What's next for BlueNC?

Ten years is like forever on the Internet, a place where fashion and function drive disruption a thousand times a day all around the world. Ten years. That's how long BlueNC has in the business of creating community, with our own special blend of information, opinion, outrage and commentary.

Ten years is also an opportune time to stop and reflect on where we've been and where to go from here. In the spirit of transparency and collaboration, I want to open that conversation to anyone who wants to join.

Background

BlueNC is a limited liability corporation with one primary asset, BlueNC.com, a website that holds a unique and strong position online. Our focus is 100% North Carolina, and we are one of the top state blogs in the country, with 5,000 to 6,000 visitors each week. Around elections, those numbers can swell to 15,000 or 20,000 visitors, as people look for guidance about candidates and issues.

Our cost structure is relatively low. Between hosting and technical support, we spend around $5,000 a year, with occasional bumps for design and functionality improvements.

BlueNC has no revenue. Though we have looked at advertising, contributions and subscriptions from time to time, the logistics involved are significant and have been judged "not worth the trouble" so far. That could certainly change.

In terms of operating model, BlueNC has evolved through a number of ownership and management structures. Today the site is mostly administered by Steve Harrison and me, with a number of others filling in when they can. We've been very happy to see folks like Posmo, Teddy, Vicky, Lynne & Rick, and Thomas stepping in to provide content and support. Thanks to them, and to you all, for your steady participation.

Why do anything different?

BlueNC could continue being exactly what it has been and survive for a good long while. That's certainly one option for the future, and in many ways it's the easiest. For me personally, that wouldn't be very satisfying. I think we have a unique opportunity to step up and contribute in new and more constructive ways, especially given the state of the two parties in North Carolina, and the growing number of unaffiliated voters. All of which raises the question at the top of this post: What's next for BlueNC?

In this early stage of thinking and planning, we're open to any possibility. Commercialization, partnering, expansion, selling out, giving up, blue sky, blank slate, whatever works. To jump start some thinking, here are ideas we've entertained off and on over the years:

  • Become a rogue subsidiary and/or forum for the NC Democratic party itself.
  • Partner formally with other sites to create a network that can coordinate messaging and campaigns.
  • Add in a cultural component for enlightened writing and art that goes beyond politics.
  • Redesign and upgrade the site to make it more appealing.
  • Develop a revenue model that allows hiring writers and contributors.
  • Create a space for candidates to spotlight their credentials and campaigns.
  • Go "Onion" and become a pure satire site.
  • Give the site to another entity who will put it to good use.
  • Sell the URL to Blue Cross and Blue Shield. We've been a pain in their butt for a long time and I'm sure they'd love to put us away.

What's driving this discussion?

Aside from our ten year anniversary, I am looking to step away from daily management responsibilities. I've tried several times over the years to give BlueNC away so others could carry it forward, but none of those attempts have produced a sustainable result. After having written nearly 4000 posts and tens of thousands of comments, I find myself flagging, at a time when exactly the opposite is needed. I'll be 64 years old in September.

If you have ideas or interest in helping find a path forward for BlueNC, please contact me or, better yet, join the discussion below.

Thanks.

Comments

I like the partnering idea,

and I've encouraged many folks in various organizations to take advantage of this platform. Some have, some haven't, and some who have engaged here in the past did so with much energy to begin with, only to drop off as time goes by. It's kind of like advertising, you know? Hard to quantify the results of exposure from this medium.

But there's another (unfortunate) factor in play, and that is the fear amongst many non-profits and citizens' groups to be "tarred with the same brush." And it's doubly so after the Blueprint fiasco. So they stake out their own niche and spend half their time worrying about doing something that will upset their donor base, when they should be taking every opportunity to collaborate.

Pretty sure Sun Tzu and Machiavelli had something to say about this approach, but I'll leave the Googling up to those who have pulled up the drawbridge.

