TBD, meet NYC’s Westside Independent: Role model for SOME neighborhood blog affiliates?

imageYou already know if you’ve been following the Solomon Scandals blog.

My name is David, I’m a newsaholic, and I’m cheering for the TBD news startup to thrive here in the Washington area.

But will topics like sports and food elbow aside civic matters at times because of the personal passions of TBD’s affiliate bloggers? Here’s to balance!

So what’s a well-rounded neighborhood blog like? TBD, meet the Westside Independent in New York City. Good local and hyperlocal blogs exist in the D.C. area, but the Independent is still a great potential role model, with a stellar mix of grassroots coverage and professionalism. So it seems at least, from some 250 miles away.

image Click on the Independent link above. The orange navigation strip at the top will speed you to coverage of subjects ranging from “Food” to “Business,” “Development” and “Education.” On the home page itself, you’ll see a gem: Proof that the New York Times is More Popular than the Wall Street Journal—Among Thieves, with the lowdown coming straight from the Starbucks at 73rd Street and Columbus Avenue. Now that’s a full-service neighborhood blog. Hobbyist blogs, too, can be worthwhile for both readers and creators, as I’ll make clear later on. I’m just pointing out the differences.

In the strictest sense, the Independent is a site rather than a blog; it even includes a subblog. Still, we’re not talking big bucks for serious site operators with a touch of Web savvy. The Independent runs on the omnipresent and free WordPress just like the Solomon Scandals blog, except that the owners have added a Revolutionary Magazine theme ($95?) to jazz it up.

imageNot all TBD affiliates can or should strive to be the Upper Westside Independent. But ideally TBD will encourage interested bloggers to aim for the Independent’s mix of comprehensiveness, liveliness and professional polish. Only 22 or so of the 82 blogs in the TBD network seem to be general neighborhood blogs or are civic-oriented in other ways, if you assume that TBC has mentioned them all on its site. Perhaps the Independent can inspire TBD-network bloggers, allowing, certainly, for limits of time, resources and experience.

Granted, the Independent could be more interactive and serve up multimedia, and in the interest of sustainability, more advertising wouldn’t hurt. Still, Editor Avi Salzman (“a native New Yorker living on the Upper West Side with my wife and our Labrador/Shiba Inu mix”) shows us the breadth of coverage that even small neighborhood sites can strive for.

Within the TBD blog network (just part of the operation from Allbritton Communications) I’d especially like to see more one-city or one-neighborhood sites with a civic focus like TBD affiliate Rockville Central’s. If enough balanced neighborhood blogs don’t happen on their own, then perhaps TBD can use some extra financial incentives, as well as expand the planned size of the approximately 50-person staff to fill in the gap.

imageimageBrad Rouke (left photo), a blog network and public affairs veteran who publishes and founded Rockville Central, says his association with TBD already will be worth it for him; and Cindy Cotte Griffiths, the editor, is likewise enthusiastic about the network. “TBD.com,” he writes, intends to promote “individual articles throughout their site, based on geocoding.” It is “explicitly saying that bloggers’ content remains on their blogs. Someone plunks in 20850 as their ZIP Code, and they’ll see a bunch of Rockville Central articles—and the links will come back to us. I anticipate an upswing in traffic.” He prefers the shared ad model to pay-per post and notes there is “no cap to the upside.”

image Brad and Cindy, I hope you’re right. Not all bloggers will favor the business model you’re using for your Rockville blog, which is good for your professional visibility in both your cases, just as this one is good for mine.

Speaking of the above, big thanks to TBD Community Engagement Director Steve Buttry (photo) for running a link to my thoughts on civic involvement, compensation and other issues. This is the kind of open culture TBD needs to succeed. I can also appreciate the sentiment in an informal TBD FAQ: “We hate when people wrinkle their noses when they say ‘blogger.’ We’re embracing the trend, both by aggregating local blog posts and by working together with bloggers in workshops, and on special events held on the web, TV, or live and in person.” Clap, clap! Lessons for the Washington Post? For now, its community outreach to the local blogosphere seems—at least from across the Potomac—to be rather pitiful compared to TBD’s. In an earlier post, I said both operations could do better, a feeling I still have, but at this point TBD appears to be widening its lead.

image Idea: TBD almost surely is or will be doing this, but if not, I would suggest that it offer design review and maybe even actual design services to neighborhood bloggers. With navigation and aesthetics in mind—as well as optimal display of advertising—TBD might even provide starter templates for WordPress or other blogging systems. The templates could include topic categories similar to those of the Upper Westside Independent. No, I’m not saying that a small hyperlocal site must look like the New York Times; too fancy a design might even scare off some community people. But a reasonable amount of polish can go a long way. The more technical aid TBD can offer affiliates individually or or through standard packages, the better—especially since many of the affiliate bloggers will be better at writing and social networking than at WordPressing.

Speaking of help for network members, Community engagement staffer Lisa Rowan (aka Listalla, shown in the left photo) this week tweeted that TBD is working on apps. Any of ‘em designed for the blog network folks to use? A WordPress plug-in and other wrinkles to simplify cross-postings, either edited or unedited, would be super. In the works already?

