800,000 and 1.2 million pageviews monthly. Torontoist rakes in 500,000 pageviews a month.
So what's the appeal of sites like BlogTO? Shore said these hyper-local blogs appeal to "passionate audiences who are hungry for information the mainstream media misses."
Topping said Torontoist catches stories that live in the margins. "We also focus on breaking news, transit news, but we like to go into more detail than what the newspapers do." He used the example of the Torontoist feature Rocket Talk, which allows readers to interact with Toronto Transit Commission chair Adam Giambrone.
Sometimes, local blogs break stories. Blackett said Spacing.ca's Toronto blog got the exclusive on the city's Gardiner Expressway repairs and its Front Street extension. Spacing also teamed up with Torontoist and BlogTO to pressure the TTC to tweak its website-redesign process. "We had to engage our local tech community," Blackett stressed.
Courtesy Kaz Ehara, Sakana Photography
The notebook-friendly crowd at mesh 2009 in Toronto, at the Mars Center
Hyper-local blogs can find the news before the newspaper can go to press, Shore noted. Take BlogTO's breaking story on finding a rat in a Chinatown restaurant. "It was a hot topic, and we needed to let Torontonians know about this news. CityTV reporters decided to camp out there for days, but that's their decision. That blog post was as far we took the story."
His statement raised an interesting point: Because blogs have a small budget and staff, can they accomplish in-depth investigate reporting? "BlogTO doesn't have the cost structure to support that kind of journalism," Shore said. "It's not realistic based on the revenue coming in."
Ah, revenue. You could almost hear the mesh 2009 audience move to the edge of their seat in anticipation of hearing money talk. All blogs are attracting advertising, but perhaps surprisingly, it's not local. National and international brands are more inclined to advertise on hyper-local blogs, the editors found. "The poor local advertiser doesn't get it," Blackett said. Topping agreed: "We're at the stage where we're selling to early adopters, and those are national advertisers."
Companies such as Microsoft, Molson, Virgin and Heineken have all embraced these blogs, they said. "Last year, advertising on BlogTO really took off," Shore said.
But if a blog falls to its death, does anyone hear its demise? When it comes to the Toronto-area blog Torontoist, owned by blog network Gothamist, the answer is a resounding "yes."
In December 2008, Torontoist announced it might be closing in three weeks. The blog's fans responded with frantic anxiety, creating Facebook groups pressuring the blog to continue its local news and arts coverage. The National Post called it "the most eloquent voice of this moment in Toronto."
And so Torontoist gave itself CPR and came back to life in 2009, saying it has a roadmap to survival.
Torontoist's Topping mentioned that his parent company Gothamist in New York often trickles money down to the local blog, but that money dwindled during the first part of the recession. It almost caused Torontoist to close. But he hinted the blog was going to make a big leap forward in its financing, and he was hesitant to say exactly what. The next day, Torontoist fans learned about the change -- Topping announced "financial control of Torontoist shifted from Gothamist to a team of three investors." He went on to say "the site will now be wholly locally-operated and have an opportunity to grow like it never could before."
This new plan is giving Torontoist a boost in revenue and cache, but the statements from Spacing and BlogTO editors also hinted that there is growth on their horizon too. Spacing is flexing its blog muscle into Vancouver and Windsor, and BlogTO just announced it's hiring more bloggers to join its ranks.
Hyper-local journalism works, these bloggers are happy to say, and they have no desire to be complacent.