Alexandria is remarkably well covered for a city with 160,000 residents: It has two newspapers as well as the Washington Post’s great Patricia Sullivan (and, whenever possible, Washingtonian) keeping an eye on its affairs. But news can still take its sweet time to emerge from Alexandria. Both the Gazette Packet and the Alexandria Times have small staffs that have to put out print newspapers as well as publish digitally, and Patch’s current Alexandria reporter has to cover Falls Church and parts of Fairfax.
On October 1, Local News Now will jump into the Alexandria media crucible with ALXnow, which promises the same type of high-tempo online coverage it already provides in Arlington, Reston, and Tysons—a mix of news about local government, transportation, restaurant openings, and the culture of the neighborhoods it serves.
Owner and editor Scott Brodbeck says that while he’s considered expanding into Alexandria before, he finally feels like his operation can scale up to do a good job there. Former Gazette Packet reporter Vernon Miles will be the primary reporter for ALXnow, and photographer Jay Westcott (full disclosure: a friend of mine as well as my former colleague at TBD.com) and ARLnow lead reporter Airey will swing in as news demands.
Thanks to some well-delivered Facebook ads, ALXnow already has more than 2,100 subscribers to its newsletter, which will launch alongside the site. The real-estate firm McEnearney Associates will be ALXnow’s initial sponsor, and Brodbeck believes his team can find enough Alexandria businesses to support the site. “We operate pretty lean, so if we can get enough advertising to pay for a full-time salary, we’re pretty much good to go,” he says.
Indeed, Brodbeck has not hesitated to close publications that couldn’t make a go of it, financially: Both Borderstan and Hill Now have gotten the hook in previous years. ALXnow, Brodbeck says, is likely to be the company’s last owned-and-operated site. Local News Now provides technology and sales support for PoPville and the tech backbone for RunWashington. The company is exploring ways to provide more such support for other local publishers.
One of the reasons Alexandria news is so fun to cover is the amplified importance its residents tend to place on minor adjustments to their routines, whether the issue be scooters, a halal chicken butchery, or bike lanes. The Alexandria Times’ letters section is a reliable source of surprisingly strong reactions to change, as are comments on city councilmembers’ Facebook posts. (The city’s hard-working cranks may be delighted to learn that ALXnow posts will, like other Local News Now sites, accept comments.)
Coverage of the city tends to overindex on the concerns of people who own single-family homes, Brodbeck gently suggests. “We have an opportunity to serve a more digital native audience that is not as well served by the existing options,” including people who’ve never developed the print habit, he says. “I do think that just naturally, if you’re writing for primarily a certain group of people, you’re probably going to see issues more from that perspective.” With the arrival of HQ2 in Arlington and Alexandria and real-estate prices going bananas, renters could be an interesting audience segment to watch.
“I’m pretty excited to hear of ALXnow coming to town,” Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson tells Washingtonian in an email. “For politicians, the only thing worse than having people saying bad things about us, is having people ignore us. Having more local media, and more coverage of local issues is a good way to keep us accountable and keep the public aware of what we’re up to.”
Brodbeck stresses that while he intends to compete on news, he thinks ALXnow will help existing outlets get more attention by linking to their coverage as often as he can. “We are not coming to put other people out of business,” he says.