warning KDMC resources are archived here. We are no longer updating this site.


Baltimore Fishbowl: Newspaper, not

by: Julia Scott |

Tearing away the boundaries of her newspaper mentality - all that’s fit to print - enables Susan Dunn to create engaging content that mattered to readers on Baltimore Fishbowl. 

Tidbits on where regular folks eat lunch? Yes. Looky loo real estate porn? Absolutely. Creative non-fiction? No joke - the most popular content on the site.

Dunn’s Baltimore Fishbowl doesn’t make much money, but with readers, “it kills.”

The site gets 25,000 unique monthly visitors and more than 60,000 page views in a month.

Ad sales - $300 for a month-long display ad on the homepage - don’t yet cover expenses. Dunn, 49, knows she needs three times her current roster of advertisers to be profitable. Hiring a full time ad sales rep is a priority. Rarely do ad sales “just happen,” Dunn said. “Someone has to make a concerted effort.”

But her business plan gives the site plenty of time to grow - three years to be exact - before the investment money runs out.

Baltimore Fishbowl is Dunn’s second entrepreneurial jaunt. She bounced between writing gigs, a cancer scare, and motherhood before pitching her idea to a friend at a Baltimore Ravens game in 2009. The friend, who Dunn insisted remain anonymous, became her only investor.

A year and a half later, in May 2011, she launched the culture-focused online magazine.

Her first mistake?

“I really wanted to honor the writer,” Dunn said. “I paid them way too much.”  Rates ranged from 35 cents to as much as 50 cents per word, while newspapers paid 10 cents. “I wanted quality. I still want that. But you need to last. You need to be judicious about how you spend your dollars.”

Now Dunn is the only full timer, with a handful of contributors and columnists.

The site is updated 12 to 15 times a day, a reflection of Dunn’s philosophy: “The more content you have, the more traffic you have.”

She pays $20-$25 a post for freelancers while core team members earn $850-$1,200 per month. Her expenses add up to a few thousand a month.

Dunn bristles at the suggestion that press releases do not belong on a news site. Releases are cheap (Dunn edits them herself) and are quick to post.  And besides, she gave up on trying to be an online version of a newspaper long ago.

“I really do not think like a newspaper,” Dunn said.” We do not think there is anything too precious to print. I really don’t feel guilty or try to measure up to what a newspaper does.”

The upside to Dunn’s broad definition of what belongs on the site is that she can more actively engage her readers. The site is a place to have a conversation with her Baltimore community. She trashed the typical newspaper approach - that the writers and editors fill a superior role of “knower of all.”

Other lessons Dunn passed on:

* Social media works more than you think. Require writers to “push out” their stories through Facebook and Twitter. For your own stories, set aside an hour a week to email links to online publishers who might be interested in linking back.

*Use tools (such as Google Analytics) to analyze where your traffic is coming from and what stories are popular with readers. What topics get clicks time and time again? What time of day do readers go online? How long do they stay on your site?

*Commit to writing a lot or to hiring other writers. Relying on free content from volunteers gets old fast. A minimum of 10 posts a day is essential, Dunn has found. She also publishes everyday to build a consistent track record with readers.

*Don’t spend a lot of money building a custom website. Dunn hired a local firm to build a Drupal-based site but the project became so complicated that she switched to WordPress, which has many tools and software available.

Julia Scott founded the money-saving blog, BargainBabe.com. Scott and Dunn are alumni of KDMC’s News Entrepreneur Boot camp, Scott in 2009 and Dunn in 2011.

The News Leadership 3.0 blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Julia Scott

Julia Scott is the founder of BargainBabe.com. The site helps people save money on everyday expenses like groceries, gasoline, and
Read More

Newspapers under siege as 65 percent of digital ads go to tech companies

By Nancy Yoshihara
6/14/2016 | 10:00 pm GMT

Newspaper revenues and circulation, print and digital combined, continued to decline in 2015 while both cable and network TV enjoyed...

The Diversity Style Guide: Important resource updated and expanded

By Nancy Yoshihara
6/5/2016 | 10:00 pm GMT

Anyone who dismisses or ignores this guide should not be working in journalism. The updated Diversity Style Guide is one...