ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA — Shortly after noon on Aug. 25, 2010, Dimas Pinson was waiting for the Orange Line train at the Virginia Square Metro station in Arlington, Va. when he heard someone shout, “Get off the tracks!” A man suffering from an epileptic seizure had fallen onto the tracks across the platform and was unresponsive. As a train appeared in the tunnel, Pinson, a retired Marine Corps lieutenant colonel, took action, jumping over both third rails and rescuing the man as bystanders stopped the train.
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Aboveground at his home office, Scott Brodbeck heard the scanner report and, approximately sixteen minutes after the incident, broke the story on his local news and opinion site, ARLnow.com. He filed a public records request for the surveillance video, which he received, and soon had comments on the story from eyewitnesses, including the “Virginia Square Metro Hero” himself.
The story earned national attention from USA Today and AOL News, but perhaps the most symbolic accomplishment came when NBC 4 in nearby Washington, D.C. reached out to Brodbeck for story details. It had been less than a year since Brodbeck quit his job as a content producer for NBC 4 and launched ARLnow.com.
“When I started the site, some of my friends said that nothing happens in Arlington,” says Brodbeck. “The truth was that no one thought anything was happening because no one was really covering the area.”
Relying on a network of sources developed over his years in television, Brodbeck began publishing up-to-the-minute community happenings in one of the nation’s wealthiest counties and was quickly voted by TBD.com readers as the best D.C.-area journalist using Twitter to cover local news.
Originally, Brodbeck estimated that 10 percent of Arlington’s 210,000 residents would be interested in reading local news online. It took less than a year for the site’s traffic to prove him wrong. The site currently averages more than 100,000 unique visitors a month, according to Brodbeck.
Readers come for original reporting on topics from new restaurants to crime, but also for the lively forums and anonymous commenting, which Brodbeck believes is one of the site’s most popular aspects.
“In the D.C. area, where most people are government employees or contractors, no one is going to post their full name,” says Brodbeck. “I can’t think of a better way to destroy the audience than to require names.”
ARLnow.com gives its readers plenty to comment on, beginning at 8 a.m. with “Morning Notes,” a collection of Arlington-related news links from other outlets. An original article is usually posted once every hour until 4 p.m., when a daily recap newsletter is sent to subscribers. Brodbeck writes the majority of the content, with additional help from a single paid freelancer. He believes that having experience in writing for broadcast, a medium which often features thirty-second stories, gives him an edge over content providers who come to the web from a print background.
“I write with a more active, concise style. I can’t fathom why people think posting 600 words of text with no images is still OK,” says Brodbeck.
Writing shorter posts has not made ARLnow.com any less of a full-time job, however. According to Brodbeck, the site is self-sustaining on roughly $5,000 a month in revenue, with 90 percent of those revenues coming from advertising and 10 percent from weekly sponsored columns, like those by a local wine and cheese shop. He recently increased ad rates, and, with help from the additional revenue, says he will hire a full-time reporter sometime in 2012.
Despite competition from two legacy print weeklies and several online outlets, including two AOL Patch sites, Brodbeck is determined to deliver a consistent product and create a viable model for hyperlocal news, a topic he discussed at the first Street Fight Summit in 2011.
“My advice is to make sure the market is there,” Brodbeck says. “Keep your finger on the pulse of the local community and tailor your content to that.”