NEW YORK, NEW YORK— In July 2011, New York City’s beaches and rivers were closed to recreational use for five days, after a fire at a major sewage treatment plant led to millions of gallons of untreated sewage being dumped into the Hudson and Harlem rivers. Most New York news outlets focused on the immediate fallout from the leak at the North River Wastewater Treatment Plant in Harlem, but NewsOne, a website dedicated to news and information for and about blacks in America, had a different angle. Within days of the fire, NewsOne journalist Johan Thomas published an article that explained the history of the sewage plant and how it represented “another story in a long-standing American narrative of environmental injustice against communities of color….”
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“We wanted to tell the history of it, the drama that surrounded the building of that plant, which no one was really reporting on,” says Claudio Cabrera, the lead editor of NewsOne.
Since its launch 2008, NewsOne has focused on filling what Cabrera said is a void in the national news media. “There’s not a lot of coverage of the African American population by major news sites,” he says. “It’s a community that’s underserved when it comes to media.”
News One’s content is a mix of breaking news, national politics, entertainment, and editorials. The site had traditionally aggregated news and information from other sources, but in recent months the editors say they have begun focusing on generating more original content, such as the Harlem sewage plant story.
“It’s really new territory for us,” explains Cabrera, who started his journalism career at the New York Amsterdam News. “We’ve changed our editorial direction in last three to four months. You’re not going to see an original reported piece every day, but two to three times a week.” The site’s editorial team is composed of Cabrera, an associate editor, a freelance blogger, and an intern.
NewsOne is part of a larger media conglomeration called InteractiveOne, whose mission is “empowering, entertaining and connecting African Americans of all ages and interests.” The media company runs four websites in addition to News One: Elev8.com, a faith-oriented website; HelloBeautiful.com, a woman’s lifestyle guide; UrbanDaily.com, dedicated to African American pop-culture; and TVOne.com, the website for the cable network serving 54 million households in the United States.
“It’s very hard to build a business around a single website. We plug NewsOne into our portfolio of sites and that’s called InteractiveOne,” explains Tom Newman, the company’s president. “From our business perspective that’s how we make it work. If you’re building up a digital or tech team you really need scale.” InteractiveOne itself is the digital division of Radio One, the largest public media company in the U.S. serving African Americans. Founder and media entrepreneur Cathy Hughes created Radio One thirty years ago; today the company includes fifty-three radio stations in sixteen markets, as well as TV One.
As for revenue, NewsOne is entirely dependent on advertising sales. A single department sells ads for the entire InteractiveOne network of sites, but advertisers do not have to buy space network-wide. Newman says InteractiveOne makes $20 million per year in revenue overall, but the company shuns breaking down profitability on a per-site basis. “We’ve thought a lot about it,” says Newman, an executive at Time Warner for eight years before coming to InteractiveOne four years ago. At Time Warner, Newman explains, the profit and loss (PNL) of individual sites was given a lot of attention but executives at Interactiv One have explicitly chosen not to do that. “We don’t disclose what each site does, don’t do targets, don’t tell our editors at individual sites the PNL allocated to it,” he says. By so doing, the company hopes to send a message both internally and outwardly: “the sum is greater than the parts.”
City: New YorkMaura R. O'Connor is a freelance foreign correspondent. This year she was awarded a Phillips Foundation Journalism Fellowship and will be reporting on American foreign aid from Haiti, Afghanistan, and Africa.