There’s a contradiction in fast-growing North American cities.
At a time when small- and mid-sized urban centers are growing rapidly, residents are also feeling increasingly disconnected and isolated.
“It’s because the local information ecosystem is broken,” says Chris Sopher, CEO and founder of WhereBy.Us, the five city-strong local news media company that launched in Miami with The New Tropic in 2015. “It’s about a lack of connective tissue between residents, city movements and issues that bind them to a place,” he says.
Sopher saw a solution with The New Tropic, a daily morning newsletter featuring vital, curated local news to connect Miami’s readers. He believed residents wanted opinionated, earnest takes on local stories as an antidote to both the “objectivity disease” of corporate daily media and “cynical negativity” of the alternative press.
He was right. With a business model initially focused on display ads, sponsored content and sponsored events, The New Tropic hit profitability by the end of its first year. In 2018, the company grossed $1 million nationally.
Scale with Local Authenticity
“We then decided to try this in another place to figure out whether the model we built is portable,” Sopher says. America’s fastest-growing big city seemed like an on-brand expansion, so WhereBy.Us looked west to Seattle and launched The Evergrey in 2017. Last year, the company launched in Portland, Oregon, and Orlando and then purchased Pittsburgh’s The Incline.
Today, the WhereBy.Us team of 30 deliver local news to more than 75,000 daily newsletter subscribers with average open rates ranging from 30% to 35% and reach 2 million people monthly across its platforms, Sopher says. WhereBy.Us has its sights set on owning the local market largely discarded in the media consolidation race for massive scale.
One of the toughest challenges with delivering quality local media is scaling while staying true and relevant to locals. “We’ve spent a lot of energy on what it takes to scale while keeping local authenticity,” says Sopher. “We’ve unlocked how to solve that through our model and our technology.”
“We’ve spent a lot of energy on what it takes to scale while keeping local authenticity.” Chris Sopher – Founder, WhereBy.Us
Part of WhereBy.Us’ success is based on a platform that, in addition to making content production streamlined, enables a local team to automate both reader and advertiser services.
Currently, newsletter ads are sold, uploaded and renewed across the network in a standardized way. Clients can also target WhereBy.Us readers in each city based on stories shared or events attended. One coming innovation is an automated newsletter subscriber referral program that rewards users for urging others to sign up.
The uniform backend support means local site operators are empowered with the tools, playbooks and packaging focused on straightforward on-boarding of new local city media brands.
“This gives WhereBy.Us sites the freedom to focus on community engagement while we take care of the newsletters, advertising and data. This lets smaller teams operate without the massive overhead usually associated with building revenue infrastructure,” says Sopher.
The efficiency the platform delivers has allowed revenue opportunities to expand from the display ads and traditional sponsored content of 2015 to a more sophisticated mix of digital and real-life offerings.
About half of the company’s revenue now comes from newsletter advertising and revenue from users with the other half coming from sponsored content and events.
“We use a combination of video, social storytelling, interactive content, newsletter content, and events,” says Sopher. “We customize the approach we use for each client, so we’re always being responsive to their specific needs and goals.”
For 2019, events will be a growing source of unlocked revenue. Last year each city outlet produced four events, which were built around stories resonating among audiences in a city. “This year, we’ll be doing four events a month,” Sopher says.
These revenue opportunities reveal themselves because the local WhereBy.Us teams are able to focus on deeply understanding the needs and quirks of their communities.
One recent example is The Evergrey’s “Embrace the Grey” Facebook group. It launched after editors learned about residents’ malaise with rainy winters and decided to help with curated daily challenges and inspiring ideas for finding pleasure in the rain. And, of course, a sponsored in-person event was part of the mix too.
Sopher says it’s WhereBy.Us’ approach of treating the local news challenge like a software problem and not a content problem that has led to their success. “We have the technology that lets anyone do this in their city and that allows local journalism to stand a chance.”