McKINNEY, TEXAS — TownSquareBuzz.com, an online-only news site in the Dallas-Fort Worth suburb of McKinney, Texas, owes its existence to president and founder Angie Bado’s passion for local sports. In 2005, she brainstormed with local sports writers about ways to fill the gaps in area papers’ declining sports coverage, and launched McKinneyNews.net, a site dedicated to the mission, that same year.
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The former educator, who wears a “News Junkie” t-shirt to the gym, was happy to have 500 readers by the end of that first year. In 2011, after rebranding McKinneyNews as TownSquareBuzz and expanding the site’s mission to include community coverage, she counts 25,000 registered users, and an average of 50,000 unique monthly visitors–a number that can climb up to 100,000 during the fall sports season, according to Bado. Not bad for a town of 133,000, which Bado says is one of the fastest-growing communities in the U.S. It was also named one of the five best places to live by Money in 2010.
“Sports is still a large part of what we do, but general news is [now] our main focus,” says Bado’s son Matt, who is on the site’s payroll as marketing director. “Part of our rebranding as TSB was to really empower the community to have their own profile [on the site]. We believe everybody has a story to share.”
About 80 percent of stories come from paid freelancers, with the rest posted by registered users and filtered by editor Steve Kirk. Matt Bado noted that TSB recently added a more prominent byline to staff-written articles, because some readers could not tell them from volunteer postings.
Coverage areas include city, neighborhood, business, school, crime, and lifestyle. State news is also part of the mix, sometimes through a sharing arrangement with other independent outlets Pegasus News, the Collin County Observer, and the Texas Tribune. Sports coverage remains a major focus, including high school, middle school, youth groups, and adult leagues.
TSB broke a local 2010 story about a gunman who shot up the McKinney public safety building, Bado says. She also notes the site’s coverage of a 2007 controversy about cheerleader photos: “The cheerleaders from one of our local high schools were on a trip to get their formal pictures taken by a professional photographer in downtown Dallas, and they stopped in a condom store, and they took photos of themselves in their uniforms in the condom store.” Lifetime got a movie out of that. Notable among other recent stories is a four-part series on childhood obesity.
Display ads bring in the majority of the site’s revenue, with a far smaller revenue stream coming from sales of the site’s photographs to readers. TSB is experimenting with other advertising ideas. For a monthly fee, a business can post its own news, PR, coupons, tips, or deals on the “McKinney Marketplace” section. TSB launched this feature in December 2011, and gets about ten takers a week, Bado says. The site also has a “Shout Out” section, in which parents can pay $30 for ads congratulating their children.
Six full-time employees keep TSB running: Angie and Matt Bado, editor Steve Kirk, a marketing director, a special-projects director, and two sales associates. In addition, the site uses six regular freelance writers, who file news and sports stories or columns on topics like family or food. Three freelance photographers are also on tap, and somewhere between thirty and fifty readers regularly contribute stories on a volunteer basis. Only registered users can post stories or comments, but with few exceptions the Bados post everything they receive: recipes, PTA meetings, book clubs, and under-covered sports like golf or swimming, for example. TSB’s main competitor is Star Local News’s McKinney Courier-Gazette, which exists in paper and electronic form.
TSB tried for about a year to raise paid subscriptions, but could not make it work. “Our readers were so used to getting content for free everywhere else online, most readers simply opted-out,” Matt Bado says.
He feels the site has been successful with advertisers because the business is rooted in the community. “We live here,” he says. “We are involved in a number of community and civic organizations and boards. Our advertisers know we want them to be successful in their businesses.”
But that explanation of hometown success isn’t enough to stop the Bados from wanting to expand. Savannah, Georgia is the next town in TSB’s crosshairs, and more may come after that.