Launched with investments from a Business Insider co-founder and a former Wall Street Journal publisher, Denverite began life in July 2016 as a newsletter promising Denver news "in five minutes or less."
As straitened legacy newsrooms – including The Denver Post – struggle to produce the extensive regional coverage they once did, this investment in local news is part of a small but significant trend. Denver, with its unsaturated media market, was the ideal test-lab for a lean digital-only news model which, if successful, could be rolled out to cities across the US.
Led by former Denver Post deputy features editor Dave Burdick, Denverite has since established expertise in issues relating to two of the city's biggest talking points – homelessness and housing – and expanded to include a website, four regular newsletters, and a podcast. Earlier this year it merged with Spirited Media, which also owns Billy Penn in Philadelphia and The Incline in Pittsburgh.
In a conversation with Journalism.co.uk, Burdick shared what he and the team have learned over the last twelve months.
Be useful and delightful
In addition to delivering news, Denverite "strives to be useful and delightful," said Burdick.
The stories that do best for Denverite are just the right combination of both, such as a report about a building on Denver's 16th Street Mall which has been playing classical music to deter people from loitering outside for more than 20 years.
The aim, he explained, is "to be able to tell people something about their city that surprises them and is in some way enlightening, or is the kind of thing they can tell their friends and family about next time they sit down to dinner."
Experiment, experiment, experiment
Denverite's two main newsletters are distributed at 7:20am and 3.03pm which, conveniently, are the two area codes in Denver.
"Sending early in the morning really works wells for us," said Burdick, though the team originally sent the first newsletter at 9am and played around with various times until they hit the right spot.
When Denverite found itself sending a lot of breaking news alerts in the early afternoon, Burdick noticed newsletters sent between 1pm and 3pm also performed well and decided to make the 3pm newsletter a permanent fixture.
Morning newsletters are slightly newsier and forward-looking, while the afternoon newsletters outline breaking news and things to do that evening. Readers have the option to subscribe to both or morning only.
"It's always worth revisiting these things and testing them again though," he noted.
Ask for engagement
Denverite's daily newsletters often include a call-to-action for readers to reply and tell the team what issues they want to see covered and any questions they want to be answered.
"Sometimes it feels like we're being repetitive and what I've realised is, when I fear people are getting tired of us saying something it's likely that they're only just starting to hear us."
Readers' questions have helped Denverite develop expertise in covering some of the biggest talking points, such as homelessness and housing. Answering a question about food deserts (urban areas where it's difficult to buy affordable or fresh food) enabled Denverite to include additional context when covering stories such as a new grocery store opening or the launch of a food delivery service
"It's really informed not only how we did that one story but moving forward, how we cover food in Denver," said Burdick.
Denverite has also taken its engagement strategy offline through events including an election night watch party and a Super Bowl party, with plans for sponsored events and more structured programming in the future.
As well as enjoying free food, drinks and mingling with other people who care about the city, the events are a chance for people to raise their pet issues with Denverite's reporters.
One of the goals, said Burdick, is to make sure that people know the team is accessible.
"It's exciting to have that opportunity to find out how people are responding to what you're doing in person and what kind of questions they have, what kind of issues are really pressing for them," he added.
Determine meaningful metrics
The best way to keep people subscribing to your newsletter, or coming back to your site, is to give them what they expect, said Burdick.
This means being clear in what you're delivering, whether it's a headline, an email subject line, or a tweet.
"Basically time on page is measuring whether people think you're worth their time, whether they think you're trustworthy," Burdick said.
"We might not get as many pageviews as if we employed some of the more clickbaity tactics, but we have more credibility."
Find your niche
A man poses for a portrait along East Colfax Avenue. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
With a team of just nine people publishing around 12 articles a day, Denverite has to be selective about the stories it covers and which stories from other outlets to share instead.
While Burdick said there's "no specific rubric," stories given the Denverite treatment either need to be something no other outlets are covering or something the team can do in a totally different way to anyone else.
One of the ways it achieves this is through a conversational writing style and stunning visual journalism, from the daily cinemagraphs in the newsletter to video and 360-degree photos.
"We want everything we do to feel like we're on the ground," said Burdick. "We want it to feel like we know the neighbourhood and that we're your neighbours, that we're local in a way other [publishers] don't always feel."
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