Buffalo Rising

A grassroots print startup hits its stride online

BuffaloRising.pngBUFFALO, NEW YORK — The mission of Buffalo Rising is embedded in its very name. A decade ago, as Elmwood Avenue shop owner Newell Nussbaumer began to witness a resurgence in his native city, he saw grassroots movements growing and activists who needed a voice. He sought to provide that with Buffalo Rising, first a tri-annual and later a monthly print product, and then finally a blog to supplement it online.

But the blog took off, and Nussbaumer, along with his high school friend George Johnson–an established programmer who helped launch Orbitz.com–began to build and customize the site. The immediacy and the potential for interaction afforded by the Internet became vastly important to Buffalo Rising. “Otherwise you’re just always going to get beat by the big publishers,” says Nussbaumer. “For us to be able to dig up big information and report on happenings in Buffalo as they were going on, that was really just a lot of fun.”

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    • For Buffalo Rising, the ability to get information up quickly gives the site a chance to be as timely as bigger outlets like The Buffalo News, though Nussbaumer doesn’t really consider the daily newspaper a competitor. While the site doesn’t have as large a staff as the newspaper, Nussbaumer says that Buffalo Rising covers other issues and events they consider just as newsworthy. “We all have our respective place in the market.”

      Nussbaumer’s life and work are intertwined. The inspiration for his articles often comes from his daily encounters and observations as he goes about life in Buffalo. After abandoning the print product about five years ago, Nussbaumer closed his downtown offices because the space needed for layout and other demands of print were no longer necessary. Now, his home and the city itself serve as his office space; he types away in coffee shops and other local spots as he makes his way through a day in his hometown. His marriage even originated in his work; Nussbaumer first met his wife during an interview about a new business she was opening.

      Buffalo Rising functions with very minimal staffing levels. Says Nussbaumer: “I rely mostly on interns and Buffalo enthusiasts.” This enthusiasm is an editorial priority for a site where most of the writers are into green initiatives, urbanism, music, the arts and culture. Associated Press style is not a large concern for the managing editor. “It’s not what people want to read on a site like this,” says Nussbaumer, who tells his writers, “‘Keep your voice. It’s very important to keep your voice. Be opinionated if you believe in something.'”

      Even the writers’ names often have a kind of personality to them. Because the site was originally built as a blog, Nussbaumer and some of his contributors began posting with handles. His is “queenseyes”–as in the eyes of Buffalo, The Queen City. This practice has occasionally garnered criticism from more traditional media outlets, but Nussbaumer says he doesn’t have anything to hide. His identity is clearly established on his profile page, but other writers are free to choose how much of their real selves are on display for readers. “You can find out who the writers are for the most part,” says Nussbaumer, “but we have had writers in the past who for certain reasons don’t want people to know who they are but they have something to say.”

      Nussbaumer advocates a kind of hyperlocal immersion journalism, encouraging his writers to participate in the activities they’re writing about. “I always tell my writers, ‘Don’t just go write about it. Literally, if you’re interested in the things you’re writing about…then become part of these groups, become part of these movements and follow them,'” he says. “It’s the most effective way–the passion, you can really read it in what they write about because they’re out there doing these things as well.”

      Early coverage of local movements like “guerrilla gardening” by those involved is what Nussbaumer believes separated Buffalo Rising from other, more staid media outlets in the area. Today, continued focus on local development and community organizations is a mainstay on the site, along with regular columns like Theological Thursdays with Rev. Drew, and Nussbaumer’s new Saturday Stumper feature, which challenges readers to identify the location of an obscure architectural feature in the city from a posted photo. While the focus is certainly Buffalo-centric, the site also posts regional content covering nearby communities like Niagara and Amherst.

      While the editorial side of Buffalo Rising embraces the ever-evolving online culture, the business side is rather traditional. According to Nussbaumer, the site–which “makes enough to keep the lights on”–is 100 percent ad-driven, with sales manager John Powell focusing on local business. “He goes out and pounds the pavement just like any other traditional form of media ad rep would do, which does make a difference,” says Nussbaumer. “There are businesses locally who want to have their message branded along with a positive light, and they know that we’ve got a pretty solid readership.”

      In fact, Buffalo Rising has been reaching an average of about 45,000 unique readers per month, and will continue working to spread its message to the city’s more than 260,000 residents. “It’s a good time to be in Buffalo,” says Nussbaumer, “and it’s a good time to write about Buffalo.”

Buffalo Rising Data

Name: Buffalo Rising

URL: buffalorising.com

City: Buffalo

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Paige Rentz is a contributor to CJR.