DALLAS, TEXAS — Shawn Williams was in pharmaceutical sales for nine years before starting his personal blog in 2006. The blog was about South Dallas, an area of more than 500,000 people. He says he first started the blog to try to combat negative images of the African American community that he saw in the mainstream media. When he was let go from his job right around the time the blog was beginning to grow, he decided to take his personal blog one step further, creating Dallas South News, a full-fledged nonprofit news site, in 2009.
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“When some of my interns come in from journalism programs, I tell them they already have more experience than I did,” says Williams, who is still editor-in-chief.
Dallas South News, a nonprofit site, is supported by modest contributions from a group of Williams’ friends and supporters in the community. Williams says the site is funded roughly half from individual donations, half from ads and sponsorships, and receives no foundation funding. These revenues are sufficient for a full-time staff of one, Williams, and he has help from a volunteer team of writers, photographers, and marketers that has grown to about twenty-five.
The site’s content is a mix of local news, arts and culture pieces, sports coverage, education stories, and political analysis and commentary. DSN is different from many other local sites in that it also has regularly updated media and religion sections. A “Jr. Reporters” page features stories and videos produced by young students in DSN’s youth mentor program.
Williams’s rise has been a noticeable one. He currently sits on the Poynter Institute’s National Advisory Board, and was a fellow to Poynter’s Sense-Making Group in 2009. Building his own brand also helped get DSN’s brand out there—through his monthly appearances on Dallas’s WFAA (ABC) program Inside Texas Politics and his weekly radio commentary on KKDA Soul 73. “We literally had to go and reach every medium,” he says.
With that in mind, DSN will soon publish its first print edition, available one weekend a month, and Williams hopes the move toward print will increase both his audience and his ad revenue. Although the majority of DSN’s online content is targeted toward an African American audience, Williams has learned in the past two years that he also often reaches white and Hispanic readers. He hopes that the print edition expands his audience even more, helping Dallas South News reach people who might not see it otherwise.
While still in working partnerships with Pegasus News and some of the local weeklies in the area, Williams said the site would eventually head toward a paywall model, something that will help expand the site’s full-time staff and give it more financial and editorial flexibility heading forward. And his plans for expansion don’t stop in South Dallas.
“We’d like to create a sustainable model first, a business model that will support news in southern Dallas,” says Williams, but then “we would love to be able to create something that we could share with other people, to help them cover news in their own markets…where other organizations can use the same model we do.”
Dallas South News Data
Name: Dallas South News
Principal Staff: Shawn Williams, editor.