Source: Downtown Newsmagazine | Birmingham/Bloomfield/Rochester

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Metro news websites

by Lisa Brody and Kevin Elliott

March 30, 2015

Many of us remember with great fondness the days of retrieving a newspaper at the door, then sitting down in the kitchen with a cup of coffee in hand and perusing the day's news. The daily newspapers, both the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News, were the arbiters of local and national news, and the way almost all of us learned what was going on in our communities and the world in general, augmented by the network news telecast each night.

Fast forward to today and the dailies not deliver daily news each paper cut back on home delivery and daily publishing in 2009 in order to save money and emphasize their resources on the web. While each have condensed print versions available at newsstands daily, they each introduced e-editions at that time. Many readers now find out what's going on at freep.com or detnews.com daily, or more frequently on Twitter, as updates are posted. In addition, New York Times and Wall Street Journal readers turn with greater regularity to their websites and social media posts to find out what's going on in the world as we sit at our desks or go about our day.

In a world that's moving faster and faster, we all want to know what's going on. Smart phones, computers and tablets allow us to connect and access information that previously we had to wait to receive from that daily newspaper or newscast. According to ebizmba.com, the top 15 most popular news websites for March 2015 are Yahoo News, with 175 million monthly views; Google News, with 150 monthly views; HuffingtonPost, 110 monthly views; CNN, 95 million views; New York Times, 70 million monthly views; Fox News, 65 million monthly views; NBC News, 63 million monthly views; Mail Online, 53 million monthly views; Washington Post, 47 million monthly views; The Guardian, 42 million monthly views; WSJ, 40 million monthly views; ABC News, 36 million monthly views; USA Today, 34 million monthly views; and LA Times, at 32.5 million monthly views.

Locally, there are several online news sites providing news and information to readers, many of which offer unique knowledge about the metro area, or aggregate news or facts from other publications or sites.

motorcitymuckraker.com

Editor: Steve Neavling


Motorcitymuckraker.com calls itself a site of "independent news dedicated to improving life in Detroit." The site focuses a majority of its energy on investigations, which is its first tab. Others are crime & fire; government; arts & culture; development; and life in Detroit. Investigations are in line with editor and founder Steve Neavling, an investigative journalist who was previously a city hall reporter for the Detroit Free Press and a freelance reporter for Reuters.

In March 2014, the Columbia Journalism Review featured Neavling as "Detroit's one-man band". Neavling, who runs Motorcitymuckraker.com and freelances for TickletheWire.com, views himself, according to the article, as a sort of one-man news operation who roams all areas of Detroit, chases news scanner reports, and pursues investigative pieces, intent on scooping Detroit's broadcast and print media.

Motorcitymuckraker.com does its own original reporting, and its website offers an overview of the city itself, focusing a clear eye on the grittiness that lies beneath efforts to urbanize it. It spotlights what still needs to be done, whether it's highlighting neglected fire hydrants or how they're tracking every fire in Detroit in 2015 to provide a look at how fires are ravaging neighborhoods.

Motorcitymuckraker.com is run by Neavling and his girlfriend, Abigail Shah, and he pooled together $200 for a URL, web hosting and design for the site. Shah works as site researcher, bookkeeper, site manager and social media manager. The site is supported through advertising, including some national sponsors, though they run links requesting support.

The newsroom is their living room couch, located in an apartment on Detroit's east side.

modelD.com

metromode.com

Editor: Matthew Lewis


ModelD.com is an online weekly magazine that makes you believe that Detroit truly is the place to be. Its positive vibes over the last 10 years about the city and neighborhoods have finally taken root. "We take some credit, on a microlevel, for the difference in Detroit from 10 years ago," said ModelD editor Matthew Lewis. "We promote Detroit as a place to be and invest in."

Companion site metromode.com posts daily on job growth and development in southeast Michigan, from Detroit to Ann Arbor, Wyandotte to Birmingham.

Both are published by Issue Media Group, a Detroit-based media company which publishes online magazines about growth, investment and "the people leading communities into the new economy in 21 regions across the U.S. and Canada." Their mission is to cover what's next in cities, documenting transformation and growth. "Our journalists identify influencers the change-makers and doers moving cities and regions forward. We provide hyperlocal engagement with influencers, research and data, and audience."

Lewis works from an office in midtown Detroit, not far from Wayne State University. He hosts weekly coffee hours in a nearby coffee shop, meeting freelancers, residents and readers. He had written and edited ModelD for a about a year; and taken over Metromode in February.

"ModelD is the flagship publication for Issue Media Group. In June it celebrated its tenth anniversary," he said of the online-only weekly, which is sent out by e-mail blast each Tuesday, receiving about 90,000 page views a month currently. "We were born in a pre-Facebook age. We are behind by being ahead. Right now we are transitioning to a more continuous publishing model, which has its challenges."

