PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA — Just across the Schuylkill River from Center City Philadelphia, Western Philadelphia–or “West Philly,” as the locals call it–is home to about 50,000 people, many of whom are students or professors at the University of Pennsylvania or Drexel University, both of which in the neighborhood.
While Philadelphia media outlets run stories on West Philly as part of their broader coverage of the metro area, two veteran journalists and current residents of the community, married couple Mike Lyons and Julija Kulneva, decided to launch West Philly Local to cater specifically to the everyday lives of West Philly residents.
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The site went live in December 2010, the product of three months’ planning and discussion and a $300 investment for web hosting and a business license. Still going strong in 2012, Lyons and Kulneva aim to post three stories each day and work to make the website a source of local news for its residents–as well as a community resource guide. The “Happenings” tab at the top of the homepage, for example, is a continually updated listing of events that occur throughout the neighborhood; “Civic Life” is an updated list of nonprofits and civic resources; and “Crime Watch” serves as the community’s police news blotter. There is even a “Summer Camps” tab for parents and kids to check out for the 2012 season.
“We provide people a place to find stuff that matters to them on an everyday basis,” Lyons tells CJR via e-mail. “Things like what business is going to move into that empty storefront on their street or what those sirens were about last night.”
Named the “Best Community News Website” of 2011 by Philadelphia Weekly, West Philly Local’s hyperlocal coverage occasionally draws city-wide attention. One series of articles focused on Penn Alexander, a model elementary school in West Philly which quietly instituted a cap on enrollment as it struggled to meet demand. “People were showing up to register their kid for school and being turned away,” added Lyons. “All the major media outlets in Philadelphia picked up the story, and we are still doing occasional follow-ups.”
Both Lyons and Kulneva brought a good deal of relevant experience to their journalism venture. Lyons had been a journalist for about twenty years, most recently covering Eastern Europe for the Associated Press, and Kulneva had worked for a newspaper in Latvia and obtained a graduate degree in information science. Kulneva works full-time on the site, while Lyons splits time between the site and his position as assistant professor of English at Saint Joseph’s University in the city. They also employ a paid restaurant reviewer.
West Philly Local generates revenue exclusively through direct sale local advertising. Both Lyons and Kulneva work to sell the ads to local businesses. Lyons declines to discuss ad rates, but says they sell the ads against traffic that averages 1,200 unique visitors a day.
For Lyons, the success of West Philly Local depends on its ability to inform the neighborhood and encourage its residents to be happy, productive citizens. “It is becoming an integral part of the information ecology in West Philly, and that’s what we have always wanted,” he says.
West Philly Local Data
Name: West Philly Local