Streetwise Media’s Chase Garbarino on why big cities mean lucrative journalism

Chase Streetwise MediaEven as traditional media outlets struggle to monetize digital content, a few upstarts seem to have found their sweet spot. Take Streetwise Media, which produces city news sites BostInno in Boston, InTheCapital in D.C. and the soon-to-launch NYC site InTheEmpire. The company itself launched back in 2008 and has already caught the attention of media moguls and venture capitalist investors. In June 2011, Bostinno (then BostInnovation) closed a $1.3 million seed funding round, and last November, American City Business Journals (ACBJ) acquired Streetwise for an undisclosed amount.

Instead of selling ads like many digital media companies, Streetwise Media hosts events, offers a job board and publishes content from “channel partners” like IBM, Microsoft NERD and the Young Entrepreneur Council. According to an ACBJ press release, Streetwise sites collectively attracted more than 2.6 million unique visitors and more than 9 million page views in the month leading up to the announcement.

Its sites include lifestyle-y slide shows, videos, coverage of local politics, tech startups and more. On a typical morning—well, yesterday—the Bostinno homepage featured a mix of the highbrow—articles on wiretap laws in Massachusetts and Boston cab drivers lying about a broken credit card machine—and the lowbrow, including a video of brawl inside a Boston parking garage.

Ebyline recently caught up with Chase Garbarino (pictured above), Streetwise’s co-founder and CEO who started creating publications while in college not that long ago, to discuss his strategy. What follows are excerpts of that conversation edited for clarity and brevity.

Do you consider your sites to be part of the hyperlocal journalism movement or is this a different type of news site?

We like to think that we’re trying to win in local digital journalism in a very different way. Instead of small towns, we focus primarily on large cities and our reader demographic is 21- to 39-year-olds. I don’t think a lot of hyperlocal sites cater to that younger demo, so that’s really where we see our focus.

You’re originally based in Boston, so you know that market well. How do you scale up for new cities?

The challenge is getting the right people. We are very much a human capital-oriented business. There are certain sites that have tried to take people out of the equation as much as possible with low quality, low pay [content], and churn out as much as they can. When we hire full time, we think it’s important to get people that are natives to the city. Being a part of the community, having real relationships with people on the ground is critical for good local journalism.

Have you been following the scandal with The Atlantic publishing an advertorial about Scientology? Channel partners are a big part of your business model, so what do you think is the takeaway?

We have been following that. Everyone that hosts sponsored content posts something along those lines…a company boasting about why they think they’re good. In this case, it just happened to be a religious group, which I think changed everyone’s perspective.

We work very hard at talking to our channel partners, telling them the audience is smart and they don’t want to read an advertisement. They want to develop a relationship with you and have someone talk in an authentic way. If you want to get any value out of your content, you need to provide the audience with value, which is not necessarily selling yourself. We work very hard at providing our own content guidelines and standards to partners that we work with. With what happened in the Atlantic, clearly there was some point in the chain where, I guess, their team dropped the ball. I think that’s not the first time or last time we will see something like that happen.

You’ve described your content as data-driven journalism because you’re measuring everything: post lengths, headlines, frequency, time of day. How do you balance those analytics with the personality and authenticity of your writers as well as the qualities of good journalism?

I think we have very different philosophies about journalism in the eyes of traditional media. Where we’re similar is the truth and accuracy and covering what we think are important issues. Where we differ is that with our positioning in the marketplace, we want to be incredibly in tune with what our audience is telling us they like, don’t like, formats that they want, topics that they want more coverage on.

We don’t think we’re the guardians of the keys to the kingdom of what information you should think is important or not, and that’s what drives all of our practices and analytics. If certain headlines work better than others in terms of getting our messages to our audience, we are going to be very in tune to that. If our audience wants information in longer forms or shorter forms, we are going to give them that. We’re certainly not the only people that employ some of these practices. It’s a new way to think of media product development that I think a lot of people will start to focus on.

Free Ebyline Guide

Don't Let a Bad Content Writer Damage Your Brand

The new content marketing basics anyone can use

Subscribe to the latest content strategies...

About Susan Johnston

Susan Johnston is a Boston-based freelance writer whose work appears in, The Boston Globe, The Christian Science Monitor,, Parade Magazine, and SELF, among other places. She is the author of The Urban Muse Guide to Online Writing Markets and blogs at The Urban Muse.