CHICAGO, ILLINOIS — The Welles Park Bulldog takes its name from a picturesque public park in Chicago’s Ravenswood neighborhood, and delivers insight and opinion on politics, culture, and sports for a dense stretch of residential and mixed-use boroughs on Chicago’s North Side.
The site’s founder and publisher, Patrick Boylan, first had the idea that would eventually become the Bulldog in 2009. “I had been playing around with the idea of putting out ‘block club’ updates for neighbors to talk about what was happening,” says Boylan, a Chicago native and Ravenswood resident. He tooled with a PDF newsletter, but found that the format didn’t mesh well with platforms such as Facebook, which he was intent on utilizing to distribute his publication to residents and businesses in the neighborhood. After releasing a beta version of the site (the product of a short-lived partnership with local media entrepreneur Mike Fourcher, who would later go on to publish another community news site, the Center Square Journal), Boylan rebooted his online outlet in spring of the next year, and the Bulldog was born.
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In the site’s early days, Boylan and his partner, Jane Rickard, stocked the site’s newsfeed with everything from blotter-style crime reports and local political news to high school sports coverage and surprisingly emotive “lost pet” bulletins. Boylan says that while he had originally intended to focus the site’s content tightly on Ravenswood-specific news, the Bulldog’s boundaries have since loosened to include the nearby neighborhoods of Lincoln Square and North Center.
With a flair for community reporting that ranges in tone from chit-chatty to investigative, the Bulldog quickly gained an audience. In 2011, the site won seven local and state newspaper awards for work that included an expose on the exaggerated resume of a local political candidate and a photo of the city’s first “committed” gay alderman as he embraced his partner and a staffer at his campaign victory party.
Boylan invested about $6,000 in marketing for the site early in its inception–an outlay that he believes has paid off. A four-month marketing campaign on ad boards at nearby public transit stations helped jump the site’s viewership, which peaked at nearly 1,000 readers in one day back in spring 2011, during the city’s aldermanic elections. Those numbers have risen and fallen since; data from Google Analytics indicates that the Bulldog received about 3,331 unique visitors during November 2011.
Today, around ten reporters and photographers contribute to the Bulldog’s content, much of which is still dedicated to local sports coverage. “When you’re doing high school sports you get these fantastic, colorful photos of people who aren’t being covered by any other media,” says Boylan.
The site also employs two sales reps who work on commission, but despite continued efforts to establish an ad client base, the Bulldog has yet to become a self-sustaining venture; Boylan covers most of the site’s expenses, including design costs, out of his own pocket. Branding and social media consulting for local businesses is one money-generating scheme that Boylan plans to explore as he continues to build and support his site. He has hosted social media events for a few clients, and recently hired a staffer to concentrate on managing the Bulldog’s revenue. “We started the Bulldog because we think it’s possible to make money on this,” he says.
In the meantime, Boylan says he is able to offer the Bulldog’s contributors a “token” wage for their work, though some don’t even accept the monetary compensation. “We want to tell them that what they do has value, and it’s important to us,” he says.
Welles Park Bulldog Data
Name: Welles Park Bulldog
City: ChicagoIan Fullerton is a contributor to CJR.