NYTimes’ “The Local” May Not Suck So Much After All

andy-newman151Andy Newman is the editor of the Fort Greene/Clinton Hill version of “The Local,” a newly minted hyper-local blogging experiment by The New York Times. “I’m about as newbie as you get,” he admits when asked about previous blogging experience. He’s so new, in fact, that he’ll be spending the better part of today in Twitter and Facebook training, learning how to use social networks for online journalism.

You see, that’s the thing about The Local, it’s unapologetically experimental. Its two pilot blogs—Newman’s in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene/Clinton Hill area and a second for Maplewood, Millburn and South Orange New Jersey— were born of “financial desperation,” says Newman.

They are part of The Times’ “endless search for any way to get into some enterprise that could conceivably make money.” And while this doesn’t exactly encourage trust that they know what they’re doing, it is a promising sign about the direction of The Times as a whole. After decades of God-like distance from the subjects of their reporting, the company has finally decided to gets its hands dirty in this new and very much unknown venture.

Where traditional Times credo puts professional journalists at an arm’s distance, The Local throws professionals (Newman) and amateurs (college interns and community bloggers) right into the neighborhood, albeit a bit haphazardly at this point. Internet newbie though he may be, Newman embodies this new, hands on approach. The very concept of “covering” a community is “old school,” he says. That type of distance between the subject and object won’t exist on The Local.

“Before we even launched, I spent most of the last couple months calling people in the area, having meetings, walking around and talking to people, getting them to want to contribute,” says Newman. Plus, there’s the .nytimes.com in the URL, “which means something to some people.”

As far as current inflow of content is concerned though, he acknowledges that they “don’t quite have the hang of it yet.” Content is flowing in, but the quality and consistency varies. This week brought with it a successful community-driven back and forth between the Fort Greene Park Conservancy, readers and the Parks Commission. The Park Conservancy’s web master submitted a post about banning grass-ruining soccer players from the park, readers commented copiously, and a follow up from the Parks Department this morning essentially said we don’t care about the soccer players, let them be.

This is the sort of hyper-local posting that’s more specific even than major Brooklyn blogs like Brownstoner and Gowanus Lounge, whose readerships Newman thinks can easily be shared with The Local. “There’s enough of an audience that’s hungry for this stuff that they’ll read both,’ he says. As for competing with the Clinton Hill Blog and The Real Fort Greene, The Local is counting on its consistent posting and full time as opposed to spare time commitment to differentiate itself.

All in all, the pursuit is admirable, the timing only a little bit late, and the enthusiasm level promising. Now if only they could figure out that damn Twitter device…

*This post originally published (by me) on Beatblogging.org.

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