The New York Times may have just scrapped its hyperlocal blog covering New Jersey, but its collaborative online journalism venture in the East Village is about to begin.
It’s called The Local East Village, and much like The Times’ Fort Greene and Clinton Hill Local blogs, the project, which was announced in February and launches later this summer, will be a joint effort between the Grey Lady, graduate journalism students at NYU (the Times’ Brooklyn sites are partnered with CUNY’s j-school), and neighbourhood residents acting as citizen journalists. In other words, the East Village benefits from getting a new platform for in-depth coverage of local issues, and The Times benefits from getting free (and presumably high quality) editorial content.
Jim Schachter, one of the editors who oversees The Times’ collaborative coverage, told us last month that the paper’s Jersey hyperlocal blogs didn’t work out because The Times didn’t have the resources to devote a full-time staffer to the endeavour. Nor was there any sort of partnership to be struck up with a local journalism institution.
But as Capital New York’s Eliza Shapiro reports, it is precisely The Times’ partnership with a local journalism institution that seems to be presenting a hurdle to The Local East Village, alternately known as “Lev.” (Shapiro’s parents, it’s worth noting, are a New York Times editor and a professor at Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism.)
That hurdle would be the small army of East Village bloggers who are loudly complaining about the project:
- “After helping ruin the East Village, NYU turns its attention to covering it,” read the headline on the popular East Village blog EV Grieve the day after the announcement.
- “Hubris is the right word here,” said Bowery Boogie
- “Gee, I wonder if any of the arrogant little snots reporting on ‘their’ neighbourhood will have to leave their cushy wood ‘n’ purple NYU ‘trolleys’ and actually intermingle with the hoi polloi (NOT the ones in the bars they frequent) to report?” wrote a commenter named Lisa on Grieve’s original post.
- “They need to be stopped,” wrote Jeremiah Moss of Vanishing New York, “and the EV Blog Mafia can stop them.”
Into this well-ordered society comes the Times, under full sail of press releases of Christopher Columbus proportions.
On one hand, the Times brings serious journalistic firepower to the endeavour: Mary Ann Giordano, who is the Times‘ point person on all of the Local sites, is a heavily credentialed local news veteran, as is site editor Rich Jones, who covered politics and sports for the Times before leaving for a job at NYU. At the same time, the cooperation, and the contributions, of local bloggers is to be an integral part of the plan for Lev. About 50 per cent community-generated content is the goal. But the natives are protesting.
Why? Sure, amateur local blogs provide a valuable resource for the communities they serve, usually by focusing their attention on the types of on-the-ground stories that tend to fly under the radar of traditional, mainstream news organisations.
Part of the reason those stories fly under the radar, however, is because papers like The New York Times cannot devote a single reporter to every neighbourhood in the city. But here they are devoting a handful of semi-professional reporters, the aforementioned “arrogant little snots” from j-school, (Disclosure: I was once one of them, but at Columbia, not NYU) plus dozens more embedded community contributors, all of whom are no doubt more than eager to give a place like the East Village the type of nuanced coverage it deserves. Should the “EV Blog Mafia” really be out to “stop” them?
Say what you will about The New York Times, NYU or the premise of j-school in general (all three of them certainly have their faults), but at the very least, it’s probably safe to say that the combined supervision of one of the world’s most respected news sources and one of the nation’s top journalism programs will bring a new element to the East Village blogosphere, or at least strengthen an element that may already exist.
It’s called “reporting.” The fact of the matter is, regardless of how plugged in or influential amateur bloggers may be, how many of them are actually skilled reporters? It would seem a symbiotic relationship to have trained reporters (or at least reporters in training) advancing the scoops and coverage generated by the existing community blogosphere, no? (As long as credit always goes to the original sources, of course. On that note, Girodano told Capital that “the Brooklyn Local was careful to link to and credit other blogs that had gotten to stories before them; and that they will do the same thing in the East Village with the bloggers there.”)
But there’s more at stake here than just scoops:
This experiment, while little in budgetary terms, is big insofar as it is testing a proposition that is gaining currency in the venture-capital and advertising worlds. Craigslist may have killed classifieds, but the web in general seems to have killed display advertising—those larger, prettier ads with pictures you see interspersed among the pages of text in print editions.
The theory goes that large metropolitan news organisations must develop relationships with the local blogosphere in order to match its advertising-sales muscle with content that can attract a wide base of brick-and-mortar business. That means going local, as inexpensively as possible.
The Times also needs to figure out whether hyperlocal blogs, with support from advertising sales staffs, can operate on a third-payer model. Can you make a business from hyperlocal blogs with the advantages of mainstream media infrastructural support? And can mainstream media find hyperlocal revenue that will support their broader and more expensive journalistic efforts?
If the answer turns out to be “yes,” we’ll all be better off for it.
And what about East Village entrepreneurs? Most of them, we’d imagine, would be thrilled if they got a call from a New York Times-affiliated reporter interested in writing about them. As one of the NYU students currently working on The Local East Village during its summer ramp up phase told Capital: “Everyone I’ve talked to has been very excited about the fact that I might be covering their business.”
So East Village bloggers certainly have every right to feel a little bitter and sceptical about NYU and The Times moving in on their turf. But rather than positioning themselves against the big bad MSM, they might want to consider that on the Internet, there’s plenty of room for everyone.
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