A Q&A with LION member Albert Stumm, publisher of the Passyunk Post in Philadelphia.
1. When did your site launch, what geography does it cover and why was it founded?
July 2012. South Philadelphia, technically everything south of South Street between the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers.
I started it after I couldn't find Oladybug anymore. That was the name of a poster on a neighborhood forum who would post pictures of storefronts where new businesses were opening on Passyunk Ave, the main drag in my part of South Philly. She disappeared for a few months, and I was checking the site at least once a day to see if she would return. Then it clicked that there must be more people like me, so I started the Passyunk Post as a hobby, a couple posts a week. Before I knew it, it was a post a day, so I started the social media pages. Then three a day, and again before I knew it, I had partnered with a company out of New York that will remain nameless to sell ads and redesign the site. That partnership did not work out as planned, and I had to pay to re-redesign the site when the relationship ended. The silver lining is that within 6 months I had what looked like a professional website with little investment, and I started to know what the market would bear in terms of ad pricing, sales strategy and other payoffs for the stress.
2. What was your background before becoming an independent local news publisher?
I was, and still am, a news editor. I was an assistant city editor at the Philadelphia Daily News, and because of staff layoffs, I was moved to nights in early 2012. That gave me time to work on the site during the day, but it ended up that I was working like 80 hours a week. About a year ago, I got a new job at the Associated Press as a desk editor for the East Region (10 states, Ohio to New Jersey, up to Maine) that put me back on a daytime schedule. So I hired a part-time editor who stayed with me for three months, then another who has been with me almost a year.
3. How would you describe your operation and business model?
Fly by the seat of my pants? Ensure a mixture of different types of stories from different parts of the neighborhood. Try to work ahead. And I don't do reviews, because I don't want to be the one to shit all over someone else's dream. I let the stories speak for themselves, and commenters can say whatever they want.
4. What do you consider your competition as a local news or information source?
The South Philly Review, a weekly, is the only outlet that covers the same specific area. It is sort of competition, but it's kind of a different animal. Mostly, there are food and development blogs that write about the same topic, but they're focused on the whole city.
5. What makes your site unique?
It's unique in that the focus is mostly on lighter issues: news, development, restaurants, retail, events, city living issues, etc. But I try to break news in those areas, and I keep people relatively up to date on other news issues. But since I have no libel insurance, I tend to stay away from controversial issues.
6. What is something you wish you had known when you were starting out or would do differently now that could perhaps serve as advice for others?
Try 100 things, and 10 might stick. Don't worry about being perfect right out of the gate. Focus on community engagement as much as time allows. And hire an ad person, though I am now finally working on taking that last piece of advice for myself.
7. What about your operation is your biggest source of pride right now?
I recently surpassed 500,000 unique visitors in the three years I've been doing this, and there are only 160,000 people living in the coverage area. Also, that it has lasted this long.
8. What do you struggle with the most?
Time. Flagging level of dedication at times since I have another full-time job
9. What are some of your future goals for the site?
Make it sustainable enough that it can last longer than my involvement with it. It's a great resource, and I really hope it doesn't die with me.
10. Why are you a member of LION Publishers?
The Facebook group is very helpful. And there are a lot of good people out there doing great things, more than I realized.
Adding more staff isn’t the only way to lessen your workload
Four insights we took away from analyzing 100 Sustainability Audits from independent news businesses.
Meet LION’s Fall 2023 Community Ambassadors
These independent news leaders will connect with other independent publishers across the U.S.
Introducing LION’s Stages of Sustainability
Our data-informed maturity model maps the growth path of independent news businesses.