Sean Baker pulls plug on Med City Beat
The Rochester online and print news operation ran for eight years. Sean Baker used community talent and resources to run his one-man bureau.
ROCHESTER — Med City Beat, the scrappy, one-man Rochester-based online news operation that competed with better-resourced outlets for scoops and stories, is closing its digital doors.
In a letter published Monday, Jan. 9, 2023, on his website, Sean Baker, Med City Beat’s founder, news editor and reporter, said he was discontinuing his news operation after an eight-year run.
“While I will miss some things about this work — notably the relationship with our readers — I am leaving this post with my head held high,” Baker wrote in his final post.
Baker was 25 when he started Med City Beat after two stints working and producing television news. A graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, Baker launched his shoestring news site a year after arriving in Rochester.
Local news operations were still adapting to the online news, and he saw gaps in local news coverage he believed he could exploit. There was also a mood of expectation and anticipation about Rochester as Destination Medical Center, the state’s mammoth economic development initiative, was ramping up.
“There was a lot of tension about what the priority should be for the community,” Baker said in an interview with the Post Bulletin. “I loved hopping right into that.”
His decision to end Med City Beat as a news-gathering organization, he said, stemmed from changes in his own personal life. He got married to his wife, Sarah, in August. She has a stepson and the couple are expecting a boy in March. His wife owns Neighborly Gifts , an employee gift recognition business, and he works there as a warehouse manager.
“I’d rather sunset Med City Beat on a good note — and have people say, ‘Hey, that was a valuable project for the community for a time’ — than let something just fizzle out,” he said.
When Baker first launched Med City Beat in 2014, it seemed like a good way to learn about the community. He just never imagined running it for eight years.
Being a one-man news operation isn’t for the faint-of-heart. Baker often worked into the early morning hours covering and writing about local government and other subjects. It wasn't unusual to put in 50-to-60 hour work weeks. Med City Beat didn’t really become financially sustainable until its third year.
He made it work by tapping into community resources, enlisting high school and college students, and hiring local community members. William Forsman, co-owner of Café Steam, worked as a photographer on projects and news stories, and Bryan Lund, a former PB entertainment writer, enlivened its pages with feature stories.
His first instincts proved correct: Being a reporter with a broad mix of beats helps a person learn about a community. Those experiences also strengthened his instincts about what community members are interested in reading.
Crime stories drew eyeballs but coverage in those areas was often saturated. Business stories, local government news and feature stories that focused on people who aren’t regularly in the limelight were popular with readers.
Early on, Baker said, he found an audience, but was still groping to make it financially viable. Since content was free and there were no paid subscribers, he eventually embraced a paid-content model where organizations paid for sponsored coverage. It paid the bills, and Med City Beat was upfront about who was paying them, he said.
During those eight years, Baker continued to adapt and explore opportunities to reach audiences. Med City Beat launched a podcast when the audio format was still in its early stages and created more than 50 episodes. He also started a monthly newspaper in his last year of operation.
“You’re kind of just shooting darts and seeing what sticks,” Baker said. “What I always find great pleasure in was exposing people to members of their community or businesses that they may never have heard of.”
He said one of the lessons he learned from his eight-year endeavor is the “amount of time good journalism takes.”
Soon after announcing his decision, Baker said, he was approached by someone seeking to buy the platform. Baker said he has no plans to sell. The stories will remain a community resource for people to read and learn about Rochester.
“Bankers, when they leave their jobs, have pockets full of money. I leave this with a wealth of good stories,” Baker said. “And I want the integrity and the brand preserved.”