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Citizen site operators are stepping up to the plate, accepting responsibility, aspiring to higher quality, and understanding that they may need to make some investments if they want to stick around.

“It took a year or so for us to realize we have a printing press and readers. Another part of this is realizing the rights and responsibilities of owning a major media site in our town,” ibrattleboro‘s Christopher Grotke said.

Northfield hired a managing editor, not only to wrangle content, but also “to meet our goals of being the place where the community talks to each other. We needed to get content from people who weren’t all in the mainstream. We needed someone to be responsible for that,” said Doug Bratland, chair of Northfield Citizens Online.

We asked our survey respondents: What would help them be sustainable? More marketing and promotion to ramp up visibility and attract additional readers and contributors. More money to pay editors or reporters and improve the quality and credibility of the content.  More hours in the day. Those were the things they cited most often.

Said one, “$40,000 of ad revenue per year would be great, and we plan to get there by 2013, our 10-year plan.” 

“Funding and a full-time staff” to build a more comprehensive site, said another. “Quality authors who can earn the readers’ trust,” and “a continued stream of quality contributions,” said two more. “A way to reward the contributors of the site in some way.”

Or just simply: “Advertising and another me.”

How long founding site operators can labor on their journalistic hobby of love will determine the long-term sustainability of most independent sites built with citizen-generated content. “If I stay in the neighborhood, it will be sustainable,” said one respondent.

image“A really long-term challenge will be what to do with when we’re too old and gray to do it. We understand there’s a certain uniqueness, and that our personalities contribute to some of [the site’s] success,” said ibrattleboro co-owners Grotke and Lise LePage.

We asked our survey respondents how long they would continue participating in their site: 81% skipped over 1, 2 and 3 to 4 years, and even bypassed “until resources run out.” They said they would stick with their sites “indefinitely.”

“There was a point a couple months after we launched that I realized we had built the site we set out to build,” said New West‘s Jonathan Weber. “Is it going to work in the grand scheme of things? I have daily anxiety about that question. On the one hand, I very much believe it’s going to work. ... But the way I think about it, it hasn’t worked until we can really show the level of business and level of traffic we expected. I’m not relaxing.”

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