ALBANY, NEW YORK — All Over Albany is a conversation starter. The Albany, N.Y.-based blog covers local news, events, and culture with a mission to provide its readers with fodder for a casual but informed exchange. Editors Mary Darcy and Greg Dahlmann created the site in 2008 after working together at WAMC Northeast Public Radio. At the time, they sensed that there was a niche in the New York Capital Region waiting to be filled by the right blog—one with the kind of irreverent, casual tone and focus on human interest stories and local events that had been successful for web startups such as Gothamist in New York City. AOA’s work can best be described as a series of snapshots of goings-on in Albany and the surrounding area—coverage of everything from the best pizza to the worst politics is fair game. Darcy describes their creation—with the casual style typical of AOA—as “a virtual living room or whatever,” a reference to the site’s emphasis on conversation-inducing local news.
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The editors base their coverage decisions on a simple gut-check: Is a given story one that people will want to talk about? “Sometimes that’s along the lines of what people would call hard news,” says Darcy, “and sometimes it’s ‘Hey, what is that thing that I pass by everyday?’” For example, a lead from Twitter inspired an ongoing story about residents raising chickens in their yards—a practice that is illegal in Albany. Darcy and Dahlmann initially pursued the story because of its small-talk potential and were thrilled when the story inspired “high minded conversation,” prompting one commenter to write, “I think AOA has become the new town meeting.”
AOA posts about ten new items each weekday. Some of the posts are original stories and others are short, clever descriptions of (and links to) stories by other outlets. With readers wanting more content, Dahlmann and Darcy have begun employing freelancers (never more than two at a time) to report stories for the site. So far, however, they say that these part-time positions have done more to increase coverage depth than post count. Also, they’ve found that hiring and maintaining a larger staff actually increases their own workload. AOA also accepts tips, photos, and occasional articles from its readers. “The great thing about having a crowd who is intelligent and engaged is that it tends to feedback on itself,” Dahlmann explains. “People like to contribute to communities that they feel that they’re a part of.”
Expansion is a priority. The blog has done its best to branch out, teaming up with local media in TV, radio, and print. In most cases this means doing a guest article or appearance in exchange for a shout-out (for example, Darcy and Dahlmann have appeared on the local 10 o’clock news to preview their upcoming posts.) The site is sustained solely by a few unobtrusive ads, aimed mostly at young adults (graduate programs, restaurants, credit unions, etc.). The ads are sold directly to businesses by Darcy and Dahlmann, and they say that these efforts provide enough income for the two of them to make a living and pay operating expenses.
The editors emphasize that everything they do and the way that they do it is entirely a function of the particular community they cover and interact with. While they acknowledged looking to successful blog models like Gothamist and MetaFilter.com for initial inspiration, they maintain that imitation is useless. “There’s a mistake that people make and that’s to assume that there’s one model that’s going to work in every community. The hard thing about doing local online is that you have to find what works for each area…it’s really hard to just take one template and apply it” Dahlmann says.
But while Darcy and Dahlmann deride cookie-cutter startup models, they may have effectively outlined their own: be supremely sensitive to the pulse of your community and give them something to talk about.
All Over Albany Data
Name: All Over Albany
Principal Staff: Greg Dahlmann, co-founder and editor; Mary Darcy, co-founder and editor.
Affiliations: Informal content relationships with local media.
CMS: MovableType - Pro / Enterprise