About our redesigned homepage: A focus on helping Rhode Islanders

Uprise RI has launched a new homepage focusing on exclusive in-house tools: BillBuddy, The Helping Hand, and RI Rank. Learn why we’ve shifted our focus, how these tools provide unmatched value to Rhode Islanders, and what exciting new features we have in store.

Rhode Island News: About our redesigned homepage: A focus on helping Rhode Islanders

April 11, 2024, 2:34 pm

By Greg Brailsford

Late last week we launched a new homepage that looks radically different than our past layouts. The biggest change is a refocusing from news stories to our exclusive in-house tools, BillBuddy, The Helping Hand, and RI Rank. If you followed Uprise RI over the past year, you’ve likely noticed that we only have the resources to post a few stories each month. We try to ensure these stories are impactful and unique – stories that aren’t being reported elsewhere. But ultimately, we believe our home-grown tools can have the most impact for our audience. Feedback we’ve received and usage metrics show that BillBuddy and The Helping Hand are wildly popular and provide real value to our Rhode Island audience.

Why else have we shifted focus? As you probably know, Uprise RI runs entirely on donations from generous readers like you. There is no outside funding. No hidden hand controlled by an out-of-state corporation. And, unlike nearly every other news organization, we refuse to run ‘paid posts’ which are ads designed to appear as if they were articles. Because of this, we are careful and judicious with how we spend our supporter’s funds. Consider this: Hiring a reporter to investigate and write stories for us at the absolute lowest end of pay would cost $800-$1,000/wk. This means that after one month, we’d have spent roughly $4,000 (including taxes) and likely have gotten 10-20 stories out of that, optimistically. Would we receive anything close to $4k in donations as a result of those stories? Not even close. We know this because at our absolute peak in 2020 during Trump’s reign when Steve was putting out numerous great stories every week, the highest amount of one-time donations we received was about $1,200 in a month. And again, that’s the most. After Trump left office, that number cut in half. Hiring a reporter and continuing to focus on stories would have meant us closing up within months. The fact is that news stories alone cannot keep the lights on.

Being keenly aware of this, we made the decision to invest in state-of-the-art tools that Rhode Islanders can use, for free, that would allow direct engagement with elected representatives and allow our audience to get trusted advice in times of need. Remember that $4,000 it would cost every month to report stories? Developing BillBuddy cost less than that and creating The Helping Hand cost half that amount. While both services have ongoing operational costs, those costs have dropped over time and are not remotely close to $4,000 each month.

Reception to BillBuddy has exceeded our expectations and as a result we continue to add new features. Nearly half of all our traffic to Uprise RI is now for BillBuddy. If you have not yet signed up, I strongly encourage you to do so. It’s free, there are no ads, no catch. We believe it is very important to keep the residents of our state informed on the bills churning their way through the State House. More importantly, BillBuddy helps bridge the divide between progressives and conservatives by providing Pros and Cons for each bill written specifically for your ideology. We think it does a pretty good job. Here is the summary BillBuddy created for a controversial bill that attempts to substitute the General Assembly’s “wisdom” over that of parents and doctors:

If you are a progressive, I know what you’re thinking: “How could this bill have any ‘pros’ for progressives??” It is important to note that we require BillBuddy to create at least 3 Pros and Cons for both ideologies on every bill, even if it is the worst bill ever introduced. In these cases, BillBuddy attempts to find any form of silver lining or positive take in cases where the average person may not consider any. On the other hand, it does the same when the bill is pro-conservative and it must come up with “cons” for conservatives. We believe it is important for supporters of one ideology to see how a bill affects supporters of the opposite ideology. Here, it raises the prospect, however rare, that this bill could prevent trans youth from undergoing changes they may regret, some of which are non-reversible. However, it also puts conservatives on notice that their bill is clearly government overreach (something they are supposed to be vehemently against) and may be subject to constitutional challenges. The bottom line is that this bill may be ridiculous on its face but BillBuddy’s job is to make sense of it without judging whether it is good or bad – that is your job. Speaking of which, once you have read the summary, BillBuddy offers a convenient way to let your legislator know you Support or Oppose the legislation. Plus, we hold legislators accountable by tracking who responds and the quality of their response. At the risk of blowing our own horn here, it’s a heck of a tool – the only one like it in the nation – developed for the cost of one reporter for one month.

The Helping Hand is what we like to call intellectual mutual aid. While it cannot provide money (maybe for the next version?), a review of the hundreds of conversations it has had with users demonstrates a dire need for the information it provides. In fact, at this stage we are a bit surprised the RI Attorney General’s Office has not produced a similar tool. Nonetheless, THH has helped countless Rhode Islanders in dealing with their landlord and resolving issues with companies that don’t treat them properly. This month, we’re expanding it to handle problems dealing with your employer. More topics are on the way – and if you have a suggestion, we’d love to hear it. THH has proven to be an incredible value for those who have utilized it and far exceeds anything we could provide to you in two weeks of news reporting, which would have cost about the same. As part of the newly revamped homepage, we have gathered some of the best conversations users have had with the tool and posted them under “This Week’s Mailbag”. New posts are published regularly. Check it out!

Lastly, RI Rank, while not new, tallies the votes of our state legislators on important bills and scores legislators so that Rhode Islanders know who is working for their best interest and who is not. And while RI Rank has rattled the feathers of some liberal legislators who have grown accustomed to ducking accountability, it has proven over the past 3 years to accurately inform voters about how their state reps actually vote when push comes to shove. The 2024 release is coming this summer.

We will continue publishing stories – that is not going away. We also will continue to publish thoughtful editorials that touch on important subjects and critical topics many may not be aware of. By the way, if you’d like to share your voice with our readers, we welcome you to submit your own editorial. We have also launched an exciting new weekly feature called “Fight Back” which will help readers fight back not only against oppressive government actions, but against large corporations that break the law and mistreat their customers. We have started it off with a helpful series on traffic tickets and I am confident that you are going to love the pieces coming after that.

This is not quite the final layout of our homepage. We will continue to add new features over time, including some very cool stuff I’m keeping under wraps for now. We are also preparing for the official launch of The Ocean, our Rhode Island-inspired version of The Onion…because with all the awful stuff going on in our nation and the world, sometimes we need a break and a chance to laugh for just a moment.

In the end, our mission remains the same as it has always been: to inform, engage, and empower the people of Rhode Island. By focusing our limited resources on innovative tools like BillBuddy, The Helping Hand, and RI Rank, we believe we can have a far greater impact than we could by simply reporting the news. These tools put the power directly in your hands, allowing you to hold your elected officials accountable, fight back against injustice, and get the help you need when you need it most. And while we may not be churning out as many stories as we once did, rest assured that when we do publish a piece, it will be a unique perspective or an in-depth investigation that you won’t find anywhere else. So stay tuned, keep using our tools, and above all, keep fighting the good fight. Together, we will make Rhode Island a better place for everyone.