Just two years after its launch, the local news website zonacero.info ("ground zero") in Barranquilla, Colombia, has managed to attract 200,000 visits a month. This in a city of just over 1 million population.
This small staff of journalists demonstrates how knowing the community and understanding the audience can make the difference between success and failure.
Editor Laurian Puerta Ordonez Carrera said the original idea was to do coverage neglected by the national media.
"We decided to create and strengthen a niche that would show and tell users what was happening in their own neighborhood, their own environment."
They found their niche somewhat by accident. Puerta has worked both as a journalist and as an employee of the judicial system. Because of his connections, he obtained a security camera video of a controversial murder that resulted from an argument between two young men.
Zonacero caught the public's attention with this video and then with an amateur cellphone video of a famous soccer player's drunken onstage singing and dancing at a public event. More leaked videos followed.
Zonacero scooped the national media with a video showing a schoolteacher throwing her sandal at a presidential candidate whose policies she opposed. With zonacero's permission, national television stations ran the video.
Profitability, visitor loyalty
Advertising sales are just starting to catch up with the news operation. In the past year, the site generated $40,000 USD in advertising and is approaching break-even. Tip: They hired a sales and marketing specialist.
The loyalty of his audience should be a selling point for advertisers. Of the 435,000 unique users who have visited the site in the past four months, 78,000 have returned 50 times or more. The vast majority are from Colombia. Their coverage of the justice system is the most popular section of the site.
Another key to extending the reach of the site is that one of the founders, Jorge Cura Amar, has a popular daily radio show that consistently mentions the site. Digital media can benefit tremendously from these kinds of symbiotic relationships.
Puerta's wife works as the night and weekend editor of the site. His son and daughter pitch in as well. Puerta says his team of journalists, photographers and webmaster have been successful by following three principles:
1. We can do it.
2. Yes, it's my responsibility.
3. Let's do it now
"With this spirit, you can accomplish a lot."