NYC-based politics mag’s plan to conquer Philly and Harrisburg (Q&A)

City & State CEO Tom Allon talks to Billy Penn about his plans for the politics publication and its events, as well as a potential daily newspaper during the Democratic National Convention.

City and State NY, left, and CEO Tom Allon, right.

City and State NY, left, and CEO Tom Allon, right.

Courtesy City and State

The combination of Philadelphia’s union and advocacy culture, Harrisburg’s long legislative session and the upcoming Democratic National Convention proved to be irresistible to Tom Allon, the CEO of City & State, who’s been looking to enter a second market.

Combine those things with proximity to Gotham, and Allon was convinced: The Keystone State would be the next to see a version of his City & State. Today, Allon announced the hires of David Alpher and Greg Salisbury, publisher and managing editor of the Jewish Exponent (which laid off its reporting staff last June).

They’re the vanguard of what will grow in the coming weeks to a staff of around 10, first tasked with delivering “First Read,” which — in Allon’s words — will be a “daily digital email.” That will be followed by the first of what will be a monthly glossy magazine, distributed at a launch party near City Hall.

Allon chatted with Billy Penn by phone Wednesday about his hiring plans and timeline, the makeup of his products, and his big plans for the Democratic National Convention in July.

Billy Penn: So what will City and State Pennsylvania look like?

Our intention is to launch the first week of April a daily digital email, First Read Pennsylvania. That will be modeled on the same type of email we do in New York, which we send to 35,000 people, including the governor, the mayor’s office and elected leaders. It’s essentially a curated e-brief that comes out at 6:45 am and includes political news, as well as some original content. It also has people’s birthdays, a schedule of the day, for various events that are happening.

By mid-April, we’ll produce the first issue of the magazine… Eventually, the magazine will be once a month, mailed to elected leader’s home. We’ll do, starting in May, monthly events. They’ll be a combination of public policy events and recognition ceremonies, things like 40 under 40, a Power List, things like that.

How big will your team be?

We hired David Alpher and Greg Salisbury, the former publisher and (managing) editor, from the Exponent, and we’ve been delighted with them. We’ve been working together for about a month now. Our intent is to staff up over a few weeks, building to a staff of roughly 10 people.

Right now we have around 35 people in New York. Some of them will be tasked with helping with the launch of (City & State PA)… But within a year or 18 months, I’d anticipate a staff of 20-plus in Pennsylvania.

What’s the mix of editorial vs. production vs. advertising positions?

The model here [in New York] we have 35 people in total, 15 are editorial. I think it’s safe to say of the 10 [initial Pennsylvania hires] at least three or four will be on the editorial side.

Who do you see as competition?

I know the market somewhat. I think what we do is pretty unique. At some level we’re slightly competing with a variety of people. Part of the appeal of coming into a market like PA, I don’t see anyone who’s doing print, digital and events.

What happened with the Philadelphia Public Record? The Inquirer reported that its publisher, Jim Tayoun, rebuffed an offer you made him to buy the publication.

We had some discussions. Nothing happened. There’s nothing to discuss. I respect Jim Tayoun; he does a good job covering his marketplace. When we do compilations, curated stuff through First Read, I’m hoping to link to his stuff.

Can you tell me how your events will work?

The events we do here in New York… most of them we charge for. That can be anything from $25 for an event about public policy to $250 for a ticket to our event honoring the top women in New York. We do, in New York, roughly 40-50 events per year. It’s a wide range. We expect to have sponsors and people who want to be involved in that as well.

Why did you choose to expand to Pennsylvania next?

A variety of reasons. One, there’s a vibrant political culture in Philadelphia and Harrisburg… Harrisburg has a long legislative session, that’s important because a lot of our coverage and business is focused on the state legislature. Philadelphia also has a vibrant union and advocacy culture, which is good for our business model. Plus, proximity: It’s easier to get to than Florida or some other state. It allows us a little easier access as we grow. And then the timing — given the [Democratic National] Convention is going to be in Philadelphia this summer, and it’s an important state in a Presidential elect this year… we felt it made sense for Pennsylvania to be our first choice.

And if all goes well in our expansion there’s a great likelihood we’ll do a daily newspaper at the DNC in Philadelphia.

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Chris Krewson is the executive director of LION Publishers, a national nonprofit association that serves local journalism entrepreneurs build sustainable news organizations, and the founding editor of Billy Penn. He lives in Havertown.