June 18, 2005

(Updated) Taking A Mid-Report Hiatus

Clearly, This Experiement Is Not Working

Note: This post has been updated. Any and all updates appear at the end of the original post.

It might seem a little poorly-timed, given that we've only published half of our report from Wednesday's hearing on PDC before City Council, but we're stepping back for a bit.

On our end, methodically going through our notes from that meeting to produce material unavailable elsewhere and of clear value to people following such a story (representative of the best of which we are capable, even if we don't rise to that level with every post) is bumping up across some financial realities this weekend.

In essence, we're having a particularly peevish moment where we're a little frustrated at producing the sorts of things we are capable of producing, and which, arguably, no one else is producing (and which, arguably, no one else would produce if we did not) and yet not having that value reflected in the manner in which society recognizes value -- namely, coin.

With monthly reader contributions having dropped to $150, the looming Summer is bringing us back to where we were last Summer, which had been leading to a November drop-dead date which we were spared mainly because at the end of the year we ended up in a Willamette Week "giving guide" -- something which allowed us to extend things a few more months, and then do an unsteady lurching from two-month period to two-month period.

Which, as we've kept telling people, has certainly been better than not lurching at all. But after two and a half years of trying to make this work, it's obviously... well, not working.

So we're backing off, and getting some distance, and doing some deep pondering between Red Sox games on the radio. When we decide to come back we'll see where things are, and maybe at that point we can all see what happened during the second half of that Wednesday hearing.

June 22nd, 2005 Update

Murmurs:

Local politics geeks may be bereft in the blogosphere if the blogger known as One True b!X (a.k.a. Christopher Frankonis) puts his Portland Communique ... site on hiatus. Communique's fanatically complete reporting on public hearings and musings on policy have a big following, but the site's lack of financial support may require b!X to pull the plug after two and a half years. If Communique dies, City Hall nerds may be forced to burn their cubicle time on Commissioner Sam Adams' just-launched blog ... .

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Comments (39)

  1. Kari Chisholm on 18 Jun 2005

    It would, of course, be a bad thing if Communique disappeared.

    Since this is a meta-post, a meta-question: Is it just me, or has your trackback URL disappeared?

  2. Amanda on 18 Jun 2005

    It's working in that you're getting close to 2000 hits per day, and that it's become widely known and respected as the go-to site to find updated, detailed information and opinions about city happenings.

    It's not working in that even if we assume many of us are making multiple visits per day, and some hits are random visitors who don't return, there are at maybe 500 regular readers, and at $150 income per month with a minimum contribution of $5, only 30 people are actually paying. The other 470+ are freeloading. Does this match your records and accurately capture the situation? So what's not working is the voluntary contribution part. That's what we need to find a solution for. I say "we" because I don't want the site to go away.

    Have you considered going to a Salon.com format, where the first paragraph is free then readers can only access the rest if they're subscribers or agree to view premium advertising? And could you adjust it so people whose income is even less than yours can ask you for a free subscription, and/or those viewing from a Multnomah County library terminal can access without charge? The goal is to fund your work, not to cut off anyone's ability to read it if they truly can't afford even a once-a-year donation.

  3. Chris Lowe on 18 Jun 2005

    Just for consideration, it isn't in any way obvious to a new reader what your financial hopes/needs for the site are, or even that you have any. I suppose there are all sorts of distinctions about types of blogs that people who have been doing it for years have as their common sense, but their has been a great deal of publicity about blogging that means that there is a slew of new readers who are just dipping in for the first time and may be clueless as to that.

    If you want to raise the donation level you might consider posting a message once a week indicating that you need them to keep the site going and what you think is fair, or even just giving a link to your donation page and asking that people who read regularly think about it like shareware, to bring new readers up to speed about their part.

    An alternative model to the one Amanda suggests might be the inverse -- offering ad-free reading for contributors above a certain level.

  4. Jonathan R. on 18 Jun 2005

    Can I recommend more regular asks?

  5. Bill McDonald on 18 Jun 2005

    Dear B!X,
    I’m sorry you’re this discouraged. I thought the back-to-back title and subtitle (“Does this mean we’ve finally arrived?” followed above by “Clearly, this experiment isn’t working.”) said it all about the ups and downs of freelance writing. If you are not making it and have to quit, that is a loss for Portland. If you are just not satisfied with your effort/payoff ratio then I advise you to hang in there. Good things come out of nowhere.
    In fact, if you let me advertise my cable access show, at the rate of 8 weeks for $200, (with one catch), then I’m in. The catch: the ad would be simple text, no pictures, but I would want to change the wording once a week(at the most) to keep it fresh. Nothing profane. Of course, you would have to hang in there for at least 8 more weeks to make it happen.
    I assume you have my email address. Please make the subject clear in the title. I’m leaving town Wednesday for a week but if you get back to me, we could possibly get this done Monday or Tuesday or after I return. Cash in person at the weird city meeting of your choice.
    Bill McDonald

  6. Ed McNamara on 19 Jun 2005

    I'll sign up for your 3-month premium ad. I'll want it to start running in early July and I don't have the layout ready, but I'm happy to pay for it right now. Let me know if we can set that up.

