What do you get when you cross Facebook with the New York Times?
The Daily Westport.
Starting this week, the local news scene gets a bit more crowded. And lively. And — its backers hope — profitable.
When it goes live in a few days, The Daily Westport will join its neighbor, The Daily Norwalk, as a website for local news, sports, and information about schools, entertainment, real estate and health. It will be heavy on “neighbors” and “local heroes.”
Westport will be among the 1st sites started by the parent company, Main Street Connect. Quick expansion is planned into the rest of Fairfield County, plus Westchester, Rockland and Dutchess Counties.
Within 3 years, the goal is to have “The Daily [insert community name here”] in 3,000 communities.
The concept — and company — are the brainchild of Carll Tucker. He’s no stranger to news (the former editor and publisher of Saturday Review, he sold his Trader Publications firm to Gannett in 1999), or to writing (he’s married to Jane Bryant Quinn, the financial writer and longtime Newsweek columnist).
Convinced that newspapers are dying — “young people don’t read them, and they won’t start” — Tucker began researching community news sites. Some — like WestportNow.com — were very good; he said. Many were terrible.
None had the resources to cover news in the way newspapers traditionally did.
It sounds similar to the Patch — as in WestportPatch.com — model. Choosing his words carefully, Tucker says: “We don’t believe you can successfully create a site with a single paid reporter who is not from the area, and a few freelancers.”
His operation has 9 full-time Fairfield County staffers so far. All, he says, are very experienced, with “deep roots in the community.”
To be successful, Tucker says, a community news website must be “organic.” His model includes local advisory boards, filled with “neighbors.” He calls the Norwalk board “a fun, pizza-and-beer outfit.” Among its tasks: critiquing the site’s coverage, and suggesting other people who can help.
“We aspire to be the digital town green,” says Tucker. “What’s on the town green? Churches, public buildings, houses, shops. We want all of those groups to collaborate with us.”
Though gossip is also part of a town green, Tucker prefers an “upbeat” approach. “Newspapers have gotten into the business of community-bashing,” he says. “There will always be bad news. But do you splash a suspected rapist on the front page, or low-key it somewhere else?”
The business model includes offering affiliations (like franchises), in return for 17 percent of ad revenues.
But Main Street Connect doesn’t sell “ads.” They call them “visibility packages.” A business buying a “package” is guaranteed articles about the business, its customers and staff, as well as “salutes” to customers that run on a continuous loop.
The Daily Westport owes its existence, in a small way, to people like WestportNow.com founder Gordon Joseloff.
“He was a pioneer,” Tucker praises. “He created something with a true community feeling.
“But — and I think Gordon would agree — it’s not something you can live off. A website like that, with a small staff, depends on the continued interest of the founder. You don’t want that fragility, over time, as the beating pulse of your community.”
Tucker says he recruited Joseloff “very hard” to be part of his venture. “I certainly respect his desire to remain independent,” Tucker says.
Speaking of independence: How does Tucker’s vision of an “upbeat” site square with the reality that plenty of news is, well, downbeat?
What, for example, would happen if — theoretically speaking, of course — a large local “dairy store” bought a “visibility package,” but the founder of that dairy store was found guilty of tax fraud?
“Hard news is hard news,” Tucker says. “Nothing affects our coverage of it. If someone doesn’t like it, they’re free to cancel their visibility package.”
But Tucker returns to his upbeat mantra. And he uses an example everyone knows to make his point.
“Facebook is larger than all newspapers that have ever existed,” he says.
“Why is it so powerful? It’s a positive experience. When you’re on Facebook you see people you know, in a positive mood. You’re uplifted.”
The Daily Westport, he says, will be “something between Facebook and the New York Times. I want us to be your neighbor, bringing you the news.”
I am still trying to figure out what keeps me checking this blog and Westportnow several times a day. Both are local, relevant and timely. The fact that it is easy to see what is new might have something to do with it.
I applaud Carll’s efforts and wish him and everyone the best of luck with this worthy endeavor. The challenge will be to keep people checking back several times a day, and to not sink into rah-rah journalism to please the advertisers.
BTW, the editor of the Fairfield Patch is Andy Brophy, a resident of that town who has been a local journalist for about 20 years. It is refreshing to see that someone in charge knows the town.
Something between “Facebook and the ‘New York Times’? That would be Twitter. I am sticking with “06880” if you don’t mind. It gives me all the “news fit to print” and some pictures of people I DON’T know.
Dynamic online local news is not easy to do. WestportNow does a decent job of reporting on Town Hall, but they are pretty thin on sports. Many of their posts are submitted by readers or advocates like Jim Cameron. Woog has a great insight on the people of Westport, but is thin on news. The Westport News is stale – it’s Monday and there are no weekend sports reports?
The world of online news is in transition. The New York Times is going to charge a fee. Murdoch is limiting access to his reports. Blogs are springing up everywhere. I’ll keep reading these, and hopefully a new model will emerge that merges news reporting with local flavors.
… and reader comments!
Hey, I’m a thin guy.
At least the thin Dan Woog has his pulse on the community. 06880 is great for people who aren’t necessarily interested in the happenings at Town Hall, but want to know what is going on in the community. Dan’s common-man perspective adds much to the site.
Who says thin (or is that tiny?) Woog does not cover happenings at Town Hall? Also, there is no commonality about Dan. He indeed has his finger on the pulse of Westport, both past and present, which is very uncommon in news reporting today.
Speaking of news reporting today, have you ever noticed how many beauty pageant contestants list communications as their majors? They must be successful too because you see ’em everywhere on the local news.
Oh yeah, I am sure there is a great market out there for beauty pageant contestants. Maybe one in a million or so of college graduates. Right up there with film direction as the number one draw.
I do like the logo. It feels comfortable in some weird way, but I’m not sure how.
Hey, I gotta run, my train is about to leave.
I’m looking forward and do believe that online content will be the future of news. Good luck to the new venture. But, Dan, you’ll always be my no. 1 daily read. The Daily Westport might push WestportNow into 3rd place – time will tell.
I am a fan of Westport Now, of 06880 and of Dan Woog. But I do look forward to what this new site will offer. And have my fingers crossed that they put out a Fairfield site soon — as that town is under served in this area.
PS. the logo looks familiar to me too. Its a lift from the Metro North station signs.