Independent hyperlocal publisher Scott Brodbeck has launched a third digital news publication in the suburbs of metro Washington, D.C. His new RestonNow serves a thriving, nationally recognized planned community of 60,000 population that was built from scratch on farmland in Northern Virginia’s Fairfax County.
The new site joins Arlington Now in the inner Northern Virginia suburb of Arlington, where Brodbeck started in the hyperlocal news business in 2009, and one-year-old Bethesda Now, which serves a close-in suburb in Maryland on the other side of the Potomac River.
All three communities are rapidly urbanizing, generally higher-income, have large minority populations, and feature strong mixed-use downtowns. Bethesda and Arlington are part of the Metrorail system, and Reston will be connected to the network by early next year when a new line opens.
Brodbeck’s expansion is part of what looks like a mini-trend among independent hyperlocal news sites. Other “indies” that have branched out recently include Hulafrog, a specialty site for children’s events that is in 28 markets from New Jersey westward and has received seed funding for more expansion; Brentword Communications, which serves three communities in suburban Nashville, Tenn.; and Corner News Media, which serves four communities in Brooklyn.
Brodbeck’s RestonNow will be positioned to capitalize on its community’s big 50th anniversary celebration coming in April 2014, which will also be the occasion for community founder Robert E. Simon Jr.’s 100th birthday. Reston was named seventh “Best Place to Live” nationally by Money magazine in 2012.
Brodbeck’s publications are in highly competitive markets. Arlington, Bethesda and Reston are all part of Patch publications in its top 14 DMAs. Those sites are the core of the scaled-down network, where owner AOL made major cutbacks in the number of sites and overall staffing to achieve promised profitability. Bethesda is also served by the Washington Post’s Gazette Newspapers print and digital chain spread through the Maryland suburbs. ArlingtonNow’s competitors also include the print and digital Arlington Sun Gazette – part of a group of community papers in Northern Virginia acquired by Texas-based Hemlock LLC from debt-burdened American Community Newspapers in 2012 – and the print-digital Connection Newspapers, an independent print and digital chain with properties in Northern Virginia and Montgomery County in suburban Maryland. RestonNow’s competition, besides Patch, includes The Reston Connection
The tangled competition among the community news operations ratcheted up when Reston Now hired the veteran community editor for Reston Patch, Karen Goff. Patch, in turn, hired veteran reporter Alex McVeigh at The Reston Connection. Bethesda Now hit the ground running at its 2012 launch by hiring a top reporter from the Bethesda Gazette.
Tom Grubisich (@TomGrubisich) writes “The New News” column for Street Fight. He is editorial director of the in-development hyperlocal news network Local America that will rate communities on their performance across a broad spectrum of livability. He will present the site’s new demo on Charleston, S.C., at the DIG SOUTH 2014 interactive festival in Charleston on April 9-13, 2014.