He tweets and posts to Facebook, and while there are over 18,000 followers on Twitter, "We are looking at growing our social media presence," he said. "Metromode has scant social media presence."

ModelD.com has a positive focus on people, development, culture, business and neighborhoods, historically focusing on downtown, midtown and Corktown. "The goal now is to really expand citywide to show the neighborhoods and areas that don't get as much attention," Lewis said. "We are focusing now on Brightmoor, which is heavily populated by youth, and the Osborn neighborhood, which has blight, urban agriculture and the repurposing of vacant land. Each community is faced with unique challenges and opportunities." Each issue has three features, development news and startup news.

Metromode deals with smaller dynamic communities in the region as a whole, "as well as the larger issues that affect us all," Lewis said. "My personal goal is to better align the two publications. I want to reach out and show city readers why regional things matter, and show regional readers why the city matters."

There is one regional feature a week, along with innovation and jobs news, and development information.

Metromode is also a weekly, sent out by e-mail blast on Thursdays, with about 30,000 page views per month.

Both sites create original content rather aggregating from others, although there are marked advertorials.

breakingdetroitnews.com

Editor: Patrick Kitano


Breakingdetroitnews.com calls itself a "community service media" part of a nationwide media organization of 400 sites located and curated from San Francisco. Patrick Kitano, who launched the news system in 2009, said he did so at the time to support local news publications. He had been a columnist for a hyperlocal newsmagazine, and realized there was a need to support local news. Each of his 400 sites curate and aggregate news and information from other news sites and blogs meaning they republish previously published news, giving it credit.

"It's an unsustainable model to hire reporters and sales staff (for a hyperlocal website), like Patch. But no one curated the best. I created the methodology when Twitter was in its infancy," seeing it as a source of news dissemination. "There is a rich tradition of a lot of independent news and blogs, and I wanted to aggregate them. We were a rich, diverse site by creating this. We're not making money off of this, but we're letting everyone know how to find the news."

Kitano said his business model has utilized an administrative team out of India for the past four years, and they have a curated database of about 10,000 readers. However, he emphasized he doesn't believe in e-mail blasts because he doesn't want people to think they're spamming them.

"I launched the news system in 2009 to support local news publications. BreakingDetroit is part of 400 cities; BreakingA2news is very similar," Kitano said. "We're working really hard to get independent news publishers heard. It makes our 400-city feed like a bulletin board that gets retweeted to other sources."

The website states that "We curate and publish the most interesting media feeds in each city to create an aggregate real time ticker tape of literally everything happening in a city...We support local civic groups, good causes and arts organizations by getting their word out to our communities."

He said they regularly work with the three largest independent news publishers, Independent News Network, The Media Consortium and Association of Alternative Newsmedia. "Many small publishers are hurting, they're working with grants, they don't have enough advertisers and don't have true business models," Kitano said. By reposting their stories on Breakingnews, their news and information can have greater exposure and life. He said they have about 8,000 authorized newsmakers approved to post to their site.

"We're in every city that has a population of 100,000 or 150,000 or more with multiple news sources," he said. "We're in Fargo, N.D, and Wichita, KS. Some small cities, especially in the mountains, that only have one newspaper and no bloggers, we're not going there because we have nothing to aggregate."

On Twitter, the Detroit site can be found at detroit_buzz.

"Everything about Detroit is very cutting edge journalistically," Kitano pointed out regarding what readers can find out. "Local news is often focused on crime, traffic and weather. We don't do that. We're much stronger on both coasts. We have about 80 sites in California, where there's much more engagement."

Kitano said that for all sites, they receive about 50,000 to 80,000 click throughs per day on their posts. "Many are highly viral and get retweets," he said, although he does not have separated data on breakingdetroitnews.

The next phase Kitano envisions is a Detroit site for the African American community. "There's nothing for the local black community. Almost all blacks get their news from TV," he said, working to pick up feeds from the Michigan Chronicle, Voice of Detroit and Monica Patrick, all of which can be found on Twitter @blckdetroit.

HuffingtonPostDetroit.com

Editor: Kate Abbey-Lambertz


The Huffington Post's Detroit page was launched on November 17, 2011, as part of the Huffington Post's national website. The Detroit-based page of the national website is managed by editor Kate Abbey-Lambertz, who joined the site as an associate editor in 2011 and was made editor last spring. While Huffington Post has more than 850 staff members throughout the organization, Abbey-Lambertz is currently the sole staffer specifically covering the metro Detroit area for the website. However, other editorial staff cover Detroit and Michigan issues when they are relevant to their beats, and such stories are featured on the Detroit page.

