ARLnow and its sister sites celebrated another year of hard work, journalistic achievements and client service at our holiday party Monday night.
One change: the venue. Rather than eating and drinking at a local restaurant, as usual, we had beer, wine, soda and pizza in the common area of our coworking space in Ballston. It’s one example of the belt tightening underway over the past couple of months, amid a downturn in the economy and among media companies in particular.
Round after round of layoffs have been announced at U.S. media companies this fall, including at CNN, Buzzfeed, Tysons-based newspaper chain Gannett, and email newsletter company Morning Brew. The Washington Post is set to undergo more layoffs early next year, its publisher announced today, while Rosslyn-based tech publication Protocol shuttered last month.
ARLnow and our sister sites are no exception to the pain felt among advertising-supported news outlets. After a torrid start to the year, which brought about plans for additional hiring, our company’s revenue is down in the quarter to date.
We started to see the slowdown, as did other media companies, in July. October and November were particularly bad months. The good news is that we’ve seen a pronounced recovery in December.
That does not mean we’re out of the woods by any means, however. Many are predicting a recession in 2023, though projections for how deep and prolonged it will be vary to a significant degree.
Despite the economic challenges, we have committed to our nine full-time employees that no layoffs are planned and we will do whatever is needed to avoid them. Instead, we have cut back on some technology expenses, non-essential spending and our freelance budget.
You can also expect to see ALXnow editor Vernon Miles helping out with ARLnow, to offset some of the freelance cuts.
We are fortunate to be operating in a market that is bolstered economically by federal spending and to have a loyal adverter base and a growing roster of paid members. Other local news outlets are not as lucky.
Still, we can use your support. If we can add 200 new ARLnow Press Club members (less than 0.1% of our monthly readership) between now and the end of the year we should be able to keep ARLnow’s freelance budget at current levels. If you’d like to support our reporting while getting an early look at the next day’s news, please consider subscribing.
The media business is always evolving, but now seems like a particularly volatile time. In the interest of transparency, we wanted to discuss some other factors that are affecting our business now and into the future.
Artificial intelligence and automation
We have spent much of the past year working on no-code automations that allow our editorial and business teams to operate more efficiently. For instance, most social media posts are now automated and we can publish events, announcements and other user-submitted content with a single click.
If we’re going to be honest, when ARLnow was founded in 2010, there was no business plan.
Armed with a laptop, a police scanner and a digital camera, we started reporting on local news and then… just kept doing it. Eventually enough of you started reading that local businesses started approaching us about advertising. And for 10 years or so, advertising was our only business model.
That has changed last year, when the pandemic prompted us to ask the Arlington community for some help making it through the tough economic times. You came through, and it made us ponder the future.
While our advertisers have helped us grow into the organization we are today, with eight full-time editorial employees and four local sites, at some point there’s a limit to how much we can grow on advertising alone. And there’s a lot more we want to do.
If you follow the news business, you probably think you know what’s coming: either an announcement that we’re going to erect a paywall and make readers pay to read our content, or some sort of donation campaign that’s basically a souped-up version of our Patreon page.
Don’t worry, we’re not doing either of those things.
Rather, ARLnow is going to stay exactly how it is. Except we’re adding some new stuff.
The ARLnow Press Club will allow us to take almost all of those “wouldn’t it be cool if…” ideas we’ve had and make it a reality. Here’s what we’re offering for now…
Your membership will also support more local journalism — we will be reinvesting most of the proceeds back into our local news team.
Thank you to all of our readers who have made ARLnow the go-to place for local information in Arlington. With your continued support, we’ll be able to serve the community with even more local journalism in the months and years to come.
Update at 10:25 p.m. on 4/24/11 — Most features of the new site are working, but it may take up to a week to get to the point where we can turn the forums on. Please excuse any snafus with the registration and login process, as well as any site slowness. Thank you for your patience.
Update at 4:15 a.m. on 4/23/11 — The forums are not operational yet. We expect them to be in place by Monday morning.
First, I want to thank all our loyal readers and commenters, who have made this site into a real community in just over 14 months. Our 3,100 Twitter followers, 2,400 email subscribers, 1,300 Facebook fans, and 200 Flickr poolers — as well as the 42,500 article comments we’ve received since launch — are all testaments to the passion many have for Arlington and its unique neighborhoods.
