Bklyner Announces It Will Shut Down Unless It Hits Subscriber Goal by Dec. 31

Bklyner has announced it will close down coverage of its 11 neighborhoods in Brooklyn – the biggest borough in New York City – unless it can attain 3,230 digital subscribers by the end of December.

The completely voluntary basic subscription rate is $5 a month, with a $1.99-a-month “Community Subscription” for those who may not be able to afford the regular rate. 

Bklyner’s knife’s-edge decision comes seven months after the newsy site collected four IPPIE Awards, including one for investigation and in-depth reporting. It also comes two months after DNAinfo and the Gothamist, which also covered Brooklyn and the rest of New York City, were shut down by their billionaire owner, Joe Ricketts.

Bklyner founder and Editor and Publisher Liena Zagare, who has tried a variety of business and editorial models over a decade to make community news work in Brooklyn, presents the stark facts about her publication’s 11-hour predicament in this Q & A:

What prompted your decision?
We ran the numbers and unless readers step up I simply do not see where the money is coming from. We cannot run a more efficient business, and we cannot have fewer reporters. In all fairness, we should have at least two or three more reporters to cover Brooklyn properly.

You say of Bklyner: “We are a local, independent news organization that believes in our communities, and in the power of local media to make neighborhoods stronger.” Does the citizenry of your communities see that connection clearly enough?
We are about to find that out. We are launching a massive push to get the 3,230 monthly subscribers which would allow us to stay in business and hopefully give enough time to grow into a mostly reader-supported news organization.

We used to have seven neighborhood news sites with super-engaged audiences, but we truly could not sustain the level of coverage and 35 social-media accounts. Local reporting is expensive, this city is expensive, and the money ultimately was not there.

So we consolidated everything into one site and cut half the reporters to buy some time. It affected what we could do and how we reported on news, but I think we have done an excellent job reporting on issues that matter along with some fun items and need-to-know stuff.  It would be great to keep going and grow financially to be able to add more reporters.

Bklyner’s Liena Zagare

Are you considering a metered system with a limited number of free views to encourage subscriptions?
I have considered metered systems, and I think those are great when you have an established audience. We are still growing and while I do not rule it out, I would prefer to keep information free and accessible for those who need it most.

Did the giant platforms, primarily Facebook, force your hand?
They took away a critical mass of local ad dollars. It was hard to watch our local advertisers move to Facebook and Instagram, though I really cannot blame them for doing so. The platforms can target niche clients way more specifically and possibly effectively than any news organization ever will.

You’ve been active in community news in Brooklyn for a decade, and tried different models. Based on everything that’s happened, up to the recent closing of DNAinfo and Gothamist, what model are you using now, and why?
I think that most everyone is in agreement that the remaining models depend primarily on reader support. What is up for exploring is whether there are enough readers in a given location willing to pay small amounts regularly for local news, and how much of the revenue depends on subscribers.

It takes time to turn readers into subscribers, and for us even if we did reach our goals for subscribers to keep going, we would need to depend at least in the short run on advertising revenue from New York City, local institutions and larger businesses.  If we succeed in keeping the lights on, we can look at whether or not it would be beneficial to become a not-for-profit entity.

What happens if you do not get to 3,230 subscribers?
We will stop publishing at the end of December.

Looking at the past and present, what’s your outlook for community news in 2018 and beyond?
Right now, I am seeing a lot of incredibly dedicated and well-meaning people subsidizing local news for everyone. Whether it is a billionaire taking a loss each year to keep a media company going, or a neighborhood site that is subsidized by its writers who do not get paid, or a local paper that pays so little writers have to keep living with parents – someone is filling the gap, and for most part they can ill afford it.

None of those models is truly sustainable, and how much longer this current state can continue, I do not know. We saw what happened with DNAinfo.

I think we will see more calls for subscribers and reader-supported news models.