image The civic-oriented blogs in the 82-member TBD network, as opposed to simply “dining in…” or just “real estate in”: Rockville Central (“news and views”), ARLNow (also N&V), And Now, Anacostia (“neighborhood promotion, education, and excitement about the beautiful and historic Anacostia neighborhood”), the Georgetown Metropolitan, Life in the Village (“Fairfax Village section of Hillcrest”), Frozen Tropics (“Trinidad section of H Street”), Annandale, VA, Borderstan (“DC’s Dupont, Logan and U Street neighborhoods”), Old Dominion Watchdog (“dedicated to excellent investigative reporting that promotes responsible state and local government”) Maryland Reporter (“the news site for Maryland government and politics, with original  reporting and a full roundup from other sites” and The Anti D.C. (“satire, offering daily humor essays and vlogs that turn local politics into pop culture and pop culture into whine”)

imageOther civic-oriented sites within the TBD  82 are the Brightwoodian (“news, explorations, and observations”), Silver Spring Singular (“dedicated to the oft-maligned, geographically-ambiguous suburb known as Silver Spring”), Greater Greater Washington (“transportation, development, public spaces and more in DC, Maryland, and Virginia”), New Columbia Heights (“covering everything” in that area), Gateway to Loudoun County and Dulles South (“business-flavored, family-centric blog featuring people, organizations and events of interest in the Dulles region “), The Other 35 percent (“News and Notes on Life in D.C. With Occasional Random Musings”), Pundit Mom (actually more national than local), Beyond DC (not working when I dropped by), U Street Girl (“cultural, artistic, epicurean, social, or lifestyle-related”), We Love DC (“largest locally-owned DC news and lifestyle blog, covering News, Sports, Food, Transit, Politics and Music for all of DC”) and District Curmudgeon (“a pair of well-practiced complainers offer constructive criticism regarding all things DC. Based out of Ward 5’s Trinidad neighborhood”).

I’ve tried to be inclusive in defining “civic-oriented.” Am I still leaving out any naturals? Very possibly. I didn’t list DC Metrocentric (“new buildings, construction, architecture, destruction, planning, real estate, gossip, development”) because it seemed more of a real estate blog). No special order of mentions here, by the way. For those who are curious, The DCist (“the most popular local blog in Washington”), corporately owned, is not in the TBD network (I’m guessing that the DCist has competitive business reasons that don’t reflect on TBD).

image Pros vs. “amateurs”: In a sense I actually was in TBD’s place, as owner of an e-book blog drawing many contributions from nonjournalists. And guess what? I found that the so-called amateurs’ work was better informed on the whole than coverage that the mainstream press offered on the topic. After all, my tech pros and hobbyists actually knew and used the technology and wrote with far more passion than most J school grads would have. Likewise, as an example from TheGeorgetownDish (a nonTBD blog) shows, we can apply this same concept to geographically based coverage. Founder Beth Solomon freelanced for ABC Radio, but far more importantly, she lives in and cares about Georgetown. Let’s see lots and lots of “felt” posts in the TBB affiliates’ blogs—especially about first-hand experiences, good and bad—rather than just dry reporting of government news and store openings.

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David Rothman

8 thoughts on “TBD, meet NYC’s Westside Independent: Role model for SOME neighborhood blog affiliates?

  1. David,

    Thanks for your strong interest in TBD and your thorough analysis of our blog network. As with all of our operation, and as our name implies, the makeup of the TBD Community Network is a work in progress. We continue recruiting aggressively and expect to have far more than the blogs we have announced so far. We value the variety and breadth of our network members, so we want strong representation in sports, dining, entertainment, transportation, real estate, recreation, family and other topic areas. We are pleased with the initial response from blogs you describe as civic-minded, but we are nowhere near finished. We have signed up some more members and will be announcing them next week (lots to do and the holiday weekend looming). Please feel welcome to recommend other blogs for our network.

    The June 30 deadline which more than 80 blogs met this week was just a deadline for inclusion in the network directory for our launch. Other blogs will be added quickly after launch (if we can’t sneak them in by launch). And all blogs joining between now and launch will be aggregated and linked starting on Day 1.

    We share your respect for the work of so-called amateurs, while we hope to offer a significant revenue opportunity through our advertising relationship for network members who see business possibilities in their blogs.

    Thanks for your attention to TBD and for recognizing the open culture that we plan to promote. Please let us know what you think after we launch.

  2. I can’t wait for the launch, Steve. Best of luck with it. Meanwhile it’ll be fun to see how L Street responds. TBD just might turn out to be a lot bigger than the Post is expecting. As a news junky, I’m hoping for both sides to give us a good show!


  3. David, many thanks for the in-depth focus on Rockville Central. I’m delighted you get our “civic mission.” I don’t believe ALL local blogs need such a bent, but it is good if there are some floating around out there.

  4. Thanks Brad. Couldn’t agree more with your thoughts above. Both TBD and the planet in general need all kinds of bloggers.

    Continued best wishes for Rockville Central.


  5. Thanks for finding us David, and for the compliments on Westside Independent. I also enjoyed learning about TBD, given that we’d love to pick up some more revenue from the site. We run the Indy part-time, in addition to full-time day jobs.

    If you’re looking for a really excellent model, check out newhavenindependent.org — frankly the gold standard for hyperlocal sites. The editor there, Paul Bass, inspired me to start my site.


  6. Well, Avi, I really like BOTH sites. You’ve done an amazing job part-time. Inspiration for TBD bloggers and others! Jim Brady, as I recall, wants his model to be able to be replicated elsewhere–so, by way of his company or another, you may be in luck.


  7. Congrats to both TBD and the Dish. Hey, Steve, we both have an eye for talent, eh? It’s a logical marriage. As a newsaholic, I’ll hope that the Post shows similar logic in forging alliances. The Grahams missed a nice opportunity here; Beth even had family ties to their paper via her aunt, and far more importantly, she and her people are so well plugged into the neighborhood scene. Of course, I haven’t seen the contract—maybe there’s no exclusivity clause, and she could still join a Post network. But it’ll be more awkward now. Steve, Beth, any exclusivity? Could Beth still sign up with a Post network? And Beth, what does this mean for your own possible network? Might it still happen out of town? David

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