Death in the Blogosphere: Christopher Frankonis of the Portland Communique

As the debate continues on blog ethics and blogging for profit, its easy to forget that for every Markos Moulitsas Zuniga or Andrew Sullivan there are thousands of bloggers slugging it out, trying to provide serious commentary on international, national and local issues.

In Portland, Oregon, one man set out on a “ongoing experiment in amateur journalism and hobbyist reporting” and launched the Portland Communique, Christopher Frankonis. Launched in December 2002, it found a receptive audience and grew to be a must read amongst the who’s who in Portland.

But blogs are time consuming and the dedication required for a quality site such as the Portland Communique has put a strain on its founder. With little revenue coming in, Christopher has announced that barring a decent flow of financial support, the Communique will close on New Years Eve.

But this is a blog with many friends. It has been listed by the local press in the Willamette Week Give Guide as worthy of donation, and has drawn attention from diverse sources including New Media Musings and the UK based dot Journalism.

The Blog Herald asked Christopher Frankonis a few questions in relation to the imminent death of the Portland Communique and whether there may be a last minute reprieve, with a series of answers that demonstrate one mans commitment to blogging and the art of online journalism.

BH: Have you considered selling the blog as opposed to closing it?

CF: It’s never even crossed my mind. The identity of the site is rather inextricably intertwined with me. In essence, it’s a record of what happened once I decided that in order to best start truly learning about the City that had obviously come my home, I was going to commit to writing about it every day.

Although there’s next to no record of it on the site itself anyone (except in the title tags), technically it’s full name is The One True b!X’s PORTLAND COMMUNIQUE — reflecting what I said above.

BH: Have you tried implementing advertising, if so with any success?

CF: I did have ads via Blogads running on the site for some time, and if the site continues they will likely return in one form or another. But it never amounted to more than $80-100/month, and more normally around $40 or so. Not to dismiss that amount (every bit helps), but it’s also not nearly enough to make a real dent in what would be needed to continue the site as my full-time activity.

BH: We often here that local blogs are the way of the future in a crowded blogosphere, do you believe in light on your limited revenue that local blogs are a viable model?

CF: This is a somewhat convoluted issue, because there are different approaches which all would be considered local blogs. A fair number of what might be deemed local blogs aren’t full-time endeavors for any one person, and so don’t necessarily have to somehow support that person in a full-time job sense.

Then there are some of the newer projects underway or coming next year which will in a sense aggregate content contributed by local people, but as I understand it these projects don’t seem to be geared towards making money for anyone other than the owners of the site.

(I may be wrong about that. I’m unsure if any of these projects intend, for example, to try to share ad revenues with their contributors, but even if so, it’s not going to be the sort of money that outright supports any of those contributors.)

The tricky part when talking about this issue as it relates to Portland Communique is that my site really is structured as a full-time job.

In theory, people who blog about national issues or, say, about a particular topic which would be of interest to people all across the country (let’s say intellectual property law, for example) might be able to make enough in the way of reader contributions or advertising sales to make what they do a full-time gig. But on the local level, I’m not convinced the market is large enough to generate enough reader and/or advertising income to result in a full-time self-supporting thing.

Not to go too far off on a tangent, but one of the things that people often ask me is whether or not there is any grant money out there for what I do. The problem I and others who have looked into that possibility have encountered is that since I explicitly endorse local candidates, I’m engaging in partisan activity that grant providers (who tend to be non-profits) would not be allowed to support.

BH: You describe the site as an ongoing experiment in amateur journalism, as the experiment (possibly) nears its end, has it been a success or otherwise and is there anything you would have done differently or perhaps could share in advice to others?

CF: From what I’ll call the creative standpoint, I think the site has clearly been a success. Since the primary goal of the site has always been to satisfy myself and my own curiosity about how Portland works, I don’t think it would be possible to look back over the past two years and say that the site had somehow failed that goal.

And it certainly found an audience. While that was never a motivation, it’s certainly heartening from the standpoint of being a writer to know that you’re not always just spitting into a void.

There really isn’t anything I’d do differently, because as I said the main goal for me was a creative one, and I’m satisfied on that count. The only way there would be something I’d do differently is if someone comes up to me in a year and says there was some really obvious solution to the funding issue that I hadn’t thought of, heh.

BH: What now for Christopher Frankonis?

And this question is one for which I have no answer. I’m still holding out hope that at the very least I can sneak in another couple of months. Late in November, a couple of readers arranged to have me included in the Willamette Week’s annual “give guide” pull-out section, which lists a series of individuals and groups in Portland worthy of people’s financial contributions. I’ve been steadily working both my local networks of people and the larger weblogs-as-journalism crowd, trying to get as many people as possible to either contribute through this “give guide” or post about my situation and urging others to do so.

Unfortunately, I have no way of knowing how successful the “give guide” avenue is until they disburse the money (next month, I believe), so I just have to wait and see.

If your interested in donating to the Portland Communique visit the Willamette Week Give Guide.

View Comments (4)
  • i’m curious if mr. frankonis has looked at “selling” advertising to local merchants? especially if he’s got a local blog site with loads of local traffic. there must be a way of discovering how much of his site traffic is local-ish and using that to his advantage.

    or perhaps he’s tried this and it didn’t work? i could see where it would be a bit of work to get started. maybe that could be his next project; setting up a services site regarding how to get local real world advertisers to help pay for a local blog…?

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