MONTCLAIR, NEW JERSEY — There’s something about the smell of steaming coffee grinds that sets the curious journalist in everyone… percolating. Coffee-guzzlers have always used cafes as something of a casual newsroom, a place for gossiping and sharing tidbits about everything from daytime soaps to national politics. And that was the starting point for Debbie Galant and Liz George, the editors, founders, and owners of the appropriately named Baristanet, which they founded in Montclair, New Jersey, back in May 2004. The idea is to be—like a coffee shop—a local venue for local news and opinion as well as for discussions on great food and topics like parenting. Six years later, they’re pulling in six-figure revenues covering Montclair and other towns within Jersey’s Essex County.
- Read more about Baristanet
It’s not all bake sales. You will recall the June 2010 arrest of a slew of Russian spies, two of whom had lived peacefully and covertly in the Montclair suburbs. “We were all over it,” says George, who saw the story as a great opportunity for the local outlet. “I think we were one of the first ones to have a picture of the house and one of the first organizations to put out their real names.” You can find that report here.
Keeping with the coffee shop style, Baristanet has developed a strong relationship with citizens in the towns it covers. Residents rely on Baristanet to find out more about the Russian spies next door and Baristanet relies on residents for tips and the latest news of the town. “I think the site wouldn’t be what it is without the vibrant exchange of ideas from the readers,” says George. “The comments add another layer to things. It makes our job more fun when you’re publishing and people are talking back to you than publishing in a vacuum.”
Baristanet’s is a small staff—along with Galant and George there is an ad sales manager and a daily editor; together they work with ten regular writers as well as the occasional freelancer. The regulars are an eclectic bunch: the daily editor is also an EMT; another writer is a financial journalist and mother of two who keeps a food blog. And while the site publishes a number of professional writers, George believes everyone writing for the site, professional or not, is constantly learning or honing their skills—whether by seeing the impact a journalist can have in a small town to noting the criticisms that turn up in comments sections.
The formula seems to be working. Baristanet’s revenue is enviable for such a small operation, with plenty of local advertising money coming in—Baristanet pays graphics designers to produce the ads. It’s all part of the duo’s original plan to prove a local site could work, and succeed, with ad dollars.
Of course, the pair had the background to make advertisers comfortable. George had worked as an editor and writer, and Galant is a former Jersey columnist for the New York Times and author of three books. According to George, though, the line between reader, citizen, and professional journalist is blurring with the help of sites like Baristanet. Much as it does in a coffee shop.
“I think the reader is so engaged in what goes on with our site—adding layers of information, adding photos, opinion—that journalism is becoming more open and we’re kind of indicative of that,” she says. “Journalists don’t know everything and we don’t have to wait three hours until we know everything. In the meantime, we can address aspects of the story rather than wait and hold on to the definitive story and be the owners of that story. I think the public is savvy enough to take an active role.”
City: Glen Ridge, N.J.
Principal Staff: Liz George, owner and editor; Debbie Galant, owner and editor.
Affiliations: Revenue share with Barista Kids.
CMS: Wordpress - Hosted (.com)