For younger couples, especially those with children or considering them, the barely-getting-paid thing can be a struggle. Christine Stuart, 34 and Doug Hardy, 42, own CTNewsJunkie, a site that is focused on state politics in Connecticut, supported by a combination of ads, donations, and sponsorships. They worked together at north-central Connecticut’s Journal Inquirer but, frustrated with the job and wary about its future, they both took a chance on online publishing. “I didn’t know if the paper would still be there when I was ready to retire,” Doug says. Christine quit first, in March 2006, and bought CTNewsJunkie from its creator, Dan Levine, who was moving and offered her the business as a respite from her frustrations at the newspaper. Eager to try something new, she dove in, supplementing her income with a part-time court-reporting job, while Doug continued working at the Inquirer, mostly for the benefits. “It took me several years to come to the conclusion that I’m killing myself for health benefits,” he says. He quit in March 2011, and is CTNewsJunkie’s business manager; Christine is the editor. They both juggle other gigs to stay on top of their finances, and say their for-profit operation wouldn’t make it if they had to pay for office space, or if they had children. They describe their $10,000-deductible health insurance—the most affordable plan they could find—as “birth control.” “We’re looking at a $10,000 ransom note if we have a kid,” Doug says.
Frank Carini, 44, and Joanna Detz, 37, also say they wouldn’t try to run a news website with a child. They publish ecoRI News, a donor and ad-supported nonprofit site that focuses on environmental issues in Rhode Island. The pair met at Community Newspaper Co. in Boston in the ’90s, where Frank was an editor and Joanna a reporter. She left in the late ’90s to get into graphic design, but Frank stayed, and his frustration with what happened to journalism over the years is palpable. “I’ve heard so many times, ‘Do more with less and fill the paper,’” he says. “I was tired of the mainstream media, the cuts, that whole sad story.”
Having their own news outlet was an idea the couple had always tossed around. “We’d talk playfully about what journalism friends we knew, what their strengths would be,” Joanna says. “How you talk when you’re enjoying a cocktail and daydreaming.” She was relieved when Frank decided to quit his job at the Newport Daily News in late 2008; she didn’t like seeing him so discouraged. They refinanced their house and converted their basement into the office. Joanna still has a full-time job as a graphic designer, but helps with the site after work and on weekends.
Frank has been able to hire four people to report and write, paying them a monthly salary depending on what he can afford. Frank hasn’t taken a salary for himself yet. He says the financial strain is by far the hardest part. But both think that the site is good for their marriage. “We don’t have children, so I think in a healthy relationship, you need to be working toward something,” Joanna says. “It’s really nice to have that thread.”
For 35-year-old Lissa Harris and her wife, 30-year-old Julia Reischel, running a news site together is infinitely more appealing than clinging to someone else’s masthead. “It’s more exciting to do something new together, in untested territory, than to play musical chairs for the same shrinking number of jobs,” says Lissa. Together, they run The Watershed Post, a for-profit site, supported by grants and ads, covering five counties in the Catskills region of upstate New York.
Still, sharing work can be a challenge: “We’re always guilt-tripping each other about work,” says Julia. While being interviewed for a radio show in front of a live audience recently, she says, they kept interrupting each other, flashing disapproving looks. “We were getting stressed out over each other’s answers to the questions,” Lissa says. “I’m sitting there thinking, ‘Oh my God, do we look like the world’s worst bickering lesbians? Can everyone tell? And does it matter? Or are we just such an obvious married couple?’”