EDMONDS, WASHINGTON — Since graduating from Seattle University in 1979 with a journalism degree, Teresa Wippel’s career has veered in and out of journalism, but she hopes that she’s back in the fourth estate for good now. She started out working as a community newspaper reporter for a chain of Seattle-area weeklies and a small daily paper in Port Angeles, Wash., before becoming a staff writer for United Press International. She later became the managing editor of Seattle’s ParentMap Magazine, with a circulation of 50,000, before leaving journalism in 2008 for a career in public relations.
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But after getting laid off as a communications director for a professional women’s basketball team a year later, Wippel started paying attention to the trend of small, locally owned community news websites that had appeared in neighborhoods throughout the Seattle area. Her own town, Edmonds, a Seattle suburb with a population of 40,000–including a fair number of retirees–lacked such a news source.
“Since I have a journalism background, my husband actually said, ‘You know, I think you should do one for Edmonds, because if you don’t, someone else will,'” recalls Wippel, who has lived in Edmonds for almost thirty years. Just a week later, Wippel decided to launch her own community website: My Edmonds News.
Since the site went live in October 2009, it has evolved into a 24/7 news source, posting about six to eight original stories a day on topics ranging from city government and politics to arts, culture, and local sports. In September 2011, the site began to stream live play-by-play commentary for high school football games. Parents, students, and alumni volunteer help with the effort, which has attracted sponsorships from local businesses. The site plans to eventually cover other high school sports, but must first get official approval from the school district.
From the beginning, Wippel wanted her website to be “an online gathering place for neighbors and friends,” a phrase featured prominently atop the site’s homepage. She feels that a highly interactive website is crucial to this effort, and the robust comment sections at the bottom of each story exemplify her success on this front. Wippel requires all people who comment to use their real first and last names, and city council members have even conversed with citizens on the website over the years. The site received its first major traffic boost in February 2010 from a post regarding a controversial proposal by the Edmonds City Council to purchase a vacant restaurant property. The majority of citizens felt the move was unnecessary, due to the town’s strapped finances and the council’s lack of future plans for the property. “The traffic just skyrocketed,” Wippel says. “People stayed after that, because they knew I was covering the issue.”
More recently, writers for My Edmonds News are covering the town’s upcoming elections. The “Election Watch 2011” tab on the site’s homepage includes candidate and issue forum dates and locations, voter registration deadlines, and information on each of the contenders.
Besides Wippel, who covers all city council meetings and city government proceedings, the site has two paid freelance contributors–one who writes about food and restaurants in the area and another who writes about the arts–as well as ten active volunteer columnists and a fifteen-year-old high school sports writing intern. Wippel also employs with six or seven freelance photographers, and an advertising sales consultant who works on commission.
Overall, Wippel spent about $1,500 to launch My Edmonds News, which draws an average of 2,000 unique visitors a day and about 50,000 per month, according to Wippel’s own numbers. Initially, the website existed as a simple WordPress blog without any kind of formal design. Then, in January 2010, Wippel hired a WordPress designer to create a masthead and help her to select a template that incorporated a theme. Currently, she spends between $700 and $1000 each month on freelance writers and tech support. When revenues exceed those costs, Wippel rolls the income back into the business, which is incorporated as an LLC under parent company Teresa Wippel Communications. Wippel set up the business this way to allow for potential related businesses as time goes on. “I’m not making any money yet,” she says. “It’s my hope to at some point soon. I’m getting close to being able to start taking a salary.”
My Edmonds News receives 100 percent of its revenues from display advertising and sponsorships. About 90 percent of the advertising comes from local businesses in Edmonds; the remaining 10 percent is comprised of businesses in neighboring communities. The site does not run ads from national ad networks.
Wippel considers the Edmonds Patch, which launched in late December 2010, to be her biggest competitor. The site has a larger staff and higher budget than My Edmonds News, but Wippel plans on maintaining her site for many years to come.
“I’m in it for the long haul,” she says. “I love my community. I raise my kids here. I know the people and what drives people to live here. Everybody knows everybody, and everybody takes care of each other. I hope to continue to serve the community by providing an online presence where people can continue to share their views about the town.”
My Edmonds News Data
Name: My Edmonds News