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Motor City Muckraker fights to turn passion for journalism into profits

Steve Neavling is good at his job -- damn good at it. The former investigative reporter for the Detroit Free Press and co-founder of Motor City Muckraker was recently named the "Best Journalist" in Metro Detroit by The Metro Times because his reporting consistently makes waves in the region. When it comes to journalism, few people are as passionate about it as Neavling.

Turning that passion into profit is where Neavling comes up short. Motor City Muckraker has been running for nearly three years and has yet to turn a profit despite its steady rise in popularity. It has consistently clocked an average of 180,000 unique page views per month over the last two years, yet Neavling can only monetize a few grand out of it each year.

"You know how Twitter kept getting more popular but never figured out how to generate revenue?" Neavling says. "Motor City Muckraker is becoming more popular, but we still haven’t figured out how to generate revenue from it."

Click ads from the website aren't the answer. Neavling and his girlfriend/MCM co-founder Abigail Shaw are considering a variety of different options to generate revenue, including paywalls for premium access, sponsorships, merchandise, and fundraisers/crowdfunding. Neavling and Shah don't know the answe but are happy to keep trying.

"You need to have something more than click ads," Neavling says. "You need to be able to offer them something else."

Figuring out a revenue model that makes local print/digital journalism profitable is a 21st century conundrum, and newspaper executives will watch Neavling and Shah closely if they figure out a business model that works. In the meantime, the partners are even seriously considering making Motor City Muckraker a nonprofit to keep it afloat, although that plan has been shelved for now.

"It really limits what you can do to raise money," Neavling says.

So Neavling continues to trudge forward financially. He has gone from making about $60,000 annually at the Freep to an annual average of $12,000 while running Motor City Muckraker and freelancing for the likes of Tickle The Wire. Neavling and Shah get by on what comes in from Neavling's writing, Shah's day job, and affordable rent for an apartment in Midtown.

But don't expect that the financial grindstone will force Neavling from journalism anytime soon.

"We pay to write things others won't write," Neavling says. "The news just keeps coming out. There are so many stories I am sitting on. Right now I am having so much fun I am forgetting about the money."

Source: Steve Neavling, co-founder of Motor City Muckraker
Writer: Jon Zemke
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  • Motor City Muckracker
    Detroit, MI 48201 Website
    Motor City Muckracker is an independent online publication that covers the city of Detroit.