Chad Blair: Aloha everybody and welcome to another installment of the Pod Squad, Chad Blair here with Honolulu Civil Beat.
Guys, I have been working here at Honolulu Civil Beat for over six years, going into my seventh year, and amazingly a very big transformation has happened — a transition from a subscription-based model to a nonprofit status. Joining me to talk about that is none other than my two bosses, Patti Epler our editor-in-chief.
Patti Epler: Hi Chad. Am I suppose to say, “Hi Chad”?
Blair: You have to. You can’t nod on Pod Squad world because no one hears the nods.
And Bob Ortega, the managing editor for Civil Beat.
Bob Ortega: Hi.
Blair: So guys, tell us what promoted this very significant change? And by the way we’re no longer a civilbeat.com, we are www.civilbeat.org. Patti, why did we decide to take this big step?
Epler: Well Chad, we decided to take this big step because after six years, as you well know being here that whole time, we’ve kind of evolved into a media entity that isn’t really like the other media outlets in town. We sort of feel that our place in the media landscape is to do more mission-based, more impact-related journalism, to try to do things that no one else is doing, so it just made sense that we become a nonprofit and act more like a mission-based outfit.
The other thing is we really want to reach as many people as possible, and to do that we need to take that pesky paywall down. So as of now, Civil Beat is free. You don’t need any sort of subscription or any sort of sign-in to access every story, past, present and future, on our site.
Blair: That’s very exciting. As a contributor, it’s great to know that many more people can read our content. It’s very exciting.
Bob, this has been in the works for some time now right?
Ortega: Yeah, it’s something that we’ve been talking about for a while. In part, this is a recognition of the way that we’ve always operated really. We’ve never run advertisements on our websites. We haven’t done many of the things that you would expect a for-profit entity to do and in recognition of the fact that we really are essentially operating in many ways as a nonprofit, we decided to make that leap.
Blair: Now what’s going to be different? For the folks that have already checked out the website, they have probably noticed a few changes, but could we highlight maybe one or two visually when you encounter the site, what should we be looking for?
Ortega: So there is now a membership invitation where we used to invite subscriptions. Our former subscribers will become founding members of our organization and we hope that they will continue with us. Part of the idea behind doing this is that we want to reach out as broadly as we can into the community and request the support of people in the community.
Blair: Now, we’re also going to be asking for donations as well. Is that correct?
Epler: That is true. We do believe that the strength of nonprofits really flow from broad community support, and while we still have Pierre Omidyar, our founder, I think it’s really a good time for other people in the community to pitch in as well.
Blair: Well this is just amazing. When we first started, because I’m the only guy along with Pierre who’s still around. Pierre is not in the office as often but he’s certainly very much part of Civil Beat. He is busy with First Look and The Intercept and so many other things. But back in 2010, we didn’t have a marketing plan. But we are actually going to try and push this thing out. We in fact are already getting the word out about the change. How are we doing that?
Epler: So we have a new marketing push that people will see in various places. We have some TV ads running, we have some print ads running, online ads of course, that sort of tell people in the community more about Civil Beat and who we are. But you’re right Chad. It’s the first time in six years we’ve actually promoted ourselves out in the community.
Blair: I don’t know what they were thinking back then. I just sat there because a lot smarter people around me know what they’re doing, but I had a feeling that unless you got the word out, things weren’t going to catch on. Although we very quickly — I’ll just say a little humble brag here — we very quickly became part of the media landscape here in Honolulu, and it remains so. By becoming a nonprofit, Bob, does that indicate to you that we’re going to be around for a lot longer?
Ortega: Oh no question. That was always going to be the case that we were going to be around, but I think this really helps strengthens us by reaching out more broadly into the community. And I think that that’s also part of the marketing effort. We have a very distinct role here, and up to this point, what we’ve seen is that a very large number of movers and shakers, people who are involved politically, people who are involved economically in what’s happening here, know about us and read us. But there are also a lot of people who are not as familiar as they could be with what we do. So that’s part of the idea behind our marketing outreach — to reach those people who aren’t yet really very familiar with what it is that we do and why it might be of interest to them.
Blair: You know, when we first started, the reporters would have to call folks for their stories and take questions like, “Yes, Civil Beat, that’s civil like in civilization and beat like the beat goes on.” We’d have to explain this.
“What is Civil Beat?”
“Well, Pierre Omidyar, the founder of eBay … ” We had to go through this spiel.
I knew when we finally became welcome when people said, “Oh Civil Beat!” And they knew who we were. It took us a little while, but now not too many people express disbelief as to who we might be or what we’re doing.
Patti, will the content change in any way?
Epler: Not really, Chad. We’ll still be doing the same kind of investigative and explanatory stories that we’ve always done. In fact one thing we should point out is that we did have a market survey done. The results were really great for us because that it shows that the people who know about Civil Beat really love Civil Beat, and they like the kind of almost alternative type of approach that we take to the news here. We don’t do a lot of press release journalism or “this study has just come out.” We do try to do the deeper dives into the story behind the story, what’s really going on here, and people seem to really appreciate that. So we want to keep doing that and we think that this move to the nonprofit will really help us in that regard.
Ortega: It will make it possible for us to continue doing the kind of analytical and investigative work that has really come to define what Civil Beat is all about.
Blair: Wow that’s great.
Any final words we should share with our listeners and readers of Civil Beat about where we’re going with this new direction?
Epler: I just think that time has come and we’ve really demonstrated that Civil Beat is a critical part of the media landscape here. We’re cited in legislation. We’re talked about at community forums. We’re quoted all over national media. I think this is just a good step on our evolution.
Blair: You’re still going to keep me on staff, is that right Patti?
Epler: Yes, but you’re going to be the obit writer, Chad.
Blair: I’d be happy to do that. I’m sure it will be a perpetual job.
Visit us at www.civilbeat.org (not .com) and follow us on Twitter and Facebook. Thank you for tuning in to the Pod Squad. As always, Chad Blair with Honolulu Civil Beat. Take care and aloha.
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