RICHMOND, VIRGINIA — In 2007, Ross Catrow and Scott Pharr set out to create an online hub where Richmond residents could have access to the increasing number of blogs and hyperlocal sites based in and around the small city. The two had been college roommates who found web-related jobs after school: Catrow worked for the state of Virginia, Pharr for a gold and jewelery wholesaler. The two decided to go into business for themselves, establishing a web design company, PharrOut, as well as RVA News. While the site initally focused entirely on aggregation, RVA News has since evolved into a news provider in its own right. According to Catrow, roughly three quarters of the site’s content features original reporting, while the remaining fourth remains faithful to site’s original intention of being a blog aggregator for the Richmond area.
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The site’s content generally skews toward lifestyle coverage, with a dash of miscellaneous community happenings. A recent story covered the numerous sightings of a mysterious goat in a nearby rural area. The sensation created by the sightings of this either feral or escaped goat, and the subsequent reporting of it by local news sites, was enough to garner the attention of local television news stations. Richmond is also the home of the Virginia Commonwealth University, as well as the University of Richmond, and both schools’ men’s basketball teams are currently competing in the NCAA tournament. RVA News and its community news sites have provided heavy coverage of each team’s progress. (As of this writing, both teams are still active.)
On the more hard-hitting side, RVA News sends a freelancer to sit in and report on city council meetings, something that, according to Catrow, is not regularly practiced by other media outlets in Richmond. Catrow says, “We do a lot of lifestyle and entertainment stuff, sports reporting; and we’ll also have the ability to take one of the stories one of the community news sites has done and bubble it up to the top of RVA news, and draw attention to a local story in a neighborhood that has city-wide implications.”
Over time, RVA News has developed a strong affiliation with the ten blogs it aggregates, offering them tech support and revenue opportunities. Revenue from ads sold on RVA News goes into the maintenance of the RVA News site itself. Additionally, RVA News handles the ad sales for its community news sites. Companies can either purchase smaller ads that are featured on an individual community news site, or a larger ad that will be rotated between the ten simultaneously. Once the larger ads reach a certain revenue threshold, RVA News profit-shares with its community news sites based on page views for that month. Revenue from the smaller ads, on the other hand, goes directly to the editor of the site on which the ads are featured. The ten sites have also recently streamlined and unified their appearances to indicate their affiliation to one another.
Catrow and ad sales rep Lauren Eubank both count RVA News as their full-time gigs. Catrow and his business partner and fellow founder Scott Pharr share in an equal partnership for both RVA News and PharrOut, with Pharr designating most of his energies towards the latter. RVA News relies on roughly a dozen volunteers and freelancers to contribute the bulk of the site’s original content and reporting.
Although public thirst for hard-hitting, investigative journalism may never wane, RVA News takes a slightly lighter approach. Despite the fact that an independent, community news site can take on weightier issues, sometimes people just want to know what the deal is with the goat that’s been on the prowl. Such is the mission of RVA News, and so far it seems to be working. As Catrow notes: “Most people know what their community news site is, and yet RVA News isn’t really that old in terms of media in town. But I think we’ve grown very quickly in terms of our reputation and our brand awareness.”
Principal Staff: Ross Catrow, publisher; Scott Pharr, publisher and editor; Brandon Gibson, lead developer; Lauren Eubank, sales and marketing.
CMS: WordPress - OpenSource (.org)
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