PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA — While still an undergraduate journalism major at Temple University, Shannon McDonald launched the hyperlocal NEast Philly, an online only news source that provides daily coverage for the Northeast section of Philadelphia. In the site’s own words, NEast Philly offers “daily news, analysis, multimedia, columns and commentary on everything that interests the proud, working-class neighborhoods of The NEast.”
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McDonald launched the site in November 2008 after taking an entrepreneurial journalism class at Temple. A lifelong resident of the city’s northeast side, McDonald felt that the neighborhood should have a daily news source to compete against the weekly Northeast Times. While McDonald takes on the bulk of the editorial duties for the site, in addition to producing much of its content, she also enlists the help of five volunteers. Volunteers are “active, involved residents with a passion for their neighborhood”, covering content ranging from local real estate, finance, technology to general lifestyle issues affecting the neighborhood. Technically Philly co-founder Christopher Wink is the web editor in charge of maintaining the NEast site; he also chips in covering two Northeast neighborhoods.
The bulk of the site’s content consists of coverage of civic meetings and local government. McDonald attends meetings personally “four to five times a week”, although it took some time for the young reporter to be taken seriously. As she explains, “At first people were skeptical, because here’s someone who’s twenty-one, twenty-two years old coming to these meetings…now I go to a civic meeting and everyone knows who I am, they know my name, they know that they can ask me questions…when you show up and prove that you’re accurately and objectively reporting on things happening in these meetings, people definitely take you more seriously…there’s a trust level there.”
NEast Philly has a partnership with Temple University based Philadelphia Neighborhoods, which provides the site with four interns a semester. The site also shares content with Yahoo News’s local initiative and the Philadelphia Baseball Review, an online-only “journalistic enterprise that strives to break news and produce original content regarding baseball’s past, present and future as it relates to Philadelphia.” A six-month content sharing partnership with Philly’s Metro paper wrapped up in September 2010, but J-Lab recently helped to fund a story about corruption charges facing a state representative through its Enterprise Reporting Fund Grant.
In addition to being the main contributor and editor in-chief, McDonald also holds down a day job working as a web reporter for NPR’s Philadelphia affiliate WHYY. Aside from the one-time grant from J-Lab, revenue for the site comes from display ads: “I will call people up and say you should be advertising with us…it’s a lot of cold calling.” Though she’s had some success selling ads, she admits that she isn’t able to spend as much time as she’d like reaching out to advertisers. The site traffic continues to grow, boasting roughly fifteen thousand unique visitors per month according to its own numbers.
McDonald is still a long way from making NEast Philly work as a full-time endeavor, but she hasn’t ruled out the possibility. “I would love to [work at the site full-time] if for no other reason than just to see if I could do it. There’s definitely a need for it in the Northeast and I’d love to be able to completely fill that void.”
NEast Philly Data
Name: NEast Philly