Patch is not exactly at the forefront of Westport media. That’s not surprising, since it is was owned by AOL — you know, the company that back in the last century was for a while the world’s largest distributor of CDs.
Kids! Ask your parents what these were!
But the other day someone sent me a link to Patch’s list of the Top 10 Restaurants in Westport (according to Yelp).
It must have been a slow news day over at Patch. But hey — it’s a slow news day at “06880” too!
So here is the Yelp list.
There’s no arguing with #10 and 9: Acqua and Via Sforza. Kibberia is #8, though I’d bump this great Middle Eastern spot a few notches higher.
Some of the many intriguing dishes at Kibberia.
#7 is Rainbow Thai, in Bridge Square. I’m glad it’s not overlooked.
Checking in at #6 is Yamafuji, which apparently is a sushi place across from Super Stop & Shop. I’ve never heard of it, but Yelpers give it rave reviews.
The Top 5 is where things get a little odd.
Yelp’s 5th most popular restaurant in Westport is Gold’s Delicatessen. Sure, it’s been around since Moses. And yeah, the lox and bagels are good. But when was the last time you heard anyone say answer “Gold’s!” to the question, “We’re looking for a really good restaurant in Westport. What do you recommend?”*
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.
Jane Bryant Quinn and Carll Tucker (Photo courtesy of The New York Times)
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.”
In the mid-1960s the upstart Westport News challenged the established, staid Town Crier.
Earlier this decade WestportNow.com roared onto the scene, altering the speed and means by which Westporters got their news.
This week, Westport’s media landscape changes again.
Westport Patch is scheduled to launch Wednesday, the day after elections. Like its sister sites in Wilton, Darien, New Canaan and Ridgefield — and Westport-type communities in New Jersey, including Maplewood, Scotch Plains and Westfield — Westport Patch is one answer to the undeniably decreasing (and fast fading) role newspapers play in American society.
It’s also a higher-tech, more interactive — and sexier — version of WestportNow, one of the 1st such sites in the nation, and at the time a pioneer of the community website genre.
The Westport News website is similar to Patch — though many news stories, editorials and police reports are posted after they appear in print. The News site has not yet gained traction in town.
Westport Patch will include breaking news stories and photos. It’s also got:
Maps — so when you read about (I’m making this up) a rash of burglaries on Peaceful Lane, you’ll know exactly where it happened
Videos — the Darien site includes a story on new lights for peewee football fields; the RTM rules committee going “off the record,” and a Darien High traffic campaign that students don’t like
Announcements of coming events, births, even — hey, this is what hyper-local means — a mention that “Fred Gaston, 50, of Wilton finished in 8th place in Sunday’s New Canaan-to-Wilton Great Train Race”
Sports results — this is pretty flexible; the Darien site recently noted “DHS Wizards Gear Up for Quidditch”
Police and Fire reports
A townwide directory, with info on everything from beaches, businesses and doctors to the railroad station, town officials and movie theaters (a slim category in Westport, for sure)
Comments by users
Interactivity is key. Anyone can add events to the community calendar — and post announcements, photos, even videos.
Each Patch has its own editor. Westport’s is Liz Mitchell. She’s completely new here, but spent the past several weeks learning the town. She’s met with everyone from Staples principal John Dodig and police chief Al Fiore to First Selectman Gordon Joseloff — who just happens to be the founder of WestportNow.com.
Westport Patch is free. It is not, however, a non-profit. Patch Media Corporation is owned by AOL. Word on the street is that AOL is pouring big bucks into the 12 existing Patches (with dozens more to be rolled out soon).
How will Patch make money? A 2-tiered ad system allows business owners to create online ads. Patch’s sales team works with individual businesses to “best satisfy their needs.”
Westport Patch’s influence on Westport could be profound. It could alter the way we get information about our town, and discuss that info.
It could help spread news about activities and events in an unprecedented, unfathomable way — bringing folks together in a cyber version of the old town square. For a good part of the 20th century, Westport’s main source of news was the Town Crier. A new town crier soon bursts on the scene.
Having said that, the jury is out. I’ve spoken to people in several communities that already have Patch. They like it a lot — but it hasn’t become a habit. It has yet to generate a buzz, they say — they don’t hear friends and neighbors saying, “Oh, did you see on Patch today…?”
Perhaps that’s because those towns don’t have a WestportNow, so they haven’t gotten into the habit of turning to their computers for local news. Or perhaps — like Betamax — it’s a great idea at the wrong time.
No one yet knows if this Patch will stick. But one thing is for sure: On Wednesday, the big news in town will be the news itself.
(“06880” likes the idea of Westport Patch — and thinks there’s a place in town for a blog and another news source. Time will tell.)
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