So many media developments have happened in recent days that I want to take a moment to highlight a few of the most significant ones. Please, as always, reach out to me with information about changes happening within local news media, at PittsburghPublicEditor@gmail.com.
Raising Money: WhereBy.US Enterprises, the owner of The Incline, hopes to raise more than $500,000 through a crowdfunding campaign before May 1. The company operates sites in Pittsburgh and four other cities, and by focusing on its platform rather than content, it wants to help content producers start up to 60 new regional sites this year.
“We started out building brands of our own,” founder Christopher Sopher wrote on the fundraising campaign website. “Along the way, we started to hear from people around the world who wanted to launch a brand of their own using our tools/model.”
WhereBy.US came to The Incline after it had already launched and founder Jim Brady was looking to sell. At its peak after starting in 2016, The Incline had at least five full-time employees (including four on editorial), offered a mix of original content and aggregated stories from other local media and was hosting events. Brady’s Spirited Media had previously launched Billy Penn in Philadelphia and later started the Denverite in Colorado.
Spirited Media sold the sites last year after failing to raise $1.5 million it needed to boost them, officials said at the time. Local public radio stations scooped up the sites in Philadephia and Denver, while WhereBy.US added The Incline to its existing portfolio of community sites. After the sale, it cut the number of employees at The Incline through attrition.
Recently, The Incline had been reduced to just one full-time person, editor Rossilynne Skena Culgan, while reporter Colin Deppen spent most of his hours editing WhereBy.US’s other sites.
Sopher told me that the company favors quality over quantity by trying to create a sense of community with its readers. He declined to provide information on unique visitors to The Incline’s website, saying the company does not favor that metric. Instead, it looks at the number of people receiving its daily emails and social media.
The Incline sends its daily email to 14,000 users, with an open rate of 44.5 percent, Sopher said. It also connects with about 750,000 people via social media. SimilarWeb, an online site that provides internet analytics and ranks sites by popularity, reports that The Incline does not generate enough meaningful data to show up in rankings.
“The thing that we’re interested in is, can you deepen the engagement around the community?” Sopher told me. “Can you do it in a way that is not necessarily tied to the amount of content but rather the value?”
As a company, WhereBy.US has shifted direction away from creating content toward making its digital platform available for content creators to start their own sites. Sopher said the company makes money, and it reports online that its five community sites have 85,000 active weekly readers and $190,000 in monthly revenue. It projects that content creators using the platform can start making money for themselves with as little as 1,000 followers.
So far, the WhereBy.US fundraising campaign has met its minimum goal by raising nearly $30,000 from 41 investors.
For now, The Incline has both Culgan and Deppen back working full-time — and just in time for one of the site’s most popular annual features, the best fish fry bracket.
MeSearch: Trib Total Media will start testing out artificial intelligence through a startup called MeSearch to help readers find what they want while giving content creators tools to reach them.
The service uses search algorithms to identify content that people might want and give them more of it, the Trib reported. It also allows content creators to share their own information and to share in revenue from advertising and other sources.
The launch site, at MeSearch.ai, carries the TimesExpress Monroeville banner and features stories from Trib Total Media reporters and The Associated Press. It also includes a call for residents to get involved in delivering the news: “We need your help. We are looking for involved community members and organizations to become regular contributors to the site.”
MeSearch will operate out of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s former headquarters on the North Shore.
Crooked Media: Pittsburgh author and commentator Damon Young will be launching a new, as-yet-unnamed podcast on Crooked Media’s platform in April.
The show, according to The Hollywood Reporter, will “deconstruct the anxiety, vulnerability, angst and absurdity of being black in America,” and will focus on topics such as how racism affects sex, money and parenthood.