The New York Times now runs ads on its front page and, occasionally, a different sort of report on what journalism is becoming. Yesterday there was a pretty good piece on “hyperlocal” websites, and since that’s what I’m trying to do, of course I read it avidly.
And I see my/our problem: We’re too tied to actual human beings. You know — storytellers.
It seems, if you want to attract the big journalism-foundation grants and venture-capital bucks, you have to figure out a way to do it without people. The ultimate hyperlocal site, I gather, is something like Outside.in, which:
…publishes no original content. The company gathers articles and blog posts and scans them for geographical cues like the name of a restaurant or indicative words like “at” or “near.” An iPhone application lets users read articles about events within a thousand of feet of where they are standing. Outside.in, which is based in Brooklyn, licenses feeds of links to big news sites that want to deepen their local coverage, like that of NBC’s Chicago affiliate.
Venture capital firms have invested $7.5 million in the company, partly on the bet that it can cut deals with newspapers to have their sales forces sell neighborhood-focused ads for print and the Web.
Indeed, when I go to Outside.in it uses its IP-sniffers to point me to “Recent Stories and Discussions in Grosse Pointe Farms.” There’s a single link, to a two-week-old story from Crain’s Detroit Business about an earnings report from a Farms-based company. No discussions (or “Discussions” — I know I’m screwed when the thing that bugs me most about this outfit is that it Doesn’t Know What Should Be Capitalized). Seven-point-five million. I’m astonished. Do you know what my two partners and I could do with $7.5 million?
More promising is EveryBlock, started by some guy who got a big grant from the Knight Foundation. It’s deeper, but again — it relies on the fact someone else is out there doing the shoe-leather work, to which it links. To be sure, it does some interesting stuff with data feeds, public documents and clickable-nine-ways-to-Sunday zip-code-based information, but what is missing? A heartbeat. Fingerprints. The hot, stinky breath of a human being who looked at those crime reports and tried to see a pattern or — what’s the word I’m looking for? — oh, right:
Most promising of all is Patch, which still believes in human beings. It has editors and reporters, runs the sort of pictures newspapers don’t run anymore (and let me just add: for good reason). It Twitters, it has mojo (mobile journalists), it has bells and whistles galore. Patch is the closest to what we’re doing, with one key difference: It has money. Seven software engineers?! My head is spinning. Also vice presidents, directors of, and the inevitable Jeff Jarvis, who I’m going to bet is not working free of charge.
We have: We three, plus some volunteers, many of them bought-out and otherwise idled Detroit newspaper journalists. We have: No money other than our own, although we’re finalists for a grant in the low five figures. I’m interested in harnessing the power of the bell and the whistle, but I remain, at the center of it all, stubbornly old school. Bells and whistles are only tools. Story is the key. I believe in stories. I’m so old I smell of Dentu-Creme, but I believe in stories.
And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to update the public-safety map. I’m groping toward a voice for this little corner of the site. Maybe the Arcata Eye’s, crossed with my own. Need to brush up on my limerick-writing skills.
By the way, while I was in one of the Pointe police departments yesterday, gleaning what I could from the reports, the conference-room TV was tuned to Fox News. They ran a breathless promo for the tea-party protest coverage, which I gather has been set for this weekend. Tea partiers are upset over taxation, they say. Correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t most of these people, theoretically under $250K annual income themselves, getting a tax cut under the new regime? I’m confused.
And I see Minnesota now has its second senator. Can it be over now? Doubtful.
Happy Tax Day eve to you. Get filing.