NY Times turns blog over to CUNY


In March 2009, The New York Times launched a blogging experiment by debuting two blogs they called The Local blogs.

One covered New York’s Fort Greene and Clinton Hill (these are parts of Brooklyn), while the other covered Maplewood, Millburn and South Orange.

According to a NYT Media Decoder blog post by Richard Perez-Pena, these two localized news portals “stand as an example of a fast-growing trend of mainstream news organizations farming out some of their reporting to outsiders.”

Translation: The Times was getting free labor, and the sites were doing well, which is a victory no matter how you shade it.

And that’s great. Innovation is needed in these times, and if content can be produced on the cheap, that’s just gravy.

Which really begs the question: why is The Times turning the blog over to City University of New York?

That’s what is happening, as was announced Friday.

Professors and graduate students will now run the blog, and The Times will still provide some supervision.

Andy Newman, who wrote a nice goodbye post Friday, was The Times’ staffer charged with running the blog. Now he is moving to the Metro Section’s blog, the City Room.

In his post, Newman also gushed about how great The Local blogs were, saying the bosses at The Times love the growth the sites have shown in their nine months of life.

I say good work.

“‘Engagement’ is the holy grail for publishers today, and The Local has been wildly successful in engaging its target audience in Brooklyn,” said Jim Schachter, editor for digital initiatives at The Times in a press release. “The users of the site create most of the content – posts, photographs, videos, slideshows – and this coverage, by and for residents, sets the news agenda of these communities.”

Schachter is right. It is a great idea, and as he said later in the release, such efforts “produce news coverage and service journalism that might not otherwise be available to Times readers.”

Correct again, but I must repeat myself: if it is such a good thing, why give it up like this?

If The Times is going to continue to extol the positives of this experiment, why wouldn’t they keep one of their staffers on it?

If The Times is so happy with it, why, reading between the lines a bit, do they want to save money from their bottom line by removing a full-time staff member from the job? They are already saving loads by convincing community members to post content for them and for free. What more can they ask for?

This situation seems a bit odd to me. Why give it up? Furthermore, why give up only one of the two Local blogs? Why is The Times keeping the other?

Granted, The Times will still technically be in control of both blogs, but for all intents and purposes, they are abandoning the one.

What kind of message does that send to not only the readers and users of that site, but to the industry as a whole?

I mean, The Times glows about what a great idea it is to start these local blogs for communities to rally around, and then they turn it over to a university to deal with because it is simply too much work, which may not be the true reason but is sure the message I’m receiving.

I like the idea, and I see how it could be used as a profitable way to turn a media company around; however, to do so, said media company would actually need to continue to actively support the venture. Not turn it over to someone else less than a year after its inception.

To me this just comes down to big media companies trying to claim they made the wheel even as everyone drives past their offices.

Small-town newspapers and journalists have already been in on the community-building gig, long before The Times decided to launch a local blogs for specific communities.

Small-town journalism has always done this, while big paper, such as The New York Times, have always worried about loftier goals, such as covering the world instead of their own back yards.

Now, all of a sudden, they decide they need to start paying attention to home because it’s not nice to crap where you eat, and they are eating up the profits of New Yorkers buying their paper while crapping on them by not covering them.

I think companies are in such a hurry to fix their financial woes, due to the decline of print advertising and everyone wanting online content to be available sans price tag, they are just trying anything and everything. That’s fine, except they need to give these ventures time.

The Times’ Fort Greene-Clinton Hill blog didn’t get time. It got outsourced.

You want local news? Pay attention to small-town local news outlets. That’s where the future is, not in large conglomerates trying to rule the world.

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