While Abbey-Lambertz said the website doesn't track user statistics of the Detroit page specifically, The Huffington Post U.S. site has 115 million unique visitors monthly. The main site was launched in 2005 as a news aggregator and blog site, founded by Arianna Huffington, Kenneth Lerer, Andrew Breitbart and Jonah Peretti. The site, as does its Detroit counterpart, offers aggregated news, blogs, original content and covers politics, business, entertainment, culture and a host of other topics. The Huffington Post was acquired in 2011 by AOL for a reported price of $315 million. Huffington remains editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post Media Group.

While Huffington Post sends a statewide morning e-mail and breaking news e-mail and other e-mail newsletters, there isn't a specific newsletter for the Detroit page. Abbey-Lambertz said the Huffington Post Detroit coverage is driven by the same editorial focus and mission as the site as a whole: telling stories about the issues that matter most to people through all the tools they have available.

"As to what sets the Detroit coverage apart there is no lengthy philosophy, but the phrase that guides how I write about issues and which ones I choose to cover is 'people first,'" she said. "It was initially a reaction to the way some pre-bankruptcy coverage portrayed Detroit as a dead and empty city, and it was inspired by the tongue-in-cheek tagline in a photo series by Noah Stephens: 'because not everyone in Detroit is an abandoned building.' Now it amounts to me asking myself, 'what do Detroiters care about, and what is important for the rest of the country to know about the city."

That balance is reflected in one of Abbey-Lambertz' posts published on March 5, "11 Stereotypes Detroiters are Tired Of Hearing," which utilizes Huffington Post's trademark listicle styling, but cuts to more serious issues facing the city and metropolitan region. The story is an example of her intentions to illustrate that Detroit's issues, like most cities, are always more complex than they appear at first glance.

"Acknowledging and explicating those complexities in a digestible way has been a central goal of our coverage," she said. "For example, an article I wrote about a program to bridge the gap between Detroiters and police officers notes that while current national criticisms of policing often focus on excessive use of force, serious crime and historic problems like long wait times and a high unresolved murder rate means the focus of Detroiters' criticisms of police can be different."

detroit.eater.com

Editor: Brenna Houck


From her Ferndale perch, local editor Brenna Houck produces the majority of the content for restaurant, nightlife and food site eater.com, along with about five local contributors. Eater, owned by Vox Media, is a national general interest news site for the 21st century which says its mission is simple: "Explain the news. Vox is where you go to understand the news and the world around you."

Vox, which supports several different news, culture and sports platforms, amasses over 5 million visitors to its various websites each month. Eater, according to Houck, varies between 250,000 and 350,000 visitors a month.

Houck, her various freelancers and photographers, produce the majority of content for the site, which is primarily original. "We do aggregate and reblog, but the majority is original content," she said.

"We're not obsessed with the food porn side" of restaurants, Houck said. "We're interested in architecture, the chef and that side. On our site, we focus on local restaurant news and what is new in openings in downtown. We send photographers in beforehand, if we can, or as they're opening, so people can get first views, from an architectural viewpoint."

There are about four photographic galleries a month of restaurants, providing viewers a virtual visit to new hotspots.

Eater notes it is "the source for people who care about dining and drinking in the nation's more important food cities. A favorite of industry pros and amateurs alike. Eater has an uncanny knack for finding out what's opening where, who's serving what, and how it's all going down." It was founded by Lockhart Steele and is led by editor in chief Amanda Kludt. The staff "makes news and breaks news daily with expert reporting on the latest restaurant openings in key cities and current dining trends across the country." Its target audience is adults 21-34, and 74 percent use it daily, they reported according to Google Analytics Q4 2014.

"We're doing hyperlocal, but on a national level," Houck said, sending out e-mail blasts, which people sign up for, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. She also posts to Twitter and Facebook. The national Eater website reports they have almost half a million Twitter followers, and a quarter million Facebook friends.

deadlinedetroit.com

Editor: Allan Lengel


Started by veteran journalists Allan Lengel and Bill McGraw, deadlinedetroit.com is designed as a one-stop, online news site whose content includes the top stories about metro Detroit from local, national and international media, as well as original reporting and commentary from many local journalists.

"We wanted to be a little more risky, or racier, than the papers are, and we wanted to be part of the conversation in Detroit," Lengel said about the philosophy behind the website. "We wanted to cover city hall and politics, not just in Detroit, but also in Lansing and the metro area. We wanted to be part of that conversation, and cover what we thought were important issues. In a lot of ways, we have accomplished that. I think we've built up a good audience and good readership."

