Tim Regan was searching through public documents on the District’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration’s website for an interesting story. Every now and then, between mundane applications for liquor-license renewals and endless noise complaints, he would stumble upon a story he knew loyal Borderstan readers would relish.
During the story hunt in June, Regan struck what could only be considered local news gold. He determined that a popular Adams Morgan bar, Madam’s Organ, was fined $500 after a band’s drummer briefly cracked opened a window to air out a fetid fart. Regan, 29, wrote the story, attracting thousands of readers to Borderstan, and publications across the country wrote their own stories on the flatulence mishap.
As co-editor of the neighborhood news website, Regan sat through long-winded neighborhood and zoning meetings each week, sifted through insomnia-curing local records and walked the city’s streets looking for store closings and other news tidbits. Despite its successes, Borderstan’s publisher announced that the site wasn’t financially viable and shuttered it Dec. 23, leaving a neighborhood-level news void in some of the city’s fastest-growing areas.
“Local advertisers didn’t really flock to the site like readers did,” Regan said. “Our readership is growing, but everything costs money, and that includes running a local news website.”
The latest iteration of Borderstan launched in June 2015, when Arlington-based Local News Now purchased the then-defunct neighborhood news website of the same name, which had started in 2008 and gained a local following. Local News Now also is the owner of ARLnow.com and Reston
Now.com, which operate in Virginia, but had hoped to branch into the District.
In October 2014, Scott Brodbeck, the founder of Local News Now, launched HillNow.com to cover the Capitol Hill neighborhood. When that site closed in July 2016, Regan and Borderstan co-editor Andrew Ramonas — who had both also worked at HillNow — moved full time to Borderstan.
Borderstan covered Adams Morgan, Columbia Heights, U Street NW, Logan Circle, Dupont Circle, NoMa and H Street NE — hip neighborhoods filled with new, young and deep-pocketed residents. In July, the site attracted 80,000 unique visitors, setting a traffic record. “Even though we are closing down, it’s not a failure of journalism,” Brodbeck said. “We can’t stay in a place where we are losing business.”
Borderstan’s struggles have mirrored the media landscape in recent years. In 2015, the American Society of News Editors reported that newsroom jobs had declined 10.4 percent from 2013 to 2014, dropping to 32,900 full-time journalists at nearly 1,400 daily newspapers.
Borderstan’s two reporters, who were part of a digital media company with no print component, wouldn’t be included in the count, but it illustrates a tough news market in which media organizations are struggling to make money from content available free online.
Borderstan also faced other competition in what Brodbeck described as a crowded local market. DCist, owned by the Gothamist media company, and PoPville, which covers neighborhoods across the city, also tailor to a local audience, as do a handful of local blogs. Brodbeck said this competition, as well as bigger players like The Washington Post, in the District contributed to the lackluster advertising support.
“There are going to be two fewer local news reporters in D.C. with this closure, and that’s disappointing,” Brodbeck said.
By contrast, he said, ARLnow and RestonNow face less competition in the Virginia suburbs and are financially viable, although Brodbeck wouldn’t release specific numbers. He said he plans to put more resources toward those two sites, expanding their use of multimedia and video.
When Borderstan posted an article announcing its closure, readers were quick to lament the loss.
“It was good while it lasted — thanks for all the neighborhood news I’ve come to rely upon over the last year,” one reader wrote in the website’s comment section. “Very sad. One of my most visited sites. You will be missed!” said another.
After the closure, Regan has moved to ARLnow while Ramonas will cover securities regulation at Bloomberg BNA. Regan said his readers are likely to miss the site’s coverage of business openings and closings and the reporters’ ability to find quirky stories by walking the streets of D.C.
“We always just tried to go deeper than what we found in the surface,” he said.