Under a Bushel in Bay Area, a Model for Hyperlocal
You won’t find the Bay Area hyperlocal Claycord.com listed in the Columbia Journalism Review’s archive of sites or Michele McLellan’s list of literally hundreds of “promising community news sites” compiled for the Knight Digital Media Center or J-Lab’s list of community news sites, either. But in its five years of existence it has become what looks like to me a model for hyperlocal success, journalistically and business-wise.
Redoubtable hyperlocal editor Tracy Record, who told me about Claycord, described it in her inimitable way: “When I stumbled onto it recently, it made me cry. It is so much like what we do, down to the community’s comments and involvement.” To find out more about Claycord, I put the following questions via email to its founder, editor, and publisher.
First, about your name and/or title, Mr. Mayor. There is no Claycord municipality, so I’m assuming your title is an honorific? Would you corroborate?
Yes, I just made up the “mayor” title. I didn’t want to use my real name because I just want to cover the news and not have anybody focus on me. I’m not doing this to become famous, so I like to just go by “mayor.” Regarding the “Claycord” name, it’s an amalgam of the cities of Clayton and Concord, which I cover. I also cover the neighboring cities of Walnut Creek, Pleasant Hill and Martinez, but mainly Concord and Clayton.
You have features like The Real Housewife of Claycord and The Water Cooler, which draw 30, 40, 50, and more comments. Are they designed principally to get your users engaged with the site?
Yes, Claycord.com is “news and talk,” and people love to interact with each other. These columns help them do just that.
You cover police like a blanket. Does this take a lot of time or have you figured out how to automate most of the crime and related coverage?
Yes, it takes A LOT of time. I do have weekly burglary reports and other weekly police information. But when it comes to breaking news, it all happens in real time, and I try to report it in real time because people deserve to know what’s happening in their neighborhood as it’s happening and not the next day in the newspaper.
How big is your news staff — how many full-time reporters and editors and how many freelance journalists?
My news staff is just me! I used to have a wonderful photographer, but he passed away in December after a battle with cancer. I do, however, have an awesome readership and friends who send me tips, pictures, and other community information. Without them, Claycord.com wouldn’t exist. I also have an advertising and marketing team, which helps promote the site; many of [these individuals] have been with me since the beginning.
Do you use articles from your users — not just comments but full-length stories?
I have three people who write a weekly column for Claycord. But other than that, I don’t accept guest columns or articles.
Editors and publishers of community websites, especially independent ones like yours, are continually searching for how to be sustainable. Have you achieved that happy but elusive state? And if so, how would you define your model? Is it replicable in other communities?
Claycord is unique, and it didn’t happen overnight. It’s taken over five years to get to this point. It can be duplicated in other communities, but it takes a lot of hard work and dedication.
Do you have a journalistic background? Did you come from newspapers or broadcast?
I see some ads on your sites — mostly small display boxes, but not a lot. Is Claycord.com profitable or is it a hobby?
It started as a hobby, but now it’s a full-time job. And yes, Claycord.com is profitable. At first it wasn’t (the first three years), but I’m making more money now than when I worked in broadcasting prior to starting Claycord.com, and it’s growing more and more every year.
You’ve been in business five years. You’ve won a pile of awards, and you [have] what looks like a loyal audience of engaged users. What’s next? Or is there a next?
Yes, there is a next, but it’s a secret right now.
Tom Grubisich authors The New News column for Street Fight. He is editorial director of LocalAmerica, which is partnering with InstantAtlas to develop sites that will present how communities rate in livability. Local America is featured on the Reynolds Journalism Institute’s Pivot Point site.