Several months ago, we decided to invest in a site redesign that will help enhance the community functions of the site, while at the same time making the site more visually-appealing. I’m pleased to report that, if all goes well, the new design will be in place by Monday. Here are some of the enhancements you can expect:
- Cleaner page layout
- Message board (forums) for community discussion of issues not covered in articles
- User registration, custom profiles, custom avatars and (maybe) private messaging
- A login will be required for the forums, but anonymous comments will still be permitted
- Prominent positioning for latest articles, comments and forum posts
- Current weather conditions visible on all pages
Early Saturday morning, the site will go offline so that that we can begin transitioning to the new site. Please excuse any technical problems that may ensue.
Although we’re not indulging in the Silicon Valley cliche of visually labeling the new site a “beta,” it will truly be a beta version for a few months. We expect fixes and changes to be a continuous process for a couple of months after launch. Feel free to use the comments section of this article to discuss the new design, report bugs and suggest changes.
Thank you again for your loyalty. Have a happy and relaxing Easter weekend and we’ll see you back here on Monday.
This is the last day on the job for Rebecca A. Cooper, the Arlington community reporter for Rosslyn-based TBD.com.
Cooper joined TBD last July, a month before the site launched. She was formerly a contributor to DCist.com and a reporter for a Long Island newspaper. No word yet on her future plans.
TBD is in the midst of layoffs and will likely not replace Cooper or her Arlington coverage.
The layoffs are part of a reorganization that will shift TBD’s mission from being a primarily news-oriented site to exclusively arts and entertainment-oriented site.
TBD’s corporate sister, television station WJLA (ABC 7), will eventually relaunch WJLA.com as a separate, news-oriented web site. (WJLA.com was replaced by TBD after its launch.)
On a personal note, it was a pleasure working alongside Rebecca, who was a total pro and brought an unrivaled depth to her Arlington reporting. Whatever she does next, we hope she stays here in Imperfect Arlington.
(Updated at 1:20 p.m.) Once upon a time, there was a dream of local news organization that would act less as a walled castle and more as a town square. Instead of competing, it would partner. Instead of talking at, it would talk with.
This news organization would act as a hub of a local news ecosystem, a gateway through which a regional audience could be introduced to the work of independent local journalists and community blogs.
On Feb. 23, 2011, the dream died.
Rosslyn-based TBD.com is planning to lay off most of its staff, according to the Washington Business Journal. All of the site’s sports and news reporters will be let go, according to We Love DC. Among the jobs expected to be eliminated is TBD’s Arlington community reporter position, held by Rebecca A. Cooper.
Instead of reporting news, TBD will now become a niche arts and entertainment site, according to the Washington City Paper.
Two weeks ago it was revealed that TBD, which had been in operation for about six months, was to be taken over by the management of its corporate sibling, WJLA-TV (ABC 7). WJLA.com, which currently redirects to TBD, will eventually regain its status as an independently-run news web site. Some of TBD’s staff will get jobs running WJLA.com, according to the Washington Post.
Last night I had my most horrid Comcast customer service experience to date, and that’s really saying something. I’ll spare the details, but suffice to say that it was an hour and a half of my all-too-rare free time that I’m not getting back.
It’s not so much that the Comcast customer service agents themselves are that bad, it’s just that the customer service system in which they operate seems to be designed with the sole purpose of minimizing cost at the expense of producing meaningful solutions to customers’ problems and complaints.
Comcast has a partial monopoly in Arlington. Sure, Verizon FiOS and satellite TV are available to single family homes and certain apartment buildings and condos. But for many apartment and condo-dwellers, Comcast is the only game in town. The only option for those folks in the event of an unresolved grievance is to either grin and bear it, cancel service and forgo cable and/or internet altogether, or complain to the county’s cable administration office and hope for the best.
Competition is a customer’s best friend — a point of leverage in disputes. With any luck, FiOS will continue making inroads and internet-based TV will continue evolving into a viable alternative. Until that time, however, Comcast will continue to exasperate and frustrate those for whom going without internet or cable television service is not an option.
Rate your Comcast experience below, and feel free to vent in the comments. Who knows, maybe someone in a regulatory position will be listening.
A quick programming note: ARLnow.com will be up until the wee hours tonight bringing you live, on-location election coverage. We’ll be reporting from Democratic and Republican victory parties, bringing you the latest results, photos and quotes from local leaders.
With that said, I wanted to offer a quick apology for anybody who tried to access the site between noon and 4:00 this afternoon. An ARLnow.com story was linked to by the ever-popular Drudge Report this morning. The flood of web traffic from that one link caused the site to crash — multiple times.
After two server upgrades we were able to get the site back up, albeit running very slowly. After another upgrade things were pretty much back to normal.
