NEW YORK, NEW YORK — In 2009, The New York Times made drastic changes in its approach to local news. The year saw the closure of the papers City section, but also the launch of The Local. A web-based hyperlocal reporting initiative, The Local created two separate sections of nytimes.com: one devoted to the Brooklyn neighborhood of Fort Greene and a second covering the township of Maplewood in Essex county, N.J. Each section was run by a dedicated Times staffer and published coverage by Times reporters, but also carried student work harvested from journalism graduate students at Columbia, CUNY, and NYU.
- Read more about The Local East Village
In early 2010, the Times transferred day-to-day control of the Fort Greene site to the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. The paper continues to host and oversee the site, but the reporting and editing are now in the hands of CUNY’s professors and students. In June 2010, the Times shut down the Maplewood site and handed over its territory and contributor list to Baristanet.
When New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute decided to found its own startup covering the university’s home turf in lower Manhattan, the school approached the Times with the idea of a partnership modeled on The Local. A planning process that began in 2009 resulted in The Local East Village, a collaboration between NYU students, NYT editors, and residents of the East Village. The site launched in September 2010.
The Local East Village covers neighborhood housing, business, education, crime and “life” through multimedia stories produced by students and run by Daniel Maurer, former editor of New York‘s Grub Street New York. The one-year-old site is overseen by Times editor Mary Ann Giordano, who also runs the Fort Greene and Clinton Hill Local sites and the newspaper’s SchoolBook blog, about New York City schools.
“She was instrumental in implanting Times standards and values and priorities into The Local when it was first launched,” says Maurer of Giordano’s role. “She has her eyes on the site and plucks stuff for the newspaper.”
East Village Local stories such as
studentchief correspondent (and NYU graduate) Stephen Rex Brown’s piece on the Parks Department’s reform of permit rules have caught Giordano’s eye in the past. For that story, Brown submitted a FOIA request in order to acquire permits granted for park use in the city and found that the majority of permits were being granted to for-profit adult sports leagues rather than children’s leagues. Brown spent a lot of time pouring over Excel documents to figure out who was using the park, according to Maurer, and uncovered a story that had citywide significance.
For students, the site is a “dream opportunity,” says Maurer. “They are being published on the Times‘s site and they have the opportunity to get the ear of the editor.”
With this opportunity comes considerable pressure on students to produce at a high standard.
“They know that they have to answer to the entire neighborhood and the entire world who’s reading the site,” explains Maurer.
“Initially we got a lot of pushback from those sites because there was a perception that we were gentrifying the blogosphere,” Maurer says. “It’s a little misguided, because we’re talking about news. We’re not talking about Walmart pushing out the local hardware store. There’s just an infinite amount of news in the East Village.”
Though the Times doesn’t publicly release metrics for the site, Maurer says its traffic is steadily growing, as is the trust of and collaboration with the neighborhood it covers.
The Local East Village receives partial funding from NYU, which Maurer points out could be seen as a conflict of interest for a news site covering a neighborhood where the university’s expansion programs are controversial. In an effort to establish the site’s editorial independence, students have produced a series covering various aspects of the expansion.
“It builds trust in us as a news source, and not just an outlet for NYU,” says Maurer. “I think we’ve brought people around.”
The site also received startup funding from The Knight Foundation and is now exploring other sources of revenue. One such source is the Hyperlocal Newsroom Summer Academy, a summer program for high school students which is hosted by the site.
“We’re going to try and run on our own fuel,” says Maurer.
Unique among student-produced news sites, an important mission of East Village Local is to bring in freelancers from the community itself, ideally hitting a 50/50 ratio for content produced by students and neighborhood residents. Also unique among news sites of any kind, citizen contributors are currently paid rates competitive with the Times‘s City Room. The site is in the process of creating a “virtual assignment desk” that allows residents to fill out a form online, pitch stories, offer tips, and take assignments.
In Maurer’s opinion, The Local East Village is reminiscent of a time before World War II when the city’s biggest newspaper had reporters in every neighborhood.
“In a way, it’s a return to that old tradition,” Maurer says. “That’s where the partnership with a university is a great model, because you have more feet on the ground.”
The Local East Village Data
Name: The Local East Village
City: New York