D.C.’s New Local News Shop

July 9, 2010

Open sign on storefront windowLocal news sites are, if you think about it, the boutiques of the online information economy. Yet too often they behave more like big-box stores. They overflow their virtual shelves with wire stories and re-written press releases users can get anywhere while talking about community building a lot more than actually doing it.

The soon-to-launch D.C. area local news site from Allbritton Communications is anti-big-box. TBD.com is planning to carry a selective mix of elegantly presented, high-value news unique to its site and is getting to know its neighbors by name (or at least screen name).

  • Selective: TBD editors have made it clear they’re not going to try to cover everything. They’re going to focus on big regional stories and on neighborhood news and information. Stuff that falls in between isn’t going to get much (digital) ink. For what it doesn’t get to itself, TBD isn’t going to be shy about linking to other sites. (Not unlike when a shop directs a shopper to a business across town when the other place has an item it doesn’t. Online and off, in news and in retail, this builds trust with the customer and the other merchant, promoting return visits and reciprocal referrals.)
  • Elegantly presented: TBD’s homepage is expected to be less cluttered than most other news websites’. And, replacing the sites for WJLA-TV and NewsChannel 8, TBD.com should include its share of visual storytelling packages.
  • High-value: Editor Jim Brady told Poynter that TBD will emphasize timely content that helps people make decisions. Heavy use of geocoding, meanwhile, will help personalize TBD’s offerings.
  • Getting to know its neighbors: TBD has staff members — led by Editor & Publisher Editor of the Year Steve Buttry — dedicated to nurturing relationships with local bloggers and engaging its audience on social media. Its blog network has already eclipsed 90 members and it’s using social media to organize in-person meetups with them and others in the community.

Of course, TBD hasn’t even flipped over its open sign yet. It remains to be seen whether the site can sustain what it’s started, follow through on what it’s promised and make money doing it.

The third point is the biggest question. A lot of parallels have been drawn between TBD and fellow Allbritton property Politico, but Politico still makes most of its money from its print edition. TBD.com has no print counterpart. Of course, that means it avoids the printing and distribution costs that dominate traditional newspapers’ expenses. Perhaps it will make it work. One thing’s for sure: Plenty will be watching to see whether it does.

Creative Commons photo by Flickr user Gary Simmons.

3 Responses to “D.C.’s New Local News Shop”

  1. Steve Buttry Says:

    Thanks for your thoughtful analysis of TBD plans and your kind remarks about what you’ve seen so far. We are confident we are developing a successful model for local digital journalism.

    Please let us know what you think after we launch.

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