ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI — Corporations are people? Maybe, but Brian R. Hook is both. As owner and sole staff member of the online-only Missouri Journal, he covers Missouri politics with the Show-Me State’s well-known skepticism.
As a corporation, he is B. R. Hook.com, a media development and consulting firm. “I will be consulting on ‘Here’s how to do online media,'” Hook says. “But first I have to go out and prove that I can do it.”
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That’s where Missouri Journal comes in. Since the site posted its first story in December 2011, readership has climbed rom a few hundred to about 3,000 unique viewers per week, for both the MOJ and B.R. Hook sites combined, Hook says.
The numbers are modest, but he is making his influence felt. Two recent stories were cited by state legislators of both major parties, Hook says. The first was a skeptical look at the state employment figures. The state reported 2,300 new jobs in February, but Hook found that during the same month 9,600 people dropped out of the labor force. “To get that information I had to file a Sunshine Law request [with the state] two months in a row,” he says. The second was an analysis piece on whether state budget cuts necessarily translate to cuts in spending. (Answer: No.) In addition to the longer, analytic coverage, the site also publishes “just the facts”-style news briefs. Recent stories on a on a $2.8 billion oil pipeline and layoffs at a Ford facility, for example, came in at about one-hundred words apiece.
Getting the word out through an e-mail newsletter, Facebook, and Twitter is part of Hook’s strategy. So is the B. R. Hook corporate site. It comments on national media issues such as the U.S.’s decline in perceived freedom of the press, the average earnings of reporters (3.5 percent less than the average U.S. worker), and a ProPublica story on microtargeting political ads on Facebook. Hook will also be using the site to “experiment with various revenue models.”
Google AdSense brings in a small amount of revenue, he says, but Hook hopes to expand readership and visibility so that he can hire editorial and advertising staff. “I learned from past experiences that trying to sell the ads with low traffic is an uphill battle. Therefore, I am currently focused on building traffic,” he says.
“I like to joke my wife is the sole investor,” he says.” If she pulls out, I’m sunk.”
If Missouri Journal and B. R. Hook.com become sustainable, he plans to replicate the business model for other states and industries. His plans include other news sites: A relaunch of an earlier venture, BizBlip.com, which tracked business news in St. Louis until 2004, and a sister site, GovBlip.com.
Hook, a former TV news producer, has been involved with news sites since about 2001. He was the founding editor of KansasReporter.org, which is still posting stories, and MissouriWatchdog.org, which has not posted a new story since September 2011. Both sites were founded by the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, a right-leaning group which has started numerous statehouse news sites throughout the country.
“While those sites were not owned by me, they helped me learn about what it takes to start up news site,” Hook says. “Everything else has been by trial and error. I want to keep the business flexible.”
Hook reflects: “I just realized the other day I’ve been doing journalism for 20 years. It’s in my blood. I guess you could also say I am still a true believer. My goal is to bring my entrepreneurship and journalism urges together and create something special. And in the future, hopefully sooner rather than later, I’ll get the chance to employ a few other journalists along the way.”
Missouri Journal Data
Name: Missouri Journal
City: St. Louis