Jim Brady, co-founder and former GM of TBD.com, the DC-focused local online news “experiment” that lasted a bit longer than haters expected and not long enough to prove its worth, is doing something quite nice for all the people being left on the sidewalk looking for jobs: He created a blog called Digital Man — sorta super-hero-ish + Rush fanboy — that’s initially endeavouring to act as headhunter for his former team.
On the day the hammer came down at TBD (2/23), a couple months after Brady jumped ship himself (and literally about six months after the site launched with great fanfare), Brady stood up the blog and christened it with this:
I’d been meaning to get this blog up and running for a while, but had been swamped and just hadn’t gotten around to it. So, in a backhanded way, I guess I have Allbritton Communications to thank for inspiring me to get Digital Man up and running.
Today’s gutting of TBD was surprising only in that it happened so quickly after the company moved the TBD staff under the WJLA org structure just a few weeks back. Apparently, laying off half the staff is the company’s version of a “mid-course correction.” Would hate to see what a complete strategic overhaul would entail.
That “mid-course correction” comment came from Bill Lord, general manager and news director of WJLA-TV, the ABC affiliate co-owned by parent company Allbritton Communications. When I first read it my reaction was wrong: that maybe he’s thinking in Internet time and trying to make fast changes.
In fact it seems a mid-course correction after six months implies almost by definition the misunderstanding of what TBD should have been: an Internet startup. And to be treated like a Web startup: giving its people room to make crazy mistakes while scratching and clawing out from under a century of established methods to find its own way. Getting all wrapped up in the multimedia recirculation of traffic among old and new worlds so early was likely a mistake, at least it was without first schooling or removing the old-heads at Allbritton.
Brady continued with the following tease:
I’ll write a post in the coming days about my own take on what happened with TBD…
So we’ll have to wait for his inside view of the debacle.
Meantime there are others experimenting with engaging audiences around local issues that matter to them, and perhaps of interest to those former TDBers: the weedlike Patch.com from Aol, the numerous local and community newspaper sites trying to grab people in a different context, as well as some smartly run TV news Web plays. For the public there are neighbourhood bloggers and a few people successfully using Twitter to hashtag their town or neighbourhood into being informed.
After starting in online news in the early 1990s there is one thing I caught on to right away. It’s painfully obvious today, but still, still overlooked by so many trying to lead the way to local online news nirvana: the news belongs to and springs from the people. The voice of the community is tantamount. The news editor’s role is to shepherd the conversation around the facts. Grab the facts, then steer the conversation from both ends so you end up with a clash of ideas, but that clash is with the people.
It’s interesting to read, if voyeuristic. It’s cathartic to get involved, if exhausting. And it’s fulfilling to corral (for the News Person), if challenging.
We’ll see if anyone else agrees and takes off on the formula. Maybe in TBD’s post-course correction.