SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA — Before October 2008, Ben Ilfeld and Geoff Samek, the founders of The Sacramento Press, had no journalism experience. In college, Ilfeld had studied economics and political science, while Samek had studied computer science. What the Sacramento natives did have in common, though, was a desire to develop a new website emphasizing reader discussion around local news and events. Before long, The Sacramento Press, an online news source with a focus on central city neighborhoods and city government and development coverage, was born.
- Read more about The Sacramento Press
Although the dream was big, the site started small. “It was exactly what you would imagine a tech startup to be,” says Ilfeld. “We were hanging out in an apartment and full-time building it.”
But The Sacramento Press has grown from its humble beginnings in a short period of time. Without aggregating content, The Sacramento Press’s contributing writers have produced almost 10,000 stories since the website’s birth. Stories cover everything from general news and sports to politics and arts.
On the night of Sept. 11, 2011, for example, the website reported on Sacramento’s Day of Remembrance in honor of the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks. Besides offering a local angle on one of the biggest national stories of the year, the piece also includes fourteen photos of the city’s firefighters, politicians, and citizens participating in commemoratory events around Sacramento, along with images of fighter jets and flags soaring overhead, taken by the writer herself, Kati Garner. In the comment section of the story, Garner even posted links to additional photos for her readers to check out.
The Sacramento Press’s staff includes four full-time editorial employees (including editor-in-chief David Watts Barton, a twenty-two-year veteran of The Sacramento Bee); four full-time sales workers; a community outreach staffer; a marketing and events director; a handful of interns, contractors, and part-timers and about 1,700 volunteer community contributors who have written at some point since the website’s inception. “It’s like having a hundred people in a newsroom, but they’re just constantly moving in and out,” says Ilfeld.
To attract more writers, the team also hosts workshops at least twice a month for aspiring journalists, on topics that range from journalistic ethics to how to take a decent picture with a camera phone. The Sacramento Press’s writers have identity badges posted next to their names on the site: small green boxes, for example, indicate that authors are employed by The Sacramento Press. Government employees and public information officers also have their own identity badges. Merit badges are awarded to contributors who attend some of the free workshops and are based on how much of their content has been chosen by the editors for layout on the front page.
Since 2008, The Sacramento Press has attracted over a million and a half unique visitors, and its readership is a vocal one: each story has a vast comment section, with readers challenging and building on nearly every aspect of the article. All of the content is free for all readers. One way that the site generates revenue is from display advertising, which is sold as subscription packages—mostly to small businesses in its core market, with prices ranging from $200 to $2,000 per month.
At the same time, the founders have discovered other, more creative revenue streams for their website. Many of the local businesses utilize The Sacramento Press for its social-media consulting; Agency M, the website’s boutique in-house digital media segment, is comprised of three employees and an intern who specialize in building social media assets and running social media campaigns. A year and a half ago, The Sacramento Press found another way for its regional advertisers to reach hundreds of thousands of potential customers. That’s when Ilfeld founded SLOAN, the Sacramento Local Online Advertising Network, which allows agencies or regional ad buyers to purchase advertisements that show up across a system of fifty-six different news sites and blogs.
While the majority of SLOAN money goes to the independent publishers in the network, about 15 percent goes to Cox Digital Media, the technology backend of the network. The Sacramento Press manages the sales network and so takes a cut of SLOAN revenues. And since the website is also a member of the network, its employees get paid when SLOAN ads show up on the site, just like it would for other publishers.
According to Ilfeld, The Sacramento Press’s long-term mission is to be the most useful and informative news source for the Sacramento region. His first hope for the website is to make a significant profit, so that it can continue to grow and add additional staffers to cover more events. “For right now, given our budget and our resources and what we are, it’s really important for us to just cover local news that other people don’t,” he says. “Our goal is to cover a story that, for whatever reason-resources or time-other news channels weren’t able to hit. For people in Sacramento who are really local news fiends, we’re important for that, and that’s how we establish ourselves.”
Sacramento Press Data
Name: Sacramento Press
Principal Staff: David Watts Barton, editor-in-chief; Coleen Belcher, managing editor; Ben Ilfeld, co-founder and COO.
Affiliations: Content: Capitol Public Radio. Business: The Sacramento Local Online Ad Network (SLOAN)
CMS: Custom System: Java.
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