SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA — In June of 2008, journalist Brandy Tuzon Boyd was scrolling through daily crime reports in Natomas, a community in northwest Sacramento, when she noticed something alarming–a spate of home invasions in which residents were being robbed in their garages. Tuzon Boyd reported the trend on her then-fledgling website The Natomas Buzz. “Is anyone else noticing this happening almost every other day?” Tuzon Boyd recalls writing.
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Shortly thereafter, the police department held a meeting with community members to address the spate of crimes. In attendance was the police chief as well as Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson, who was a candidate for office at the time. Police emphasized the importance of residents sharing information as a means of protecting themselves, and listed The Natomas Buzz among the resources available to the community.
“That’s when I got my first official push,” says Tuzon Boyd. “I was being pointed to as a source of information.” The perpetrators of the crimes were soon arrested and Tuzon Boyd says the “connectivity of the community was given the most credit. Not only were people aware but they were communicating with each other and calling the police.”
Three years later, The Natomas Buzz has grown from essentially a daily blog launched by Tuzon Boyd out of her home to a hyperlocal news site that receives as many as 7,000 unique visitors a month and 28,000 page views, according to Tuzon Boyd’s own numbers. The site has filled a media void in the community by covering public safety, education, business, and politics stories that often escape the larger Sacramento broadcast and print media.
It was the lack of “meaningful news coverage” that struck Tuzon Boyd, a newspaper journalist with twenty years experience, when she moved to Natomas in 2001. Natomas was one of the fastest growing neighborhoods in northern California but “there were no more neighborhood sections at The Sacramento Bee,” says Tuzon Boyd. “If we were covered it was usually quick hit pieces, some crime or school board stories. It was very in and out, not really in-depth or effective.”
This problem became even more pronounced after the recession in 2008. The housing market plummeted and the local economy stopped growing. These events compounded an already challenging real estate situation: Natomas is located on a flood plain and, after Hurricane Katrina, the federal government decertified the areas levees and any new buildings had to meet new building code standards, severely curtailing new construction.
The Natomas school district has also seen its share of trouble, after the school board was subject to a grand jury investigation for expensive real estate purchases it made. “California’s education funding is dwindling and we are losing students to charter schools. Enrollment is declining and every time kids leave, money leaves too,” explains Tuzon Boyd.
The Natomas Buzz, as Tuzon Boyd describes it, is a “one-woman band with the help of some really committed volunteers,” but its coverage of local issues has at times set the news agenda for the mainstream press in Sacramento. “I have noticed that the legacy media is notorious for following my stories if they haven’t already [covered them],” Tuzon Boyd says. “I would say they still lack the quality and it’s not as meaningful because they are not here all the time, but they are coming in more.”
So far the content on Natomas Buzz has been mainly reported and written by Tuzon Boyd, but she is increasingly recruiting a wider network of mostly unpaid contributors, volunteers, and photographers. She has also partnered with three local high schools to provide internships for seven students. “There aren’t any programs at schools for young people who want to pursue journalism. They might have a video thing or yearbook, but in terms of print medium or writing there isn’t anything that supports that,” says Tuzon Boyd. “The purpose of the internship program is to get news about young people in the community onto the website but also provide an opportunity for them to try it out and see if it’s something that they like.”
Advertising from both local businesses, as well as the site’s membership with the Sacramento Local Online Ad Network, a company that sells advertising spots to local and national businesses on Sacramento-based websites, covers much of The Natomas Buzz’s operational costs. Tuzon Boyd, who does not draw a salary from her work, recently made it possible for readers to voluntarily pay a subscription fee; she hopes the fee will become a revenue source in the future.
The Natomas Buzz is also registered with Google News, which has helped drive traffic in recent months. Tuzon Boyd herself was awarded a fellowship this year for California bloggers and editors of online-only news sites from USC Annenberg’s California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowship, and her site won “People’s Choice” and “Editor’s Choice” in the local affairs category of CBS Sacramento’s 2011 Most Valuable Blogger contest.
Even as Tuzon Boyd looks to bring in paid contributors, she says she still believes that The Natomas Buzz is ultimately more a community service than it is a business.
“I know it’s important [to monetize] but I don’t want to focus so much on that piece that I get away from what’s really important,” explains Tuzon Boyd. “There’s so much focus on being first, being fast, being sensational that you lose touch with what people really want and that is, ‘What’s going on in the community?'”
The Natomas Buzz Data
Name: The Natomas Buzz