LION member spotlight: Universal Hub
The publisher of an independent news site that's not just "in Boston," but "of Boston," talks about standing out in
A Q&A with Adam Gaffin, publisher of LION member Universal Hub in Boston.
1. When did your site launch, what geography does it cover and why was it founded?
As a hobby, 2005, more or less (I'd been doing something similar under a different name before that). I started doing it fulltime in 2009 (getting laid off will do that to you). I concentrate on the city of Boston, with occasional forays into the inner suburbs (basically, the area inside Route 128). I originally started out just doing a roundup of what local bloggers were talking about – Boston has a lot of great writers and at the time many of them were blogging.
2. What was your background before becoming an independent local news publisher?
Reporter and editor at a daily paper (what's now the MetroWest Daily News in Framingham, Mass.) and a high-tech trade publication (Network World).
3. How would you describe your operation and business model?
Although I try to cover big local stories, I tend to focus on smaller things that MSM wouldn't cover, but which are important to particular groups of folks – things such as parents in one neighborhood fighting to get a decent playground, bloody brawls at local bars, particularly gross restaurant health inspections, live reports from dead trains on the local subway system and the like. Also, I love quirky stuff and odd local history (like why are there so many caduceuses and Assyrian symbols on downtown buildings?).
But even aside from the original reporting, there's just a ton of crowdsourced news – because there are so many folks out there willing to share news and photos with me via social media. News has become a conversation rather than one-to-many, and I'm just constantly amazed by the amount of news and tips I get. Almost all of my coverage of our (record-setting, woot, Title Town!) snowpocalypse came via reports and photos folks sent in via Twitter, Facebook and e-mail – from constant updates on the most ludicrous space savers and angry notes about space savers to reports on the latest horrid conditions at the local commuter-rail stations. One cool thing: If somebody sees something and wants an explanation and I have no clue, I'll tweet their query, and in many cases, somebody else will have the answer.
The main business model is, well, selling ads – I'm a one-person shop so it's not like I have a high overhead to support – although I've also done consulting in the software I use and am seeing some revenue from reader donations.
4. What do you consider your competition as a local news or information source?
The two daily newspapers and the local network affiliates. Boston is blessed with a relatively healthy media market – even with all the cutbacks over the past decade, it seems like you can still stay reasonably well informed here, so my challenge is to find stuff that even here, isn't getting covered. All of them have also gotten very good at using social media, which I used to have as more of my preserve.
5. What makes your site unique?
One thing is attitude – the site is not just in Boston, but of it – an outsider won't get all the references or even understand why I'm running some seemingly lame post or headline, but hopefully locals know it's the place to get the news they need – even if sometimes I still get the boundaries between neighborhoods wrong (a never ending struggle here).
Plus the emphasis on crowdsourcing news.
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?
If the idea of making lots of phone calls or in-person visits to try to sell ads and getting rejected at almost all of them doesn't sound appealing, you need to find somebody who relishes that challenge!
7. What about your operation is your biggest source of pride right now?
Having gotten to the point where I can tell people something they didn't know.
8. What do you struggle with the most?
9. What are some of your future goals for the site?
Figuring out revenue well enough to add a reporter. More immediately: I have an intern who is fluent in Spanish starting in May – I'm really looking forward to having her cover the city's growing Hispanic community, which is something I just haven't had the time to do.
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