Two months ago, I wrote my last post for NEastPhilly.com, the hyperlocal news site I started in 2008 to cover Northeast Philly — a large part of the city that, to date, gets little media attention.
For a large part of the last five years, I lived and breathed NEast Philly. I wanted to leave a little bit of time between that and posting my thoughts here.
Here’s some of what I learned over the last half-decade, and what went into my decision to shut down.
I was still in college when I launched NEast Philly, and though I was a full-time student with jobs and internships, I hadn’t yet experienced what it really meant to be busy. From mid-2009 to 2010, I was spending 50 to 60 hours a week working on NEast Philly and supplementing my income with a part-time nanny job, which I absolutely loved. The two days a week I spent playing and giggling and exploring with Charlie were the perfect balance to the rest of the time I was reporting and editing and selling ads and trying to pull off events.
New opportunities came my way in 2010, and by the Fall, I’d stopped nannying, begun teaching and taken on a full-time position at NewsWorks. Suddenly, the only time left to focus on NEast Philly was evenings and weekends. I’d zip from class at Temple to NewsWorks for an eight-hour breaking news shift, then swing by a three-hour civic association in the Northeast before editing stories while my eyes drooped shut at 11pm. By early 2013, I realized that wasn’t sustainable. I considered several options, including trying to focus solely on NEast Philly, but decided instead it was time to move on.
Until about 2012, it never crossed my mind that by starting a business with a geographic focus that I was committing my life to that geographic. I don’t think a person or an organization can purport to comprehensively cover an area without being based there. Philadelphia is a large city, so I’ve never felt boxed in. And I absolutely love the Northeast and have never felt trapped there.
But other personal and professional things began to pull me away from the Northeast more and more. Around about the time I began to feel exhausted, I also decided I’d move out of the Northeast by the end of the year. The decision to close up shop was quickly becoming the obvious choice.
As I started to really consider the workload and my availability, I was also taking on more responsibility at NewsWorks and teaching again at Temple after a few semesters off. Since Fall 2013, I’ve been serving dual roles at NewsWorks as social media strategist and a project manager, and I’ve been teaching two multimedia storytelling classes at Temple.
When I moved out of the Northeast in early September, I was eager to spend my free time getting involved in my own neighborhood organizations instead of reporting on what was happening elsewhere. Shortly after Labor Day, I filed the paperwork to dissolve the NEast Philly sole proprietorship. In November, I notified the partners and contributors that we’d stop posting at the end of the year.
Reporting – I’m doing less and less traditional news coverage as I grow with NewsWorks. I love what I do there, but NEast Philly allowed me to keep those reporting and interviewing skills sharp. I’m extremely proud of some of the feature stories I was able to do there.
Working with Philadelphia Neighborhoods – Shortly after I graduated from Temple, NEast Philly became a Philadelphia Neighborhoods partner, and I became one of the teaching assistants. Every semester, two or four journalism students would work with me to cover Northeast Philly and their multimedia packages would appear on both websites. It was an honor to feel that level of support and respect from my alma mater, and rewarding to help journalism students cover important neighborhood and city issues.
Working with contributors – I’ve never met more enthusiastic and loyal people in my life than those who volunteered to contribute to NEast Philly. Each of them came to me on their own after finding the site and offered to help any way they could — just because they believed in what I was trying to do. I am eternally grateful.
What I Won’t Miss
Moderating – Anyone who’s ever had to moderate comments knows what I’m talking about. Our community was small and generally respectful, so that made it a bit easier to weed out the bad apple. I think because I am from the place I was working in it felt more personal to see the negative comments. It was very frustrating to see openly hateful comments from people I would otherwise identify myself with.
Zoning meetings – ‘Nuff said.
Eating “dinner” at 10 p.m. while writing a story and waiting for the video to finish uploading – For awhile the satisfaction of publishing a thorough story just a few hours after a community meeting was enough to keep me going. That feeling started to fade about two years in.
Selling ads – I didn’t close NEast Philly because of financial or sustainability reasons. The site costs little to host, and I collected a handful of loyal ad clients. It was the actual process of calling, invoicing and often designing the ads. Northeast Philly, for many reasons, is on the wrong side of the digital divide. Trying to sell ads to a lot of the businesses in the region was difficult because managers had worked exclusively with the local print paper for 75 years. Age, language barriers and skepticism often made new deals time-consuming, and making sales during the day while at NewsWorks was, of course, impossible.
Hosting expires in June and I’m working on a way to maintain the archives, either at NEastPhilly.com or through someone else’s site. As it was before, The Northeast Times is now the only news publication serving Northeast Philly. They do an amazing job, but it’s not enough. Even the addition of NEast Philly only managed to close the gap a little. It’s my hope that the paper can grow its digital presence, and that the city’s other media will start to pay closer attention to the region.
As for me, I spend weekdays at NewsWorks, weeknights at Temple and the rest of my time trying to learn as much about my new neighborhood as I do about Northeast Philly.