Longtime Knoxville blogger Alan Sims would like nothing more than for the pandemic to be over so he can turn his sole focus back to writing about life downtown.
Sims, better known as Knoxville Urban Guy, has written the Inside of Knoxville blog for 10 years and has done it full time since 2014 — since he retired as a librarian at Oak Ridge’s Jefferson Middle School. He’s written thousands of posts on downtown life, developments and shows.
Last week he had a first: He announced he had to take a step back from daily, extensive updates on COVID-19 coverage and, for the first time, request donations to support the site if readers value the work.
Inside of Knoxville has taken a hit in advertising revenue as downtown outfits have scaled back operations during the pandemic.
“Remember when Knoxville Opera and Clarence Brown Theatre had actual seasons and advertised their productions here?” he wrote last week. “The same was true of shops, bars, hotels and festivals. Now they are largely gone.”
Sims said he has spent more on the blog than he’s made since the pandemic began. In June he decided to do it for two more months to see where things stood, but they have not improved.
He’s kept writing and will continue to write, he said, because he enjoys the work and can see the impact it’s had.
“I did it because I love this city and because I love my readers … we’ve been on this journey for 10 years together, me and a lot of these people,” he said. “So, they know my family, at least indirectly, and honestly, I know a lot of them personally at this point. Downtown, as you know, is a small fishbowl.”
The blog, like Knox News and virtually every news outlet, recorded an increase in readership over the months of the pandemic. Sims said readership has doubled and the blog has gotten roughly 140,000 to 160,000 page views a month since it began, in the neighborhood of about 1% of regular-times traffic to local market leaders like Knox News and WBIR.
But the blog may not be able to sustain increased readership and Sims is concerned that once advertisers leave they may not come back once the pandemic is over. It makes for an uncertain future.
About 300 donations have come in since his post, Sims wrote Monday. He said the money will go — in part — to updating the website.
Going forward, Sims said he’ll continue writing two articles most days, but his afternoon report will be shorter and he’ll tamp down on some of the big-picture COVID-19 writing for a more localized report.
“It still may be too much, but I’ll give it a try,” he wrote. “I’ll still continue to bring you the news about downtown that brought most of you here in the first place.”
Email Tyler Whetstone at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @tyler_whetstone. If you enjoy Tyler’s coverage, support strong local journalism by subscribing.