Since we were busy with the server, the site went a while without any new posts. Rest assured that we’ll get to any planned non-election-related stories tomorrow.
Thanks for your patience.
Advanced Towing is either a hated predatory towing company or a very effective solution for ridding parking lots of illegally-parked vehicles, depending on your perspective.
The company’s drivers will watch over restricted parking spaces and wait for some unfortunate schmo to park there and walk off the owner’s property, at which point they snatch the car and drive off. They do this at the Four Mile Run branch of the Virginia DMV, at the Westmont Shopping Center on Columbia Pike, and elsewhere around Arlington. Needless to say, it has not won them many friends.
They have earned themselves a steady stream of hate on Yelp. They have been the subject of a not-safe-for-work screed by a prominent local blogger. And they’re often involved in disputes that have to be settled by police.
The dispute that led to the photo above happened last week when a driver thought his car was damaged by an Advanced tow truck. Police concluded that it was preexisting damage.
One day later, a man contacted TBD and ARLnow.com after his car was towed from the same private lot adjacent to the DMV. He accused Advanced of using a “decoy” to attract people to the spaces, then threatening him when he tried to warn others. “Aggressive towing, intimidation at Arlington DMV parking lot,” TBD’s headline read.
This all brings up the inevitable question: Is Advanced unethical? Are they preying on unsuspecting drivers without regard to circumstance? Or are they delivering justice to people who ignore no parking signs?
Earlier this week, I thanked our readers for sticking with us while our old server wheezed its way through last week’s heavy web traffic. Now I’d like to take the time to thank our local advertisers, who are helping to keep this site in business.
In no particular order:
The 2010 ABBIES — The annual Arlington business awards ceremony is looking for nominations. If there’s a local business that you think is doing a bang-up job, give them props by filling out a nomination form.
So What’s the Deal — You know Groupon? Yeah, WTD is basically Groupon. But it’s a homegrown, local company that has some pretty sweet deals you won’t find elsewhere. Today, they’re offering six games of Laser Tag at Ultrazone in Falls Church for 20 bucks.
Pathways 2 Independence — If you’re between 16 and 25 years old and you like money, this free financial fair will help you figure out how to keep more of it. There will also be prizes and the promise of a “surprise celebrity sighting.” Mark your calendar for the afternoon of Sunday, October 17.
Dudley Chapman — If you’re looking to buy or sell a home, give Dudley a call. He grew up in Arlington, knows the area like the back of his hand, and can help guide you through the particulars of the local real estate jungle.
Business owners: Click here to learn more about reaching the largest local audience in Arlington.
First of all, I want to thank all of you for sticking with us last week when we were experiencing some major server problems. The site struggled with capacity problems all week and went down multiple times.
Over the weekend we upgraded to a new server with a new host. Accessing the site should now be faster and more reliable. That’s the good news.
Unfortunately, our team was working out the kinks until late last night. A change our hosting company applied while we were sleeping went awry, and anyone who visited the site between 5:30 and 9:20 a.m. got an error message. If you tried to visit the home page during that time, and you still cannot see it, you need to clear your browser cache. See instructions on how to do so here.
Also, if you visited the site between 6:00 and 7:00 p.m. on Friday, and saw something weird, please run a quick scan of your antivirus software. Our old hosting service was experiencing major problems across thousands of sites, and ours was affected briefly.
This site is largely a labor of love, and I love how it’s growing into a real community. I hope you can forgive our recent technical transgressions and continue reading and commenting and telling friends
(Also, a big thank you to our awesome, growing roster of advertisers, who are increasingly helping to fund this ‘labor of love.’)
Okay, back to real news.
Sun Gazette editor Scott McCaffrey has been waiting for tonight for months.
According to his blog, McCaffrey has been waiting six months to cover something that’s “likely to happen tonight.” But he’s not saying what it is, so as to not alert “what passes for the competition.”
Since we have some of the smartest readers in town — witness the corrections that go into the comments section the minute we get something wrong — I figured it would be a piece of cake to figure out what story Scotty has been salivating over.
McCaffrey posted an link to a Rod Stewart video to symbolize his infatuation with tonight’s could-be story-of-the-century. In a case of blatant one-upsmanship, we’re posting our own music link: this much more entertaining-with-the-sound-down (you’re at work, right?) Jennifer Lopez video.
So, dear readers, help us out. What’s happening tonight that Scotty doesn’t want us to know about?
Just don’t tell him we’re asking. It’s better if Scotty doesn’t know.