The Charlotte-based owner of the downtown-centric online publication Raleigh Agenda has laid off its staff and shuttered its Triangle outpost.
The 4-month-old Agenda’s closure was announced late Monday by Editor in Chief Grayson Haver Currin. In a farewell message to readers, Currin wrote that Raleigh Agenda’s owner could not “figure out a sustainable business model for this market.”
Currin said that owners told him and Agenda reporter Jane Porter on Sunday that they were fired, but provided severance packages and let them keep their laptops.
Charlotte Agenda, brainchild of Charlotte Observer alum Ted Williams, was launched in April 2015. It grew out of a Charlotte Observer product, Charlotte Five, that Williams helped to create while he served as The Observer’s director of digital strategy and new initiatives.
Williams, reached for comment on Tuesday, sent an email expressing disappointment.
“It’s personally and professionally difficult to be wrong, let teammates down and fail,” Williams said. “Grayson Haver Currin and Jane Porter are very talented, and I loved working with them.”
Since its inception, Charlotte Agenda has found success in the Queen City, amassing a network of five full-time employees, three part-timers and a network of 25 or so freelancers, according to a Nieman Lab article in May 2016.
Williams told Nieman Lab that he expected the site to generate between $600,000 and $800,000 in 2016. About 85 percent of the site’s income was earned from advertising and sponsorships, while the rest came from a combination of job board postings, events listings and a membership program, which had more than 400 subscribers.
When he took the job, Currin said he and Porter were both initially promised that the site would get a trial run of about 18 months before a decision was made to keep it running or close.
The site’s social media and email newsletter audience was growing each day, Currin said, but the site’s ad revenue picture wasn’t as rosy.
“I believe they simply built this website with the assumption that when they built a second website, some of the advertisers in Charlotte would form regional relationships, and that didn’t happen,” he said.
Currin said he asked for local advertisers, but never got them.
“There was no attempt to build a ground game in Raleigh to build advertising or branding, and that’s unsustainable,” he said.
While the Raleigh Agenda will no longer continue, Currin said he plans to freelance in the short-term. He also has been working with investors to start up a locally-owned media company that will continue reporting on the hyper-local news that the agenda had started.
“If the Raleigh Agenda has proven anything, it has proven that Raleigh wants that hyper-local coverage that is obsessed with itself and obsessed with the city,” Currin said.
Chris Cioffi: 919-829-4802, @ReporterCioffi