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New Castle NOW: Civic Catalysts as Drivers of Sustainability

NewCastleNOW.org emails news to 3,000 subscribers twice a week, on Fridays and again Mondays with weekend updates. Its website has attracted 60,000 unique visitors in the 10 months leading up to its third birthday in October 2010.

Its two high-energy co-founders, Susie Pender and Christine Yeres, write most of the site’s articles. As long-time activists they are steeped in community knowledge, acting as the sort of civic bumblebees that cross-pollinate a lot of community groups. As such, they typify one category of people who are launching and making a go of hyperlocal community news sites.

On average, they publish about 20 articles a week and more, 25, during the school year. About 120 others have contributed at times. Its archives held 3,450 articles as of this report.

New Castle NOW is one of the few New Voices sites that have hired a commissioned ad salesperson. To date, it’s brought in $90,000 in ad revenue from 73 advertisers. “We make money, but we don’t care about that though,” said editor Pender.

The site soon hopes to receive its 501(c)(3) nonprofit status. Then it will also need to begin raising money from its readers and Pender and Yeres plan to apply for grants as well.

The site’s central purpose is to report on the town’s two main governing boards, the town board and the school board, each with five elected officials.

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A screengrab of the article written about the
residential development meeting. The video is embedded in
the middle of the page.
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A screengrab of the Youtube page where the video is archived.

“We’ve built good working relationships with board members, although they remain the right amount of uncomfortable with us,” managing editor Yeres said. “It’s been interesting to watch them get used to us. It was really impossible, once we were up and running, to avoid dealing with us.”

Simmering have been two controversial issues: a high school schedule change prepared without public participation and a proposal to build a large residential development on the former Reader’s Digest property in town, which is opposed by many residents.

NCNOW’s coverage of the developer’s proposal “has decidedly evened the playing field,” Yeres said. The site on Aug. 13, 2010, covered a meeting between the two boards to discuss the proposal. It was billed as “a low-level conversation” between the two boards and it was assigned to a room too small to accommodate the 100 community members who wanted to attend.

NCNOW, knowing there was “huge interest,” brought a video camera, filmed the entire meeting and posted it on YouTube - “a first for us,” Yeres crowed.

Since then, readers, clearly moved by NCNOW’s coverage, weighed in both with thanks and 324 comments.

For its first two years, the site resisted an anonymous comments section after articles. It only allowed signed letters to the editor because the editors feared the sorts of nasty remarks that once populated a town comment board.

But after meeting and hearing the experiences of other New Voices grantees, they decided to give it a try. “So we raced home and set ourselves up for commentary,” Yeres said. “The comment section has been a huge success!”

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