Real Estate

Ask Me Anything

The response to my post about winding down the site has been beyond anything I could’ve imagined. It made me cry.

Various questions have come up, and rather than answer them individually, I figured I’d tackle them in a post. If there’s something you’d like to ask—about the site, the neighborhood, me—I’ll be as forthcoming as possible. You can email me at tribecacitizen@gmail.com.

WHY? —P.
Nine-and-a-half years is a long time to do anything—and it’s far longer than I’ve been at any other job. I’ve loved working on Tribeca Citizen, but I’m also tired of the website itself, tired of writing about the same things over and over, tired of monitoring a slow decline in interestingness in the neighborhood. (What a neighborhood gains in quality of life, it loses in spice.) I crave novelty more than most people, and it’s in short supply when you spend all day focusing on a small geographical area. I must know every crack in the sidewalk by now…. Also, I’ve grown weary of New York City. I have adored living here, and I once thought I’d never leave. But now the city seems to take more than it gives. I’ve wanted to spend more time outdoors, to sleep better, to not be the kind of person who yells at drivers who honk their horns….

Where in California are you moving to? —K.
Santa Barbara, which is about 90 minutes north of L.A. In my opinion, it’s the best of California, with temperate weather and abundant opportunities to be outside. And it never got ruined. I grew up in Orange County, so I can say that. (Please don’t being up the fires and mudslides. I’m well aware of them.)

Are you moving to California because your husband has work there? —J.
No. In fact, Adam will be spending time both here and in Santa Barbara, and I’ll be back often to visit. We’re not planning on selling our apartment anytime soon, as I told the two real-estate brokers who offered their services.

What’s next and how can I help support your next adventure? —P.
I honestly don’t know, which is exciting and, increasingly, terrifying. I doubt I’ll be getting involved in hyperlocal media out there, but I’ve been wrong before. My skills seem to be in communication and community-building; I have no idea what that translates to in the real world. I do know that I’d love to spend less time looking at a screen.

How much are you thinking of selling the website for? —K.
I’m delighted to say that there has been a lot of interest in taking over the site—much more than last time. But there’s no price, per se. I’ll sell it for whatever I can get, unless that’s so small an amount that there’s more dignity in just walking away. If you’re interested in learning more about buying the site, email me.

I rarely see hyperlocal news like this so I’m just curious, what does this look like behind the scenes? What’s it like running Tribeca Citizen day to day? How many people does it take? How does it financially sustain itself? —L.
What does it look like behind the scenes? Me sitting at a desk, staring at a computer (with a pug in my lap, for the first seven years).

Tribeca Citizen is a one-man band. I work on the site all the time, but it’s more scattershot than sitting at my desk for hours on end. And there’s great flexibility: I’ve done the site from all over the world, going away fairly often for as long as two weeks.

That said, on the editorial side, there’s reporting, writing, photographing, and the fussy work of actually posting (including on social media). Information comes from all over—I find out stuff by walking around; businesses sending in info; readers submitting tips and photos (which has been amazingly helpful); keeping a running search on “Tribeca” on Twitter; and watching other media sources. Together, we know more than any of us can know alone, but someone has to sift through and synthesize all that knowledge.

The site sustains itself through advertising. On the business side, there’s dealing with advertisers: explaining digital advertising, invoicing, and so on. (When it comes to selling ads, I’m probably the least aggressive salesperson on earth. Collecting on invoices, however, is another matter entirely.) Occasionally, I design an ad for someone. As I’ve said before, TC has grown into a legitimate business, but it doesn’t make live-in-Tribeca money. (I have my husband to thank for that.) I do think someone could build it into a much more lucrative endeavor.

I do very little that’s technological. The site is on WordPress, which has worked fine, more or less, over the years, with massive amounts of help from a friend, Steve Santurri, without whom I would’ve given up long ago.

I would love to hear your thoughts on the business of local journalism and why TC didn’t expand. —M.
Initially, TC was my jobby—the time commitment of a job, the income of a hobby—and I did other things alongside it. Then I realized that if it was going to work, I’d have to really dig in. Sure enough, the business grew. But Adam and I had planned on moving away, so there didn’t seem like much of a point in trying to expand to other neighborhoods. Adam’s role at his company changed, and we committed to staying for five more years. TC kept making more money, and the time flew by.

Three years ago, I floated out the idea of branching out to another neighborhood—FiDi and Chelsea are extremely ripe—but I couldn’t find the right person to do it. Taking it on myself was out of the question, because keeping watch over one area (especially broadly defined as Soho, Tribeca, Battery Park City, and FiDi) is hard enough. Hyperlocal journalism requires one reporter per neighborhood, and ideally, he/she would live there. (I always thought TC felt different from DNAinfo and Patch because I’m clearly a Tribecan.) The fancier the neighborhood, the harder a local reporter is to find—and fancy neighborhoods are far more attractive to advertisers. Even if you can find that reporter, someone has to manage him/her. If you knew you could find someone good, and he/she would stay for five years, then maybe…. But every time a reporter leaves, the institutional knowledge goes, too.

I suspect that hyperlocal journalism wants to be small-scale, at least if it’s going to be good. There are two main benefits of ganging a bunch of sites into one company: One is to combine back-office stuff—but when you’re small, you don’t have much of that. The second is to be able to appeal to national brands, which are taking over the area and generally overlook small media outlets. (For instance, only one store at the World Trade Center mall has ever advertised here.) Ultimately, I couldn’t justify the hassle. My main regret isn’t that I didn’t expand to another neighborhood but that I didn’t build the site out in more lucrative ways.

Will there be an archival site? —L.
If no one buys the site, I’ll leave it up for at least six months, maybe a year. Because the annual cost of hosting is $1,500, I can’t leave it up longer than that. And, to be honest, I have no interest in troubleshooting the site forever. (The damn thing just breaks sometimes.) Also, I’ll turn off comments for the entire site when they slow to a trickle—or I get tired of moderating them. So let’s hope someone buys TC!

Will the T-shirts go on sale? —T.
No. There’s no box full of T-shirts somewhere that I need to get rid of. A company called Spreadshirt prints each one on demand. I make around $5 per shirt, and twice a year, I receive a payment of $20 or so—and it tickles me beyond belief. I’m not prepared to give that up by lowering the price to $20.

Does this mean you can finally admit that Jim Smithers is your alter ego? —N.
I see how it’s tempting to think of Smithers as my id, saying what I really think. While I admire his vicious sense of humor, I don’t share all of his opinions, and I would never feel comfortable being that mean, even anonymously. Because there’s no way I know to prove I’m not him, short of Smithers coming forward, all I can do is swear on my beloved pug’s grave that I’m not.
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