Streetsblog Chicago Is Going Into Hibernation – Here’s How You Can Revive It

Update: This post is getting shared a lot — if you’ve landed here, make sure to read John Greenfield’s follow-up post about his Streetsblog Chicago resurrection plan. You can contact John at greenfieldjohn[at]hotmail.com or 312-560-3966 to learn how you can help revive the site.

Just about two years ago, we ran the first post ever on Streetsblog Chicago. Since then, John Greenfield, Steven Vance, and a big roster of contributors have made this site a must-read for people interested in transportation, planning, and livable streets in Chicagoland.

So it’s painful to make this announcement: After coming up short on our Chicago fundraising needs in 2014, OpenPlans can no longer provide financial support for Streetsblog Chicago, and we are suspending publication as of today.

Before I get into the nuts and bolts of what comes next, first let me say that John and Steven delivered the goods. From the earliest storylines about Ashland BRT and IDOT’s protected bike lane ban right up through Oboi Reed’s powerful piece yesterday about the need to provide better bike resources in the city’s black communities, Streetsblog Chicago made an impact on public policy and became a place where people who care about safe streets and effective transit can share ideas.

Where else could you read the inside scoop on the regional planning disaster known as the Illiana Tollway, or a thorough debunking of the Tribune’s vendetta against automated traffic enforcement, or fine-grained coverage of street safety hazards that immediately gets the attention of city officials?

There’s just as much need for Streetsblog Chicago today as there was two years ago, and I wish we could keep the current incarnation of the site up and running. But like many other media outlets, Streetsblog is still figuring out how to build a financially sustainable operating model. The way we were trying to do things in Chicago — with editorial guidance and a fundraising team based on the East Coast — wasn’t working.

The good news is that there’s more than one way to run a Streetsblog.

Four years ago, Streetsblog Los Angeles was in an identical position. After OpenPlans ceased to house the site, editor Damien Newton got to work raising funds for a new non-profit and pulled off a successful revival. Today Streetsblog LA is bigger and more widely read than ever.

Going forward, John Greenfield will be leading the effort to breathe Streetsblog Chicago back to life. This will be challenging and there are no guarantees. Reviving the site from hibernation depends on whether the Chicago community comes together to support it. I know that many people value the work Streetsblog Chicago has produced, and that the site yields tremendous bang for the buck. I’m optimistic that John will pull it off.

Speaking of which, OpenPlans will be channeling every donation we received for Streetsblog Chicago since the beginning of October to John’s new effort. Stay tuned for a message from him about how you can get involved.

Thanks for reading, Chicago. I’ll be rooting for you all the way.

Update

Thanks for everyone’s interest in keeping Streetsblog Chicago going and for the questions about what it takes to run a site like this. Here’s the deal…

Different Streetsblogs operate with different staffing sizes and budgets. A site like Streetsblog NYC with three full-time staff, office space, fundraising, tech/web development, and administrative support costs about $250,000 annually. We have run other city sites with one full-time staffer plus freelance help at an annual cost of about $75,000. With John and Steven plus several contributors and editorial guidance from Payton Chung and myself, Streetsblog Chicago was in between at about $125,000. The starting point for a city site where someone is creating original reporting and content every day is $60,000.

There are four main types of funding sources that Streetsblog draws from: foundation grants, a healthy smattering of large individual contributions, hundreds of small individual contributions, and advertising. You need all four to make it work in the long run.

We typically launch on the strength of foundation grants, primarily, and then as people get to know and value the site, we grow the funding from the other three types of sources while the foundation support levels off at a lower point than when we started. That’s the trajectory that unfolded in San Francisco, which has been publishing continuously since 2009, though there have certainly been some funding emergencies along the way.

In Chicago, we had to replace a lot of foundation support very rapidly. In addition to the online pledge drives, where Streetsblog collects most of its small contributions, we pursued new grants and large individual contributions throughout 2013 and 2014. While we had some success raising revenue from non-foundation sources (and that will serve the revival effort well), we couldn’t make the transition fast enough.

With foundation grants and major individual contributions in play, right up until the end of 2014 there was the possibility that we could continue publishing this year. But the way things played out, there’s still a significant gap — about $45,000 — to reach that $60,000 threshold where daily publication of original content becomes viable. It’s going to take contributions from all four types of Streetsblog supporters — big donors, small donors, foundations, and advertisers — to reach that goal and, hopefully, exceed it.

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