With 8 Sites in Brooklyn, ‘Indie’ Corner Media Reports Doubling of Ad Revenue

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Corner Media GroupBrooklyn is home to many fast-changing, richly diverse neighborhoods that are reshaping New York City’s largest borough (population: 2.6 million) into the go-to place for art, music, food, nightlife, and – not least – desirable but not super-costly housing in renovated 19th-century row houses and 21st-century glass towers. Seven of these neighborhoods are the turf of Corner Media Group, the independent mini-network that journalist-entrepreneur Liena Zagare has assembled over the past several years.

Zagare, who added three neighborhoods to her group a little more than a year ago, was honored with an “Above and Beyond” award for her sites’ government and political coverage by CityandState.com last March. To learn what’s been happening at Corner Media since it last grew, I did this recent Q & A with Zagare:

Did the acquisition of Fort Greene FocusSheepshead Bites and Bensonhurst Bean last year lead to any changes in your editorial or revenue strategies?
It allowed us to expand, and provide more editorial and business resources to these sites to make sure they can be sustainable in the long run. Fort Greene Focus was a student-run site, and Sheepshead Bites and Bensonhurst Bean had one person running both. As part of our group, they now each have a full-time editor and share in our common pool of freelancers and other resources.

How would you describe the pace of Corner Media’s advertising since the summer of 2014? Is it up?
Our revenues have more than doubled.

Do you have sponsored ads and native advertising in your revenue stream?

Ned Berke, from whom you bought Sheepshead Bites and Bensonhurst Bean, left as associate publisher and senior editor in June. Was his departure expected?
We are grateful to Ned for staying on during transition, but ultimately he wanted to move on from local news and try a different field.

In July 2015, you had 250,000 unique visitors monthly. What are your UVs today?
They have grown substantially – over 60% year-on-year.

With seven neighborhood sites now, plus City Kid Corner, do you see – or even want – Corner Media to compete for regional and national advertising, especially programmatic?
We have some network ads on our sites, but premium space is reserved for our clients, and we have direct relationships with all of them. We think of ads as content regardless of what form they take, and we like to be in control of the content on our sites.

How important is social media for your sites and reader engagement? I ask because Corner Media Group’s seven community sites have a range of Twitter “followers,” where only one site – Fort Greene Focus – has a strong number of followers (13,400), with the rest all below 5,000. On Facebook, “likes” for your seven neighborhood sites range from 1,258 to 6,991, with Sheepshead Bites the only one to go above 5,000. Overall, the numbers don’t seem to be that big. Your thoughts?
Big and small are relative numbers. I’d rather have fewer but more engaged Facebook users than lots of people who never visit and/or live elsewhere. Our target audience is very local, neighborhoods vary in population size quite considerably. While we definitely have room to grow, our Facebook users are very engaged.

Liena Zagare, publisher of Corner Media, and her husband, Ben Smith, editor-in-chief at BuzzFeed
Liena Zagare, publisher of Corner Media, and her husband, Ben Smith, editor-in-chief at BuzzFeed.

You’ve been honored for Corner Media’s government and politics coverage, but I don’t see that much government news currently on the seven sites. There were three government-related articles in Ditmas Park Corner in August and none in Park Slope Stoop (according to my search of the sites). Is August just slow for government news?
We don’t cover government institutions in the abstract, and don’t yet have a city hall bureau. We cover them when they matter to people’s lives, as in the intense local conversation over policing in Flatbush. We aren’t political junkies – we are constituents. And I can promise you, they read us!

Does your experience with Corner Media convince you that there’s a place for independent community news in any major urban area?
How else would communities in major urban areas get their news?

Tom GrubisichTom Grubisich (@TomGrubisich) writes “The New News” column for Street Fight. He is editorial director of hyperlocal news network Local America, and is also working on a book about the history, present and future of Charleston, S.C.