Launched in 2012, deadlinedetroit.com gained attention in metro Detroit even before its official launch, gaining followers who signed up for e-mail blasts before the site went live. The buzz was helped by the solid reputations of the journalists behind the site, as well as an infusion of funding from former Compuware CEO Peter Karmanos. At the time, Lengel, who had worked for decades for The Detroit News and Washington Post, had already started TickleTheWire.com, a website that features federal law enforcement news from around the country. Looking for investors in his site, Lengel approached Compuware, where McGraw was working after spending 32 years with the Detroit Free Press as a city desk reporter, sports writer, Canada correspondent, editor and columnist. Lengel said McGraw liked the website, but suggested doing something local. With initial funding from Compuware Ventures, deadlinedetroit.com was launched in April 2012.

Less than two years after its launch, the website had become a regular stop for many Detroit-area media consumers, receiving between 330,000 to 370,000 unique visitors per month, and included solid staff of full-time and part-time employees at its downtown Detroit office. However, funding from Compuware was pulled just prior to the company being privatized, and deadlinedetroit.com was forced to cut staff and reorganize in attempts to become profitable.

McGraw, who retains ownership interest in the site, has since gone to work for Bridge Magazine. Today, Lengel said he remains the only full-time staffer. He is joined part-time by Alan Stamm, a veteran Detroit journalist who worked for most of his career at The Detroit News as a copy editor, assistant national editor and assistant metro editor. Freelancers and contributors to the site include other Detroit-area journalists and professionals, including Darrell Dawsey, Jeff Wattrick, Doron Levin and others.

Lengel said the site, which currently receives between 200,000 and 270,000 unique visitors per month, is rebuilding. While the philosophy and style of coverage haven't changed, the amount of original content has dipped by about 10 percent, with the rest aggregated from other sources. Still, the quality and quantity of content have remained high, he said.

"We are trying to to rebuild," Lengel said. "We have some advertising. I see a path to being profitable, it's really just a matter of time and energy to get there."

oaklandcounty115.com

Editor: Crystal Proxmire


Initially launched in 2009 by Ferndale native Crystal A. Proxmire, oaklandcounty115.com provides daily content about news and events throughout the county, with original reporting and coverage in a few key communities, including Ferndale and Oak Park.

"I try not to aggregate from other media," Proxmire said about county-wide coverage on the site. "I call it 'news hubbing.'"

Instead of posting excerpts of news stories from other media outlets, Proxmire cultivates relationships with folks in dozens of organizations around the county, who in turn send her event photos and news releases, allowing her site to act as a sort of hub for various happenings throughout Oakland County.

Proxmire's business model is unique amongst the multitude of other news sites on the Internet, not only for its content philosophy, but for her funding model, which focuses on a slow and steady, sustainable growth.

The goal is to become 60 percent reader funded by focusing on $15-per month contributions to the site. In turn, Proxmire offers a special flower ad in the sponsor's name on the site. It's what Proxmire has named an "online community garden." The ads feature a photo of a flower, which can include the reader's name, or be dedicated to another person. Other funding comes from ads on the site.

"There are two ways for funding the site," she said. "Advertising, which is obviously the biggest way. But I really feel strongly about the online community garden. It's a small amount of money, but it's a way to make people feel connected to the website. It's a grassroots project and really about the people we serve. I would rather have 100 small donations than one big ad. Then people understand the value of journalism. It's really a community-driven website."

So far, the philosophy is working for Proxmire and the website. In the year following her expansion to the a county-wide news hub in 2014, unique visitors to the site jumped from about 10,000 per month to about 30,000.

"The Knight Foundation looks at the (online) models across the country, and nobody has really come up with one (that works) yet," she said. "In almost every case, they ran a site for about a year, but then the money runs out. They haven't determined how they will be sustainable after the grant or sponsorship runs out. My hope is that OaklandCounty115 will be that model."

The idea for the site's model stemmed from a demo site she created in 2005, after graduating from Grand Valley State University. Irritated because the local press wasn't providing adequate coverage in Muskegon, Proxmire tried applying for a job at the paper, only to be confronted with the reality of dwindling newsroom staff and the lack of available jobs. Instead, she launched her own news site in hopes she could one day enter the print news market.

"In Muskegon, the economy revolved around the 1st and 15th of the month, so that's how the name came about," she said.

The Muskegon-based site operated for about six months. She later took the idea and applied it to her hometown in Ferndale. Initially publishing new content on the 1st and 15th of each month, she began providing daily updates in 2010, and expanded the Ferndale site in 2014. In addition to writing for her own site, Proxmire has written for The Oakland Press, Between The Lines and others.

She now hopes that her business model will be an example for others, which she said could benefit both journalists and communities that invest in them.

"People have to understand why news is important," she said. "I like my (business) model. I hope it works. It's paying the bills, and I'm supporting myself. I don't have to have a side job. I hope to have a second reporter, and a third later as it grows. It's a slow steady growth."