  7. allehseya on 19 Jun 2005

    uhm.....does this mean that you're taking a break from the Chinwags too?

    (I was unable to detangle myself from work for the last one in a timely manner --- so I didnt arrive until 6:00 -- at which time I couldnt find evidence of it taking place --- so I assume I missed it?)

  8. Kari Chisholm on 19 Jun 2005

    Bill, you can already do that with BlogAds. Bix's standard ad is just $125 for three whole months. You don't need to upload a picture, and you can update the text anytime you want by logging in to BlogAds.

  9. Amanda on 20 Jun 2005

    Chris and Jonathan make good points. In order for a new or occasional reader to realize donations are key to supporting the site and your work, they'd have to click on and read the "About this Site" section. And even there, it's not clear you're dependent on donations for eating and paying rent as well as writing and hosting the site. It says it's an "experiment in amateur journalism and hobbying", whereas in fact it's an experiment in seeing if the blog can become your sole profession.

    Try another redesign, so the front page always carries a short request for a donation and also the Paypal/Amazon click-on buttons.

  10. Dave J. on 20 Jun 2005

    I'd like to second/third/fourth the comment left by others: you should have a more direct (and more obvious) "ask" somewhere near the top of the page. Consider what Andrew Sullivan does on his blog--once each year he has a "pledge week" (or is it month?) in which he does his normal blog posting, but frequently gives updates on how much has been raised, frequently talks about what sort of benefit people will get from the blog (i.e., more functions), and etc. I think he typically raises in the upper five figures, perhaps low sixes. Obviously he's a brand name in the blog biz, but you've got a hardcore following and I'd think you'd do well if you put up a paypal link and repeatedly asked for donations for a month or so. As someone who works in development, I know that people need to be hit over the head several times before they give to an organization, even one they really believe in. And since most people here are not accustomed to giving to a blog, I'd really suggest making the point a lot more explicit.

  11. allehseya on 20 Jun 2005

    oh oh oh! I've got it! Lets all have a special event benefit for b!X!! I mean -- for those of too poor to pay cash -- we can devote some time and energy into organizing it, yes?

    We need music and space and food and a hat big enough to pass around (his will be much too small for what we shall raise) --- what do you all think?!?

  12. allehseya on 20 Jun 2005

    I meant to say....

    "....for those of us too poor to pay cash..."
    -- said one poor struggling artist; in hopes of helping out another...

  13. Elaine of Kalilily on 20 Jun 2005

    To all of you reading here and trying to figure out how to help:

    Now is the time. As most of you already know, we in b!X's family have believed enough in him and his efforts to keep him afloat over these past couple of years. But we're at the end of our resources. Either what Communique has come to contribute to Portland's democracy is worth it to enough Portlanders, or it's not.

    So yes, alleheya, a Bash for b!X certainly can't hurt. Maybe his Stumptown satellite office would be willing to have a Brew for b!X Day fundraiser -- advertise it as such and donate a percentage of their coffee sales on that day to Communique. Or they can have one day a month where Communqiue is in residence while there's a day long "chin-wag," and donations to Communique are encouraged. Or maybe there's a better site for this kind of function.

    I hope b!X will follow through on all of your comments about the need for a more obvious statement upfront that this site is reader-supported stand-alone journalism; one editor working full-time. Subscriptions, contributions, and advertising are continuously crucial.

    And if you really want to help him out, find b!X a volunteer business manager to take care of that end of it all.

    It's now or never, folks of Portland. He might be our son by birth, but he's Portland's son by choice. We've done all we can.

  14. shannon on 20 Jun 2005

    Fundraisers are great...sometimes.

    Other times they require much effort for little payoff.

    b!x needs a systematic strategy for fundraising and a good method for soliciting advertising.

    Why is the Your Ad Here box consistently empty? Probably because most people (including myself) have little idea what sort of demographic visits here. Advertisers like to target specific potentials. Find out who visits, then investigate what advertisers would like to hit this group of readers...then perhaps you can get something goin' on.