News is a public good, society at large benefits from quality reporting on issues big and small. I have been telling anyone that will listen that one way to help fund local news could be to levy a small charge on internet service providers that goes into a public fund for local news that gets allocated to local news organizations. Maybe one day.

Tom GrubisichTom Grubisich (@TomGrubisich) has written “The New News” column for Street Fight since 2011. He is also working on a book about the history, present, and future of Charleston, S.C.

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  1. December 7, 2017

    How many subscribers do they have now?

    1. Tom Grubisich
      December 8, 2017

      237, according to the site. You can stay up to date going here — https://bklyner.com/save-local-journalism-save-bklyner/

      1. Tom Grubisich
        December 8, 2017

        Or go here —https://bklyner.com/subscribe/

        1. Tom Grubisich
          December 14, 2017

          651 subscribers signed up as of Thursday evening, Dec. 14.

          1. Tom Grubisich
            December 18, 2017

            690 subscribers posted as of Monday, Dec. 18.

          2. Tom Grubisich
            December 19, 2017

            782 subscribers posted as of Tuesday, Dec.19.

          3. Tom Grubisich
            December 21, 2017

            856 subscribers as of Thursday afternoon, Dec. 21.

      2. Tom Grubisich
        December 11, 2017

        Bklyner has 441 subscribers as of Dec. 8, according to this update by Publisher and Editor Liena Zagare — https://bklyner.com/future-hands-neighbors/ The site is about one-sixth the way to its goal, she says.

        1. Tom Grubisich
          December 12, 2017

          Subscribers now total 528 as of Monday, Dec. 11.

  2. Andrew Porter
    December 8, 2017

    I live in Brooklyn and honestly never heard of Bklyner before. I never see articles linked from other news sites I visit, for instance The Brooklyn Paper, Brownstoner, The Brooklyn Heights Blog, or The Brooklyn Eagle.

    I published a variety of news and other magazines over the decades; I know how hard it is to actually break even, or make a profit, doing news.

    1. Tom Grubisich
      December 8, 2017

      Bklyner was created last January from the well-established Corner Media Group. So that could be one reason you didn’t know about it. Still, Bklyner has 37K “likes” on its Facebook page — https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=bklyner — a pretty good number for a community news site, and more than four times as many as The Brooklyn Paper and 50% more than the long-established Brownstoner.

      1. Andrew Porter
        December 8, 2017

        However, I am not on Facebook.

        1. Tom Grubisich
          December 8, 2017

          You do not have to be a regular user of Facebook to get selected notifications that you choose. So you could elect to subscribe to Facebook and only get notifications for, say, Brooklyn, and not have to use the service otherwise.

  3. Reggie
    December 11, 2017

    I think part of the problem is that hyperlocal news is a luxury. I check Bklyner every day–Did I really read that Andrew Porter does not know something? Incroyable!–but I probably only read 10 stories of month and could easily skip half of them. A $60 subscription comes out to 50 cents a story, a quarter at best. Do I want to shell out two-bits to read about the long-established and well-loved roti shop that is being pushed out by its landlord? I am interested but not that interested.

    1. Tom Grubisich
      December 11, 2017

      Hyperlocal news shouldn’t be a luxury; it should be something close to a necessity — provided it’s information that residents, businesses and the rest of the community consider as useful in one way or another. In an article in today’s Bklyner, contributor Chris Farrell tells what the site has meant to him in a very personal and important way — https://bklyner.com/save-bklyner-appeal-contributor-subscriber/ In its former incarnation, as Corner Media Group, it helped him find affordable housing in Ditmas Park. That’s a big necessity. But, as Farrell says, there are many other articles every day in Bklyner that, while they aren’t crucial to one’s future, provide useful information about where to shop or eat or do all the other things that we all could use a little guidance about, or which bring a smile to our face, Bklyner could, as Reggie implies, provide even more value-added coverage. The quickest was to make that happen is for the site to sign up its goal of 3,000 subscribers.

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