Site Specific: Berkeleyside

Berkeley Pureplay Scratches A Niche

In Berkeley, Calif. — known for its strong liberal streak — Berkeleyside, created by three veteran journalists, has carved out an online space by finding a formula to covering every aspect of the Bay Area community and engaging its readers. [Updated]
NetNewsCheck,

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Berkeley, Calif., might not be a large city (population 112,000), but that has never held true for its reputation. Sometimes known, derisively or not, as “the People’s Republic of Berkeley” for its strident liberalism, it is home to one of the nation’s most estimable universities (U.C. Berkeley) along with perhaps its most lauded restaurant (Chez Panisse) and it is arguably populated with one of the greatest densities of well-educated, civically-motivated citizenries in the land.

Which is why the absence of a locally originating news source was something of a mystery to Tracey Taylor, Lance Knobel and Frances Dinkelspiel, co-founders of the independent Web site Berkeleyside. Sure, Berkeley had regular coverage in the San Francisco Chronicle, the San Jose Mercury News and the Oakland Tribune, but the three veteran journalists knew that there were loads more stories — not to mention more consistent coverage of breaking news — left ignored.

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Berkeleyside’s partners haven’t yet hit pay dirt since launching in 2009, but they have gained traction with a loyal core of readers who check in daily for their dose of coverage on crime, education, culture and breaking stories in their neck of the Bay Area. For its part, Berkeleyside has recruited many of those readers in its crowdsourcing efforts via Twitter and its iPhone app, which lets readers upload pictures and text in addition to providing a mobile optimized version of the site.

In fact, given Berkeley’s frequent demonstrations, Berkeleyside is experimenting with a second app, currently in beta testing in partnership with OneNews, to provide prospective citizen journalists with even more tools for recording and uploading content along with geotracking capabilities so editors can expedite coverage from their desks.

“We’ve become by default the news source of record, so people want us to look into things,” said Taylor

Although the revenue is negligible, Berkeleyside shares some of its content with Bay Area partners SFGate.com, the Bay Citizen and KQED.com, which has helped to drive traffic to the neophyte site. An inaugural Berkeleyside Local Business Forum, held in January 2010, also paved the way for future in-person events to augment the site’s presence in the community.

A past contributor to the New York Times, the Financial Times and the San Francisco Chronicle, Taylor led a street level tour of Berkeleyside, pausing briefly to handle coverage of a 4.0 earthquake that shuddered over from just a mile away from her desk. After all, it was far too big of a story for Berkeleyside to sit on, especially with local readers hungry for the fast, reliable facts they’ve come to expect from the site.

Brand Connections

Launched: October 2009

Updates: Five days a week plus the occasional weekend story

Monthly unique visitors (average): 100,000

Mobile platform: iPhone app, beta version of a citizen journalist app

Content focus: Breaking news and features on culture, crime and education

Geographic focus: “The city of Berkeley and no further, but we go into every neighborhood and try to cover every aspect of the city.”

Target demographic: “Any engaged person who lives in Berkeley and wants to know what’s happening.”

Annual revenue: Under $500,000

 

Ad sales: Berkeleyside doesn't use an ad network and employs a full time advertising director; it conducts an annual readership survey to collect demographic information

 

Editorial staff: 3 founders (“Between the three of us, it’s about a job and a half.”) and approximately six regular freelancers

Media partnerships: Provides content for KQED (local NPR affiliate), The Bay Citizen, SFGate (The San Francisco Chronicle)

Social media: “We use Twitter a lot. It’s a very good tool for us.” In addition to using Twitter to push stories and crowdsource, the site uses Facebook to promote content.

Most popular features: “Breaking news is absolutely the top driver.”

Primary digital competition: “We don’t actually have any direct competitors. For a city of our size with a world-class university and a very highly educated and very vocal population, we’ve found that strange.”

What distinguishes it from the digital competition: “What really distinguishes us is our focus. We are totally and uniquely focused on the city of Berkeley.”

What’s next: “We want to build the revenue base to the extent that we’re able to do more with the site itself and be sustainable as a business. We’re also looking at expansion. I don’t want to give away too much … but we’re looking at verticals.” Berkeleyside is also looking to host a second Berkeleyside forum in January 2012.

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