[Editor's Note: This is one in an AJR series of shorts about media startups.]
Those who live on Capitol Hill know that the neighborhood is much more than just a backdrop to television’s “House of Cards.” Comprised of 24,500 residents, the tight-knit community now has a news organization devoted to issues relevant just to it: The Hill is Home.
Since its inception in 2009, The Hill is Home has brought hyperlocal coverage of topics ranging from politics to food reviews to the Washington, D.C., neighborhood surrounding the U.S. Capitol.
“We hope to bring curiosity, inquiry and facts to our readers, and hope the community will benefit from this online voice,” the website states. The emphasis on community is a cornerstone for The Hill is Home. Along with a staff comprised of contributing writers, the Capitol Hill community is encouraged to send in posts and opinions.
According to contributing writer and editor Tim Ebner, most of the staff actually does call the Hill home and their work is pro bono — done out of genuine interest in the community. In fact, that interest in local news is what started The Hill is Home.
Some recent popular stories include: Lost Capitol Hill: The Capital Under Attack, Hill Businesses Speak Out Against Proposed Yoga Tax and the weekly Hill Buzz updates.
“It was really a story of its times,” said Kate McFadden, who founded the news venture after a job cut in the midst of the economic downturn. “It hit me like a ton of bricks. I thought, how am I going to spin this?”
An avid reader of local news publications, McFadden noticed there was little news local to her neighborhood — let alone a regular publication devoted to the Capitol Hill community. She decided to found The Hill is Home shortly thereafter.
It began as a WordPress account with content driven by writers working for free.
“It was such a collaboration of people willing to give time energy for neighborhood we love,” said McFadden. Two years later, amid increasing pageviews and engagement, The Hill is Home partnered with wireless Internet service provider DC Access to develop an ad platform.
The Hill is Home now uses banner and sidebar ads through DC Access and Hill Ads for $100-$300 per month, according to the website . Other sources of revenue include sponsored posts for $75 and promotion deals with local businesses and schools.
Realizing that a modest income, referred to as “beer and pedicure money,” was not making a large difference for the writers, the staff recently decided to redirect the revenue towards expanding the organization.
As of now, The Hill is Home has 40,000 page views per month according to the website, as well as more than 5,600 followers on Twitter and 2,200 Facebook likes. Advertising aside, McFadden attributes the following to the fact that The Hill is Home has filled a need in the community.
“There was a hole for it. We cover wide range of interests and really dissect those interests on the Hill,” she said. “We’re more earnest.”
Of course, there are limitations. According to McFadden, the key is to understand those confines and respect the feasibility of each story, especially given that the staff has full-time positions elsewhere.
“We really do it for the love of it,” said Ebner, “the love of writing and the love of the Hill.”
Corporate name: The Hill is Home
Website (URL): www.thehillishorne.com/
Founded: May 2009
Founder: Kate McFadden
Company Description: Hyperlocal news for those who consider Capitol Hill home. Revenue for The Hill is Home is driven by sponsored posts and advertising. The majority of revenue goes to expanding the operation.
See previous startup profiles on AJR: