LEIMERT PARK, CALIFORNIA — Eddie North-Hager moved to Leimert Park, an 11,000-person neighborhood in Los Angeles, because it was the type of community in which he wanted to raise his family. And yet whenever he read anything about the area in the news, it seemed that he encountered endless versions of the same negative story.
“If you would search for things about the neighborhood online, you were going to get a crime or a gang story, when that’s not the real narrative,” North-Hager says. “There was a real gap. There was nothing about ‘What can I do in my community for fun, education, or civic engagement?’”
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North-Hager, who was working in public relations when he first moved to Leimert Park in 2005, had been a newspaper reporter for fifteen years, at publications like the Arizona Republic and the Daily Breeze in Carson, Calif. After a couple years living in Leimert Park, he decided to launch a hyperlocal news site that better catered to what he believed was the true identity and pulse of the neighborhood.
Leimert Park Beat went live in 2007. It was meant to serve as a “community-centered social network” that covered local news, and also offered event listings that couldn’t be found in the likes of the Los Angeles Times. There were already several local newspapers aimed at the African American community (Leimert Park is 90 percent African American), but North-Hager felt that he could fill a needed role with his online focus and his emphasis on community involvement.
North-Hager was conscious of the fact that he was the new Caucasian guy in the neighborhood, and that some might be wary of his setting up an institution that might be seen as trying to speak for the community. He wanted to explicitly avoid any pretensions to be the “authoritative source with one voice.” A platform for many voices, he felt, was what the web was all about.
At first, though, North-Hager was both founder and lone content producer, tasked with problem of attracting those “many voices” so that the site could more closely resemble his ultimate vision.
His editorial approach was simple. After all, he was writing about the community in which he resided, “So I was always thinking about what news I could use, the news I would want living here,” he says.
The approach worked, and the audience grew. In a community of 11,000 people, the site is seeing on average anywhere from 10,000 to 15,000 unique visitors per month, according to Hager’s numbers.
In order to engage this growing audience, North-Hager created a membership model that requires readers to register with their bio, a photo, and zip code. Registration is required in order to post news items, events, photos or opinion pieces. He currently has over 1,300 registered users who contribute stories on anything from parades to musical performances to Martin Luther King, Jr. or post photos of high school basketball games. (A fellow Los Angeles news site posted a video about Leimert Park Beat reaching the thousand member markin August of 2011.)
Despite this large community, North-Hager still produces the majority of the site’s content. He has ambitions to further inspire his members to “feel a responsibility to be citizen journalists,” he says. “They’re not classically trained on how to cover a crisis at city hall, but they do know how to cover events and take photos and talk about meetings that are coming up, or give their opinions on a new grocery store or about the streets being cleaned. It makes them feel more connected and brings value back to the website.”
Leimert Park Beat is low on revenue, but its overhead is low, too. North-Hager’s full-time job in public relations pays his bills and helps keep the project going. In addition, the site sells ads as well as sponsorships. Rates are posted on the site, and range from $1000 per month for a “Title sponsor” to $300 per month for the footer.
Leimert Park Beat has also funded stories through Spot.us, and has teamed up with local news outlets, including Intersections South LA, which CJR profiled in April 2011. One collaboration with that site, titled “Redevelopment Hell,” led to the demolition of a long-vacated shopping center in the area.
North-Hager has also taken this relationship with readers offline. At the first “offline event” for the site’s members, there was a clown and a DJ for the kids, food was served, and a range of speakers, including a city councilman, addressed the crowd. “We had 100 people turn out to what was essentially a city council meeting,” North-Hager says. People approached him and thanked him for his work: “I’ve never hugged so many people.”
Leimert Park Beat Data
Name: Leimert Park Beat
City: Leimert Park
Principal Staff: Eddie North-Hager, publisher and editor; Walter Melton, senior reporter; Ivery Shehee, photographer/videographer; L. Watts, photographer.
Affiliations: KCET PBS, Spot.us, Intersections South LA, One Compton