Richmond Times-Dispatch reporters leave newspaper to launch news website

The Virginia Mercury staff, from left: Mechelle Hankerson, Katie O’Connor, Ned Oliver and Robert Zullo.

RICHMOND, Va. — A network of news websites with a nonprofit business model expanding across the country has lured away a team of reporters from the Richmond Times-Dispatch to launch its first Virginia outpost.

The Virginia Mercury, an all-online publication that will focus on state government and policy news coming out of the General Assembly and topics such as healthcare, campaign finance and criminal justice, is setting up shop in Richmond and planning to go live in about a month.

The site is armed with Robert Zullo, Katie O’Connor and Ned Oliver, who recently left the RTD, along with Mechelle Hankerson, most recently a reporter with The Virginian-Pilot in Virginia Beach and a 2013 VCU grad.

The venture is backed by Washington, D.C.-based nonprofits Hopewell Fund and New Venture Fund as part of an initiative called The Newsroom, which aims to establish a network of similar news outlets through both newly created sites and existing ones including NC Policy Watch, The Colorado Independent and Maryland Matters.

The idea is for the sites to be funded entirely through donations, both from private donors and from reader contributions. The bulk of the launch funding is coming from New Venture Fund, while the goal is for each site to become self-sustaining and independent nonprofits, said Zullo, who is leading the four-person Virginia Mercury team as editor.

News on the site will be free and not involve a paywall.

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