The New York Times recently launched two new hyperlocal blogs. They’re both called “The Local.” One covers the Fort Green and Clinton Hill neighborhoods in Brooklyn and the other one covers Maplewood, Millburn and South Orange in New Jersey.
In an introductory post on the Brooklyn blog, Times reporter Andy Newman says, “there’s a growing consensus in the media world that one way that newspapers can sustain themselves is to foster what is known as participatory journalism or citizen journalism.”
The Times clearly intends to invite the community to help it generate content. On the question of his role, Newman says:
I will be your co-curator, moderator, referee and Local recruiter. I will also be doing old-fashioned journalism. Because my affiliation means that I can usually get city agencies to at least take my calls, and because I have all day to devote to this stuff, I might be able to get help and answers where you have hit walls.
According to Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard, Tina Kelley will write the Jersey blog and Mary Ann Giordano will edit them both.
Jim Schachter, editor for digital initiatives at The New York Times, isn’t naïve about the blogs’ business prospects. In fact, he told Nieman that the sites will never make money. What could work, he said, is some sort of platform — a content management system, multimedia tools, a guidebook, or all of the above — that others could use to start local blogs around the New York metro area or across the country.
Valleywag points out the Times is targeting the exact same towns that Patch, a local-blogging startup backed by Google sales executive Tim Armstrong, chose for its debut.
Impossibly vain Maplewood bloggers think that the interest reflects the unique qualities of their hometown. Nonsense. The Times wants to squeeze out a startup before it gets established on its home turf.
To summarize, one the great media companies in the world believes in the future of hyperlocal content. Schachter may not believe in the front end monetization plan for “The Local” but clearly the Times does believe they can service this growing sector and make money doing so.
[IN RELATED NEWS] I write an unedited hyperlocal blog (albeit infrequently) for The Oregonian.