Earlier this year, WestportNow celebrated its 15th anniversary.
Since 2003 the site has provided readers with political news, police reports, coverage of community events like library talks and fundraisers, obituaries, photos of sunrises and sunsets, and the immensely popular “Teardown of the Day.”
The founder, editor and publisher is Gordon Joseloff. He gave up his editor’s post between 2005 and 2013 — that’s when he served 2 terms as the town’s 1st selectman — but he’s been back at the helm ever since.
Gordon Joseloff (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)
Joseloff’s journalistic chops are real. He worked for UPI. Then, during 16 years at CBS News, he rose from a writer for Walter Cronkite and Dan Rather to correspondent, senior producer and bureau chief in New York, Moscow and Tokyo.
Joseloff covered the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the downing of Korean Air Lines flight 007, the assassination of India Prime Minister Indira Gandhi (for which he won an Emmy Award in 1984), the Bhopal gas leak, and the overthrow of Philippines President Fernando Marcos.
And he’s a Westport native. His family’s roots run deep: They owned downtown property including the Fine Arts Theater, a very popular spot for over 8 decades. (Today it’s Restoration Hardware.)
Joseloff was a teenage reporter for the Westport Town Crier, and helped create the predecessor of Staples’ WWPT radio station, broadcasting at Compo Beach.
Prior to running for first selectman, Joseloff served 14 years on the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) — 10 of them as moderator.
A member of Westport Rotary and an honorary member of the Westport Historical Society advisory council, Joseloff is also a volunteer firefighter, and a former Emergency Medical Technician.
Congratulations on 15 years to WestportNow — and thanks to Gordon Joseloff, its founder, guiding light, and this week’s Unsung Hero.
While “06880” readers were discussing the vileness of the Westport PAL for daring to sponsor tonight’s fireworks, another blog was helping affect real change.
I admit it: I missed the story.
I drove over the Post Road bridge the other day, and noticed the American flags were gone. I chalked it up to not paying attention the bazillion other times I cross the bridge. I thought they were up all the time, I said to myself. Guess not.
Guess again. As WestportNow.com reported, since 9/11 nearly 100 American flags have graced what no one calls the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge. They fly from late April to Thanksgiving, giving way only to flags of the world on jUNe Day (last Saturday) and UN Day (October).
Indeed they were gone, victim of budget cuts and the need to slash Public Works expenses. The new plan would have them up only for major holidays.
The Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge. (Photo by Lynn U. Miller for WestportNow.com)
After WestportNow.com announced the news — and, okay, they knew about it because founder Gordon Joseloff spends a bit of time at Town Hall — reaction was swift. Audrey Hertzel got the ball rolling, and the next day a private individual ponied up $2,500 to pay for annual maintenance.
It was a wonderful moment for Westport — for downtown, for every person who drives or walks over the bridge, and for the power of 1 citizen (and 1 blog) to create change.
Meanwhile, this blog was talking about how horrible it is that the PAL has run the fireworks for over 50 years, and how awful it is that once a year the traffic is bad at the beach even though everyone has a good time.
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.”
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