    What businesses might want to speak to locals in general? Coffee houses? Bookstores? Portland Community Media? I bet these are a good start.

    An ad sales intern might be another (oh we adore that intern labor!).

    b!x you provide a great service to people who care about our community -- surely there are other organizations that want to reach your readership.

    I'm willing to help brainstorm with others who want to see this site continue. Anyone else up for contributing to an Action Plan?


  15. Lynn S. on 20 Jun 2005

    What can I do? Seriously. I'm donating what I can per month, and if some promising things happen soon-ish I'll be able to start advertising again and raise my donation level. But barring that, I'm not sure how I can help you, Chris. DO be more upfront about needing donations. Is there a blogad network you can join? Have you fully explored linking up with a print publication in some way that would still give you independence? I don't feel like I'm being helpful, but I'm throwing out all the ideas I've got here.

  16. Mikey on 20 Jun 2005

    I had an ad ready to go, but found the size limites on blog-ads were pretty brutal. I emailed but got no response. :(

  17. Notorious J.E.S. on 21 Jun 2005

    Amanda,

    I very much dislike your assertion that those of us who don't pay are freeloaders. Sure, I likely make more money than b!X, but after the cost of living, including the outrageous cost of gas to get to work to keep the cycle going, I barely scrape by. If my choice was to pay to read one of the gazillion websites I look at on a periodic basis, I'd have to say goodbye.

    This site is valuable, b!X, and I hope you find a way to keep going. A complex salon.com concept isn't the way to go, I'd bet. I hope that your having posted this in relation to your KEX performance last night is helpful.

    JES

  18. Randy Leonard on 21 Jun 2005

    Allehseya-
    As a person who has had his ass kicked more than once by B!X, I am in a unique position to offer you whatever help I can to make a fund raiser successful for this site.

    Tell me how best I can help and I will do it.....just contact me @ commleonard@aol.com.

  19. Lily on 21 Jun 2005

    B!X-

    You mustn't give up- you provide an extremely important service to Portlanders. I am too poor to give money (I am a poor struggling artist), BUT I have done lots of fundraising on a volunteer basis. Count me in on helping with a fundraiser!

  20. Amanda on 21 Jun 2005

    I don't like the Salon.com idea any more, either. And I'm concerned that a fundraiser wouldn't raise enough to cover several months' expenses, because presumably the people who would come to it are the ones reading the blog, and I'm not sure attendees would give large amounts at an annual fundraiser when they don't pay small amounts each month on line. Perhaps people are more willing to pay for fun, though. It would be worth a try, to see.

    What if there is one day per month when everyone who visits here is asked to give $1? Call it "Feed b!X Day" or something, and post a counter so we could see when the $1500 target which b!X says he can live on is reached. Those living on a shoestring could give a dollar in the months they have one. With over 28,000 visits per month, a dollar each would get to $1500 fast, if we agreed b!X's product is worth paying for.

    I think that's the core issue here - not can we fundraise as if b!X is a charitable cause, but whether this exceptional blog can be a profession rather than a hobby.

  21. allehseya on 21 Jun 2005

    Perhaps people are more willing to pay for fun, though.

    Precisely. The Chinwags should retain their accessibility and be open without charge. The idea is that people pay for 'fun' and will become educated as to the existance of the site at the same time -- and (in theory anyway) will donate / contribute / utilize what exists -- once they are aware of its benefit to them.

    Soooo.....we need contacts / ideas / leads for the following (email me at PDXArts@aol.com):

    1.) Sponsors (any business willing to offer up some some resources not necessarily limited to money -- could be food / coffee / space for the event, etc.)

    2.) Space (Randy -- do you think you can get Sam to get Disjecta for the event?!?)

    3.) Music (someone who reads this site has to have a decent band or a friend in one? A DJ maybe? Friends in a Theatre Troupe? Anything 'entertaining'?

    4.) Food / Drink (pot luck? sponsors? space with liqour licenses?)

    5.) Printing (we need to promote this site in print form and the event prior to it taking place)

    6.) Press Contacts (we want it covered in-depth in all media formats)

    7.) Volunteers (Lily et al)

    8.) Merchandise for Sale to be donated to b!X (for instance, I have access to a silk-screen press and if there's a designer or two willing to come up with some clever politico t-shirt concepts, etc. we could sell alongside Portland Communique wares)

    9.) Ideas lotts of ideas......please.

    E-mail me at PDXArts@aol.com and I'll try to connect the dots once I get enough feedback.

  22. allehseya on 21 Jun 2005

    Have you fully explored linking up with a print publication in some way that would still give you independence?

    heh... I'm curious about the answer to that as well -- as I've posed a scenario or two in relation to possibilities that I am pretty sure would work.....