Partnering

I think you've hit the nail on the head here. Leaders in non-profits, in particular, feel they have to walk a fine line that avoids rabble-rousing like the plague. In other words, they've been cowed into submission. Pope groups, on the other hand, operate without the slightest concern for having to defend their institutional reputation.

This is true for non-profits, as well as the Democratic party itself, which have been outmaneuvered and outgunned ... courtesy of Pope's millions.

The Moral Monday coalition is the one bright spot I see in terms of overall activism, organization, and an ability to keep up the drumbeat. That said, I can't recall any direct engagement at BlueNC from anyone in that coalition. I've tried to reach out several times to connect with them to offer support ... to no avail. I'm guessing they're pretty busy.

Be a rogue force

I view BlueNC as the NC version of Howard Dean's famous term -- the democratic wing of the Democratic party. Some organizational structure is doubtless required to maintain it and make decisions, but it's not an organization per se, nor should it be. I think it can function like Daily Kos (and, more or less, it does) as a wide open forum for debate within the progressive sphere and where candidates can vie for support from progressive readers. The main task of the organizers is to assure that the people allowed to post are constructive and responsible, not slanderers or trolls, and qualify as actual progressives.

I think NC Democrats would benefit from more contested primary elections, and BlueNC could encourage, even endorse, some of the primary challengers -- with the core organizing group making those calls. If James is stepping away, that group will need to expand by 3-5 to fill his shoes. And, of course, it will matter greatly who the 3-5 are. (I view Steve as already in.)

Partnering makes great sense. E.g., all the videos that all the trackers out there are shooting -- let's see them. But the problem Steve points to is real and is best addressed by intermediary contributors who pick up the work of progressive-minded groups, note it, comment on it and link to it.

Thanks for the comments and insight

We're clearly structured and operating similar to Daily Kos, and that model works pretty well. Plus there's a never-ending stream of news that can be shared and commented on, so we're never at a loss for fodder. The main risk is in missing the forest because of the trees.

One thing I'd like to do more of ... and see more of ... involves "connecting dots" among all the moving parts of our political landscape. It's easy to zero in and share individual snippets of news, but harder to see how those snippets are connected in a broader way. A good example is the ubiquitous presence of Duke Energy alumni now sprinkled throughout state and local governments, boards, commissions, etc. That's a big story, and we're seeing only the tip of the iceberg.

I like your notion of steering clear of being an "organization."

I've tried for years to engage others as content contributors, but everyone is busy doing their own thing. I understand that, and I'm also aware that I can cast a shadow (pall?) over others who may be interested in stepping in or stepping up.

If anyone wants to take over in leading this circuitous journey, I'm more than happy to sleep in the back seat.

:)

Partnering with some of the

Partnering with some of the other blogs around the state, and cross-posting comments from other blogs could help provide content. I have seen excellent posts elsewhere and thought about sharing them here.

It would be great to see more input here from progressives, and more from the Dem party. I don't know how you feel about posting info about events here, but that could be helpful. You may want to get a group together, in person, to discuss it and bounce ideas off each other.

Ah yes. Getting a group together.

Distressingly difficult for a certifiable hermit. Would you do it for me?

Pretty please?

Okay, Vicky!

You set it up and I'll pound on the wall every now and then, just to let you know I'm awake.

Seriously, though, I'd really appreciate some help in organizing a brainstorming session of unusual suspects. I've had a few "front pager" sessions in the past, but they haven't really generated a broad coalition of the willing, so to speak, who have been willing to stay plugged in.

Keep to the code

Ten years is amazing!

I think that BlueNC should continue to advance its core values and mission (question: are such things written down? I haven't been here very long and for some reason I can kind of discern what I think BlueNC is about).

Several of the ideas in James's list have merit. I, too, agree that some sort of partnership with kindred entities is worth pursuing and might make everyone stronger.

Expanding scope or adding new flavors might make sense, but only if it doesn't dilute the main content and mission. Publishing NC's own Onion might make sense, but I don't think it should be the focus. Revamping the site to improve the way information is generated and consumed could make sense.

