If you’ve been looking for a profitable model for a hyper-local website, visit www.seefreenews.com, an online news source that serves Freeport and Cedarville, two communities with a total population of fewer than 30,000 located in northeastern Illinois - USA.
Website owner/operator is Freeport native Keith Bardell who wrote the business plan for his website as a college student at Highland Community College, also located in Freeport.
"We’ve been profitable since day one," Bardell said of the website he started in September 2008. "But there’s not a lot of profit. I still have my full-time job."
The profits have come from ad sales averaging around $25 per month for what he calls a business card ad.
Bardell explained how he sold the ads: "I went door-to-door to businesses, told them what I was going to do and asked them to advertise. I guess I’m more of a marketer than a journalist."
He solicits news items from citizen journalists in a variety of categories. His website also publishes columns by politicians and professional people.
Recently Bardell and his website were featured by the local CBS outlet in Rockford, giving him some much needed visibility. His photojournalism so impressed the management that they now use him as a news source for Stephenson County.
In July of 2010, he scooped the other news outlets when he was the only photojournalist present when a flood hit the area. The flooding damaged homes and businesses that had never been flooded before.
"It was very unexpected and the water rose rapidly. I got lucky," Bardell said. "I went out in the morning, intending to go to a picnic out of town, but already most roads had been closed. I went back home to get my video camera and went around town to get pictures and video."
The local newspaper’s photographer was out of town, so Bardell shot some of the only video and photos of the early stages of the flooding.
"That is what put me on the map, and it gave me a lot of local attention."
Bardell does a lot of original video and posts his work on his website, as well as his YouTube channel. A unique feature of his videos is that he writes his own music to accompany the stories. Watch a few of his videos. I think you’ll be impressed.
Though not a professional webmaster, Bardell did all the original web design but hopes to have a more professionally looking website soon.
He is positive about the future of his project.
"I expect this year to be very good," he said with great confidence.
I’m pulling for Bardell, a brave entrepreneurial journalist who has found a way to eek out a profit from a hyper-local news website.