But I’m still not yet seeing enough commitment to a strong hyperlocal approach for the formal launch expected later this summer. Jim Brady (photo below), the Washington Post alum overseeing TBD, might be all too right when he says in effect that he doesn’t envision his operation as single-handedly dominating area news.
I won’t blame the affiliate bloggers, most of whom are probably toiling for themselves part-time out of the sheer love of it. But why not aim for more coverage of education, crime and civic matters on these sites and just a little less about the sports, restaurant and retail scenes?
The big formula for many TBD-network bloggers—as well it should be, because they didn’t start up their sites with Jim Brady in mind—currently seems to be this. Take a certain geographical area and filter it through the bloggers’ passion for sports, cooking, nightlife or whatever. Great! “Local” by itself isn’t enough, and newspapers are in trouble partly because they have not recognized this. But as a citizen and ex-daily newspaper reporter, I also want in-depth school, real estate and zoning coverage and other grubby basics, not just the wooing of big spenders, Skins fanatics and other niche targets.
No, I’m not counting out the evolving TBD, which appropriately stands for “To Be Determined”; and, in fact, as a news junky, I very much want it to succeed. A positive is that Brady and crew are promoting themselves to the D.C. community in person, and TBD has even hired “community engagement staffers.” The staff is at around 25 people and will be almost twice as large when the launch happens. To TBD’s credit, it will hold blogger workshops. So maybe with luck, some of the narrowly focused blogger-hobbyists can evolve into steady providers of comprehensive neighborhood coverage.
But for that to occur, Jim Brady will have to directly or indirectly reward his bloggers enough to sustain their interest in meeting TBD’s needs. Quasi-volunteerism, long term, can a pretty dicey way to go. While passion can make a gardening blog bloom, the challenge becomes a little more formidable if you’re truly meeting a wide variety of community needs. And 50 editors, reporters and engagement staffers covering the entire metro area will get Brady only so far, even building on Allbritton’s existing resources.
One nice wrinkle would be for Jim Brady’s bloggers to team up with restaurants or hotels near them and run videos of interview with newsmakers—residents and visiting celebrities—the way blogger Carol Joynt talks to local and national figures through her Q&A Cafe, not part of the TBD network. Shown above is her video interview with Oliver Stone, the Hollywood director-producer-writer. if TBD bloggers did one-on-ones in the Joynt vein, the very best of the interviews could end up on News Channel 8, owned by Allbritton—creator of the popular Politico site—which actually sees Jim Brady’s startup as more than just a Web effort alone. Who knows, perhaps Q&As with local and hyperlocal newsmakers are already in TBD’s plans. Meanwhile TBD should immediately buy video cams to its affiliate bloggers for all kinds of purposes and teach video techniques, if it isn’t doing this already.
I also wonder about another possibility within the cafe realm. Why not follow the example of a New Jersey newspaper and make it possible for local residents to meet the bloggers in person, get quick coaching if need be, then post online? This would be one way to generate a steady stream of local content and use staffers and affiliate bloggers as enablers rather than their doing the job entirely themselves.
Hey, Jim and Editor Erik Wemple—let your people show that TBD can be compelling. How about some interviews with your affiliate bloggers about their blogs and their neighborhoods and personal passions? Ideally the three topics will overlap heavily. Good luck!
Another friendly suggestion: How about a book blogger or even, gasp, a book section? Granted, the Redskins are a bigger draw to the zillionth degree, but don’t at least a few people in the D.C. area read? As others have said and as I’ve discovered first-hand—no claims of objectivity here—the Washington Post is abysmally deficient in coverage of local writers and their works. Perhaps Brady could team up with local bookstores and libraries and create a book forum with a mix of grassroots and professional content. If L Street wants to beat TBD to this, that’s fine by me. Just—someone do it, please. An aside: I hereby disqualify myself for consideration as the proposed book blogger.
Update: OK, it’s official. Lisa Rowan ( @Lisatella ) of TBD says the company is now looking for a book blogger (presumably in the D.C. area). Any takers? She also tweets that TBD plans to do some other things I propose. Thanks, Lisa!
Update #2: Tiffany Bridge wrote a thoughtful reply to my post, where she noted that “local bloggers do this for fun.” Exactly. And that’s terrific! But maybe some local bloggers will want to be paid in return for more comprehensive coverage with more of a civic focus. If not enough do, then TBD may want to hire more staff. My concern is that even with 50 or so people after launch, TBD won’t be able to do justice to coverage of so many neighborhoods—despite the super-talented and well-intentioned people associated with the company. I’m rooting for Jim Brady to get the budget he needs.