I think what I'm saying is to keep on doing what BlueNC is doing. Changing with the times is necessary, but changing the core values and mission shouldn't be part of that. There might be new and improved ways of doing so, and complementary additions to doing so, but I think the focus is where it should be.

Keep to the code! (more like guidelines, really :-)

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"I will have a priority on building relationships with the minority caucus. I want to put substance behind those campaign speeches." -- Thom Tillis, Nov. 5, 2014

Thanks Posmo

I'll take that as an affirmation that we're doing a few things that are worthwhile.

Monetize it

I'm probably in the minority here, but I think you should monetize the site.

BlueNC does two things really well. There's a core group of bloggers who post opinions on progressive politics, but much of what goes on is highlighting the news stories, op-eds and blogs from outlets around the state.

While NC does have some great work going on in isolated blogs or with some reporters around the state, there's no site that acts like an aggregator to bring all this material together and place it in a larger context. BlueNC, with it's core bloggers, already does this to a certain extent, but not in an organized way.

News aggregation was the idea behind Huffington Post until it turned into "Your Morning Sideboob" and the Kim Kardashian update of the date. Of course, with monitizing the site, there's a danger of turning into an outlet for fluff. However, I think it could be done by focusing on core progressive and liberal values in the content.

To really take BlueNC to a next step like this would require an overall editor to manage a "front page" that highlights the most important stories going on right now and a group of part-time "sub-editors" that work different "beats". There's a newspaper in just about every county in the state, local indies, blogs, and speciality newspapers and blogs for the Latino, African-American and LGBT communities or college students. Drawing out stories from these outlets right now can be "hit or miss", but having some part-time editors that concentrate on blogs and publications from a particular geographic area or minority interest could help BlueNC be more of a destination point for the important things happening around the state.

To make it work, the site would need a more customized design that has a front page and sections that make room for individual blogs by BlueNC users and highlights of stories from newspapers and other blog sites. It could also allow for "one shot" blog entries or "op-eds" by some key liberal and progressive thinkers around NC.

Lest you think BlueNC's work would be done when the Republicans fall and get kicked out of office, I'm sure there would be plenty of fodder reminding Democrats of their liberal and progressive roots.

Good and interesting thinking

Many people have asked why we're not pursing a revenue model. The answer is mostly: it adds a layer of administrivia and management that I haven't been willing to deal with.

With a more refined business model (and some help), I could easily see us making the shift to revenue. I get inquiries every few weeks from people who want to know if they can advertise on BlueNC.

Would you be willing to meet with a group of people who might want to pursue this idea?

Hey old fart

'sup?



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Vote Democratic, the ass you save may be your own.

Taking ads was easy in the old days

We were part of the progressive ad group (I can't for the life of me remember the name of it) and we didn't have to actively pursue advertising if we didn't want to. Money didn't pour in, but there were a couple of years where it at least paid the bills.

The site needs a redesign with a responsive theme. You can keep the same headers and colors. You don't have to have a complete redesign. I told you a long time ago I would always do that for free, so you just need to say when. There is a lot that can be automated, but I haven't looked under the hood in a long time to see what we need to do.

I think it would be fun to record some podcasts and schedule Google hangouts - maybe you and Jane could host virtual political salons.



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Vote Democratic, the ass you save may be your own.

If we seriously want to get

If we seriously want to get together, we can meet at my house in Carrboro, or anyplace people think is convenient.

Carrboro is cool

It's not too far for those of us who live in the Triad. Besides, it will give me an excuse to stop by A Southern Season and pick up some Snickerdandy coffee beans. ;)

Weekends work best for me

Maybe we should ask Americans for Prosperity what time would be convenient for them. They love to post on our Twitter so much!

Yeah, weekends are better

Not everybody has the flexibility to get together on weekdays. Except maybe at night, but that makes me tired just thinking about it. And I would choose a Saturday over a Sunday, because Sundays are depressingly tainted by their close association with Mondays.