Main Street Connect’s Tucker Responds to Criticism

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In an interview published two weeks ago, Main Street Connect‘s founder Carll Tucker told Street Fight that hyperlocal Web sites need the efficiencies of scale to truly become profitable businesses rather than “passion or hobby” sites. He described how his network’s model works, and said “you can only paradoxically create good community news if you’re prepared to invest in the creation of a national company.”

His words clearly touched a nerve, sparking a slew of impassioned comments, as well as reactions on Twitter and elsewhere.

Ahead of his network’s Wednesday launch of 32 new sites in Westchester County (N.Y.), Tucker wrote a long comment in response to some of the criticism that was lobbed his way. It is reproduced below unedited:

The conversation sparked by this interview surprised me. So many readers got so angry. I was just saying what I thought.

A number of readers accused me of not telling the truth. Anybody who knows me knows I tell the truth. I’m not smart enough to keep track of lies.

I wish independent community news sites could be made profitable in a majority of markets, the way community newspapers once were. I just don’t see how. Technology is expensive. Talent is expensive. Advertisers typically want to reach more than a single town. If independent community news site proprietors are making good dough, why aren’t they propagating, sharing their news prowess with neighbor towns? That’s what we’ll be doing with our profits — reinvest, reinvest, reinvest, so our products and processes get more and more excellent.

I admire what I call passion or hobby sites. God bless their makers. I just don’t see any that make sufficient money to construct a durable business. There is no free press unless it’s a profitable press — that’s our mantra. Unless you earn enough to expand and invest in excellence, you’ll be trapped in a hand-to-mouth existence. Main Street Connect hopes to make enough money to pay lots of real journalists real wages, the way newspapers used to, and to expand throughout the country, reaching 6000 communities by the end of 2014. We share Patch’s aspiration. The big difference between our model and theirs is that ours makes money and theirs, based on published documents, is losing at a rate of $40MM a quarter.

Three days from now (sic), Main Street Connect, which launched its first site in March 2010, will be publishing 51 community news sites in three states, bringing news and information to 1.6 MM Americans. In most of the communities we serve, we will be the best community news source; in some of them, the only community news source. In a few of our communities, there are home-grown sites that are truly excellent. We may not compete well against them, but we will give readers in those towns a choice.

Bringing good news to dozens of communities — and visibility opportunities to local businesses — seems an honorable activity, not an occasion for venomous sniping. Would the world be better off if Patch or Main Street Connect failed? If the Main Street Connect experiment continues to thrive, what harm are we doing? Don’t we all care about community news? If one of us finds a way to produce it profitably, shouldn’t we all celebrate?