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DCist dead. The Current newspapers bankrupt. Washington City Paper saved in the nick of time.
In the midst of this local news wreckage, PoPvillekeeps poppin’.
Dan Silverman (nom de guerre: Prince of Petworth) has set up a crowdfunding page to keep his hyperlocal website on steady financial footing and expand its scope.
He’s calling upon his audience to pay a monthly subscription in exchange for continued scuttlebutt and the promise of extra perks, including your very own profile on PoPville.
“I am not a journalist,” Silverman wrote in a post announcing the fundraising effort. “Having said that, I am something. A lot of people read whatever the hell it is I’ve been doing the last 11+ years. And I am super grateful for that.”
PoPville runs a mix of press releases, crime reports, pictures of forthcoming or closing local businesses, and reader-submitted gossip and rants, along with photos of cute pets, rental properties, and esoteric street art. He’s been the go-to source for the latest on the three-week hot water outage at the Columbia Heights Washington Sports Club, for instance.
Journalists and a sitting D.C. Council member have dinged Silverman for publishing the tips he gets as-is, rather than confirming whether they’re true first. “The trouble withPoPville is that he’s not reporting; he’s simply posting things that come along,” Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau said in 2015.
But the critics are missing the point, says Silverman, who responded to Nadeau by calling PoPville “a platform that provides the people a voice and a place to ask questions.”
There’s a slew of D.C. residents who, upon seeing or hearing just about anything out of the norm, will tweet @PoPville or shoot him an email, whether they’re hearing what sounds like gunshots or witnessing a dispute on public transit.
And it’s these people who he seems to want to get onboard with his Patreon, a membership platform where subscribers pledge monthly donations to “artists and creators.” Since its launch on January 25, his Patreon has netted nearly 300 patrons.
“I am delighted to have a way to support this site that every day provides me with news, entertainment, a place to vent, a place to get advice and information, and to challenge me to step up in new and unexpected ways,” wrote commenter LittleBluePenguin. “Keep up the good work!”
Silverman has not responded to multiple requests for comment, so we don’t know how much his monthly haul will be, or the site’s current revenue. In 2016, City Paper pieced together that he made somewhere in the high five-figures annually, and Silverman said PoPville got about 500,000 unique visitors and two million page views in February of that year.
Last June, Silverman teamed up withLocal News Now, the online publisher of ARLnow and RestonNow. Local News Now hosts the PoPville site and sells advertising through a revenue-sharing agreement. The Patreon does not have any impact on this deal, says Scott Brodbeck, the founder and CEO of Local News Now.
Brodbeck thinks Silverman is making a smart move. “He has a unique position in the community as the blogger of record, or whatever you want to call it,” says Brodbeck. “He has some really devoted fans and I think he sees an opportunity to connect with them more closely and let the people who really love what he does support him.”
ThePoPvillePatreon starts offering perks at $5 a month—“Duke and Duchess” status gets a patron the option of walking around the city with Silverman. At $10, an “Earl” or “Countess” gets the walk plus other PoPville swag. (Former City Paper staffer Will Sommer noted that dukes technically outrank earls.)
Giving paying members tote bags is not out of the ordinary. WAMU reporter Martin Austermuhle called it “the public radio model.”
But it’s at $25 a month where things start getting interesting: Knights and Dames “will have the option of suggesting a non profit to be profiled.” For $50 monthly, “You will have the option of having a nonprofit profiled or being profiled yourself.”
It’s unclear whether these posts will be flagged as sponsored content, or how many of the nearly 300 patrons have paid for that tier.
On the Patreon page, Silverman says that 500 patrons will “establish an emergency fund for ensuring the site continues if advertising sales dip.” When he gets 1,000 patrons, he will hire freelancers to expand coverage of neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River and profile members of thePoPville community. At 2,000 donors, he’ll start a podcast and hitting 2,500 donors means the resurrection of PoPTrekker, Silverman’s motor-mouthed video rundown of the day’s news.
He also promised on Wednesday that he would bring back Overheard in D.C., a column popularized by DCist, this writer’s former employer. It’s not his first time recycling ideas from other publications: He created his own version of the Peeps diorama contest after theWashington Post decided to stop running it last spring and Washington City Paper took on the mantle.
The resurrection of Overheard in DC was news to Andrew Wiseman, the New Columbia Heights blog runner who had been compiling the column for DCist since 2007.
“I can’t say I’m surprised about Overheard. It’s basically [PoPville’s] business model to take stuff and not bother to spend a couple of minutes fact-checking or confirming it’s okay,” says Wiseman. “But people read the posts, they get happy or angry in the comments, and then they forget about it. Anyway, I’m looking forward to his next new column, Capital Weather Gang.”
Silverman has been defending the decision on Twitter. “DCist is dead,” he wrote to one critic. “Now go back to your hole.”
Over on Silverman’s site, the comments were cheerier. “I didn’t realize how much I’ve missed Overheard until seeing this post,” wrote commenter CEM. “One more reason to love PoPville!”