NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA — In March 2011, Zachary Kupperman, a New Orleans attorney with an interest in tech startups, attended New Orleans Entrepreneur Week, an annual convention of business leaders and entrepreneurs. For Kupperman, co-founder of websites such as PolicyPitch.com, a site where users can submit public policy ideas and track state and local legislation, the convention was an acknowledgment of the strength of the Crescent City’s business scene, and a demonstration that those involved had a great deal to talk about. That same month, he started Silicon Bayou News.
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“He wanted the rest of the world to know that this [entrepreneurial] community existed here,” says Molly Oehmichen, SBN’s editor-in-chief. “Living in New Orleans, he found that it was really hard to know what was going on in that scene.”
Silicon Bayou News started in the spring of 2011 as Kupperman’s one-man project, a site that mostly reprinted press releases and mentioned upcoming events. By August, enough contributing writers were volunteering their time that Oehmichen was brought on part-time to manage their efforts. “We now have twenty to thirty contributing writers,” she says, “We have a couple of weekly columnists, and we have a lot of people who write when something in their scene is happening.”
The writing at Silicon Bayou News tends toward short, blog-style posts about the latest goings-on in the New Orleans start-up scene. These are offset by occasional opinion pieces and longer analyses of relevant business trends. Of the few dozen contributing writers, only a handful have formal journalism experience. Instead, most are members of New Orleans’ entrepreneurial community themselves.
“People who work consistently in business and are pretty good business people are, alot of times, better writers than what we find from the traditional journalist track,” explains Oehmichen, noting that those in the community are already familiar with what makes a story relevant to her readership.
This divergence from the traditional track allows for a steady stream of content from enthusiastic insider contributors, but inevitably comes at the expense of the perspective that could be brought to bear by a disinterested party.
“One thing that helps us,” Oehmichen continues, “is that we don’t have to spend a whole lot of time doing the fact-checking that comes with a lot of other news, because people with stories come straight to us.”
In its first year online, Silicon Bayou News has been largely a labor of love. “It’s still not really a revenue generator,” says Oehmichen, “it’s more of a passion project for everyone involved.” The site maintains a board for job postings, where Lousiana-based companies can put out a call for new hires. A premium job post includes a tweet from @SiliconBayou. “That’s a little bit of a revenue maker,” Oehmichen says, “and we hope that’ll grow.”
In December, Silicon Bayou News hosted a party for what it termed the “Silicon Bayou 100,” the hundred most influential people in the Louisiana tech and entrepreneurship fields. Gathering sponsors for the event was “the first real experience in true revenue for the site,” says Oehmichen, “That funded a couple of things we’ve done since then.” During that time, Silicon Bayou News also made some of their first direct ad sales, something that Oehmichen hopes will become a larger source of revenue for the site as it transitions to using a web service called isocket to take some of the legwork out of ad sales.
This move towards sustainability mirrors the site’s growing ambitions. Oehmichen has just brought on an assistant editor to help manage writers and advertising. Silicon Bayou News has also begun work on Silicon Bayou TV, a series of YouTube shorts highlighting local businesses and initiatives, whose pilot episode was launched in early February. Oehmichen is hoping to attract national corporate sponsors for Silicon Bayou TV.
The goal, according to Oehmichen, is to expand beyond the local interests that birthed Silicon Bayou News, and build a readership statewide. “Ninety percent of our writers are based in New Orleans,” she says, “but there’s a lot happening in Baton Rouge and in Shreveport. We know what’s happening, we just don’t have anybody on the ground there to write about it for us.”
Silicon Bayou News Data
Name: Silicon Bayou News
City: New Orleans