Local news website to adjust business plan

Readers, donors and public officials crowded the New Haven Independent’s fifth anniversary celebration at its offices on Elm Street on Wednesday.
Readers, donors and public officials crowded the New Haven Independent’s fifth anniversary celebration at its offices on Elm Street on Wednesday. Photo by Victor Kang.

The New Haven Independent, the online news website, celebrated its fifth anniversary last night with cheers from some of its 125,000 monthly readers, including Mayor John DeStefano Jr.

The event was open to the public, in the small offices of the Independent and La Voz Hispana on Elm Street. Paul Bass ’82, founder and editor, said now that five years are over, he will change the fundraising strategy for the Independent to have a similar business plan to that of National Public Radio. Rather than broaden the Independent’s hyperlocal editorial focus, he said he wants it to remain financially sustainable and receive more donations from the local community by adding sponsorship levels to encourage readers to give.

Since 2005, the Independent has expanded its budget from $80,000 to $500,000 through sponsorships and grants — the largest of which came from the Miami-based John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Local organizations, such as the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven and the Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut, have also contributed to the Independent.

Currently, 75 percent of the Independent’s funding comes from foundations, with the other 25 percent coming from local readers, Bass said. Though the Independent has more than enough money to sustain itself for the next five years, Bass said, he would still like to change the Independent’s business model because foundations, such as the Knight Foundation, have told him that they contribute less money in the future.

In the next five years, he would like to see 75 percent come from readers and 25 percent from foundations.

Although Bass said he is confident the new business plan will help keep the online news website afloat, some readers interviewed Wednesday had mixed opinions about the strategy.

Bass said he hopes to increase donations by creating sponsorship levels, collectively called Independent Angels, for those who give between $250 and $1,000. He said he will also keep in place the request already online for $10 and $18-per-month subscriptions. But he said there are no perks for donors, other than knowing that you supported the Independent.

One alderman, Greg Morehead of Ward 22, said he did not believe readers would donate more.

“Moving forward, the Independent should continue doing what it’s doing rather than focus on donations,” he said. “It should stay with foundations. With any business, when you allow people to give you money and the economy is down, it’s iffy and you don’t know if you can sustain.”

Ward 1 Alderman Mike Jones ’11, on the other hand, said he believes that the new focus on local donations is an excellent idea and has heard good things about the Independent from his college constituents.

“If NPR is able to effectively receive donations, then so should the Independent,” he added.

Ward 7 Alderwoman Frances “Bitsie” Clark said she has been a $10-per-month subscriber since the Independent’s inception. Clark said she now feels guilty for not donating enough and believes that it would be nice for regular readers to donate at least a few dollars.

Clark added that the Independent has been “one of the best things that has happened to New Haven.” Readers actively engage on the website by debating issues using online comments they post beneath the articles, Bass said.

The Independent is produced in conjunction with the non-profit Online Journalism Project, which seeks to help journalists start hyperlocal news websites, according to the Independent website.

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