  23. Dave J. on 21 Jun 2005

    I think the idea of an event type fundraiser is good, but I'd still recommend doing a plain 'ol ask for money. Here's the thing: I'm a fairly regular reader of this blog, but it's one of many I visit throughout the day/week. Until this post, I really had no idea that this blog was b!X's source of income. I'm sure I neglected a whole bunch of stuff to arrive at a point where I was unaware of this, but I was, and I suspect that goes for lots of readers here. Newer ones especially--if the point is made a month ago, in blogland it might as well have been made five years ago. So I don't mean to criticize as much as provide some constructive...er, criticism: b!X, you need to make your appeal more permanent, and you need to be more explicit about why you are doing it. I mean, I've seen notes about wanting site sponsors before, but never thought that it was a "this is my livelihood" type of thing.

    I seriously suggest starting off low-key. Keep a full-time post at the top of the page, and call it something like "Sustaining this blog" or whatever. Set up a paypal link and make it painfully obvious. Try to get other local blogs to link to it (I bet Jack Bog would, but who knows). Yes, blogs are "new media,' but in terms of needing funds to stay afloat, they are no different than old media. Someone suggested trying to get an intern to put together a business model for you--that's a great idea.

    But the main point is this: you have to make it clear what you want, and WHY you want it. "$X will allow this blog to do A, B, and C." That type of thing. Even if those reasons are "I need $X to keep doing what I am doing," I think you should make that clear. This blog, and the energy you put into it, is really a civic asset. I know more about Portland in the three months I've been reading this blog than I ever learned from reading the O. And I'd be willing to make a donation to reflect that.

    I think you might be surprised at the resources people would be willing to commit to the blog--I hope you give it a shot.

  24. shannon on 21 Jun 2005

    Dave J. is correct-o!

    Fundraiser? Nice and all... System in place for consistent funding...yes!

    PSU has a program in place (though the advt. or design school, i believe) that has students creating business and marketing models for non-profits...this site would be a very good subject.

    Short of a real marketing program, there are already some great suggestions being thrown out.

    B!x, it's not the experiment that's failing, it's the marketing of it. There is financial energy to be harnessed here, i'm sure of it. Many, many of us are very appreciative of your efforts, a simple adjustment of the support solicitation is truly what's required.

  25. Randy Leonard on 21 Jun 2005

    "2.) Space (Randy -- do you think you can get Sam to get Disjecta for the event?!?)"

    Allehseya-
    They may agree even if I ask them. :)

  26. allehseya on 22 Jun 2005

    PSU has a program in place (though the advt. or design school, i believe) that has students creating business and marketing models for non-profits...this site would be a very good subject.

    The problem is that the 'experiment' (as b!X refers to this site) isnt a non-profit. If it were, he'd be eligible for such programs and their assistance -- in addition to grants (which I'd be happy to write) ---

    Even then, if he decided to apply for his 501(c)3 -- it would take about a year for it to go through in which time he'd need a different non-profit to act as his fiscal agent -- or sponsor (to manage the funding until the 501 status is approved).

    If he were to expand the 'experiment' into a non-profit model --- and share his experiences / knowledge, etc with the youth (teens)-- I know that my arts non profit would be interested in acting as a fiscal agent on some grants as we have a New Media Arts program in addition to dance, theatre, music, visual arts, etc.....

    Unfortunately -- that may be a bit more than the original scope of this 'experiment' though......

    Randy -- when / if you talk to the folks at Disjecta -- do relay to them that I'm willing to do this on what I call a 'service exchange' model -- I'll work with them on the "Residency" program via grant writing and program development if they are open to this kind of thing on an on-going basis....


  27. Ed on 22 Jun 2005

    These comments express a lot of moral support and contain some good ideas.

    That's nice, but if I were in b!x's position, I'd be hoping to see contributions coming in along with the ideas and the moral support.

    So keep the ideas coming, but click on the donation line - if you haven't already - and commit to $5 or $10 or more per month. Give up a few cups of coffee or a glass of wine or beer once a month and spend the money instead on honest, independent local journalism produced by a hardworking dedicated guy.

    Unless we send money (or contribute in some other way), we can't say we really support b!x. We can say we like what he does, but we can't say we support it.

    This is an experiment on b!x's part to do journalism this way. It has to be an experiment on our part to help pay for it.

  28. The One True b!X on 22 Jun 2005

    Dropping in very briefly (read: not joining the conversation) for just a couple of things: First, while I have not been engaging in this thread, I have sent a couple of off-site emails to people who needed immediate response to some things. Second, there likely will be a minor redesign to make the "reader supported" pitch ever-present. Third, I have to express some discomfort with the idea of recruiting elected officials to help with any plan you guys hatch, because that sets up conflicts I would have thought would be obvious given my professed site ethics and policies.

    All of that said, carry on.

  29. The One True b!X on 22 Jun 2005

    One other thing: Yes, ads can be edited at-will be advertisers. No, an image is not required.

    That said, I do wonder if your ad would not get a little lost if it were text-only. But obviously that's an advertiser decision.

  30. Amanda on 22 Jun 2005

    b!X, as another update - please tell how much has been contributed since this thread started?

  31. allehseya on 22 Jun 2005

    Third, I have to express some discomfort with the idea of recruiting elected officials to help with any plan you guys hatch, because that sets up conflicts I would have thought would be obvious given my professed site ethics and policies.

    In all honesty, I keep thinking of b!X and this site as a New Media Arts project created by a new media artist -- as opposed to a traditional media product created by a journalist -- which allows for more liberties in potential networking. My mistake in the heat of the moment during brainstorming on his behalf.

    I have voiced similar concerns (after the fact) regarding boundaries, guidelines and proceedures in hopes of addressing and avoiding any potential conflicts of interest as we move forward as readers (aware and conscious of the 'day hats' that we wear that may interfere with mutual objectives being seen as a 'conflict of interest') --- discussions are on hold until after the Fourth of July regarding this.

    Just for the record -- I'm not hoping to recruit Sam Adams as this is less of an "art" project than it is a ''media'' project. Randy Leonard, however, as a reader will have to take into consideration how much his own 'day hat' gets in the way of his support as a reader.

    In any event -- it's important to note that b!X isnt organizing the fundraiser at all. It's just something I wanted to do as I appreciate and value the site -- regardless of the fact that I've never even met the man, the artist, the journalist -- (all three) -- that creates it.

  32. The One True b!X on 22 Jun 2005

    He's not just a reader, he's an elected official. That inherently risks myhaving to put a disclaimer on every future post about him saying he helped out a reader-driven plan for a fundraiser for this site.

    I'm not being a pissant just to be a pissant here. I just don't understand why so many people seem to have diffculty accepting my repeatedly-expressed ethical lines.

  33. Melissa on 23 Jun 2005

    I'm glad to see the addition regarding the need for continued support -- curious what others think because I'm wondering if it should be a bit larger. It still is small and sort of...meek...and I think b!X should be bold about it. Don't shout it, but don't be shy, either.

  34. Elaine of Kalilily on 23 Jun 2005

    Keep in mind that a "fund-raiser" can be more than an avenue to raise f few bucks. It's also an "awareness raiser." Commissioners and other politicos don't have to help organize and/or give money for the event. Their attendance (especially in significanat numbers) at such an event, however, can draw lots of public and media attention -- leading to more readers/donors and also potential advertisers for that long-term support that is really the bottom line.

    The Communique is a truly unique experiment -- not just to see if a regional stand-alone journalist can pay his bills as a result of his effort, but even more importantly, from my perspective, to find out just how much this kind of detailed information means to a democratic community of caring and active citizens. Communique offers the kind of insights, questionings, and information for Portlanders that isn't available anywhere else. That service is either important enough to rally for or not. And it really is now or never.

  35. allehseya on 23 Jun 2005

    I appear to be creating more headaches as opposed to relieving them. My sincerest apologies.

    I do hope everything works out for you, b!X.

  36. The One True b!X on 23 Jun 2005

    The only headache I'm pointing out is any direct involvement by people I cover. I get testy about it only because I get frustrated when people don't seem to understand why it's ann issue -- or, perhaps worse, when people don't respect that I see it as an issue. It makes me feel like people are saying they have ideas to consider but only if we reformulate what the site is. And I'd sooner have the site die than change what it is, or the ethical lines I've methodically and deliberately set in place for very specific reasons.

  37. allehseya on 23 Jun 2005

    It is unfortunate that you feel as though I do not respect you or that I'm asking you reformulate the site -- and -- I apologize for any actions that lend to that perception and will hereby put a stop to them.

  38. tomhiggins on 23 Jun 2005

    b!x

    For what its worth I understand and respect your ethics on the matter of elected officals and fund raisers. I would love to see a fund raiser happen but I suport your setting the tone of the event. Its you, your site and your ethics that got me hooked into reading this site dialy, I would expect those same values to hold for events connecte to it and you.

    So what about a series of Rage Burger Luncheons?

    -tom

  39. Isaac Laquedem on 26 Jun 2005

    I'm happy to help out.