(Originally posted on Aug. 9, 2010)
The biggest news of the week in media may be today’s launch of TBD.com, Allbritton Communications’ new hyperlocal site in Washington, D.C. Many people who devote either their jobs, a large chunk of their free time or both to pondering the future of news media have been eagerly awaiting it. Now that’s it’s here, the early reviews, like this one, or this from Mashable, have been good but not overwhelming — more like “It’s a good start; let’s see what happens.” The editor of the site admits it’s a work in progress — which is why it’s named TBD, “to be determined.”
The editor’s letter to readers includes some details about staffing that had not been widely circulated before, as far as I know:
“TBD has about a dozen reporters. One of them writes nothing but lists. One is all over pedestrian life. One holds politicians throughout the region accountable. Three carry a year-round obsession with the Redskins. Three are covering some of the fastest-developing communities in the region. Three are the final authority on all things arts and entertainment.”
That obviously does not sound like a lot of reporting power for a city as large as Washington. But the site’s focus is on using aggregation and a massive network of independent bloggers to create a come-here-first-for-your-news destination:
“TBD has an aggressive news-filtering machine powered by an entire staff of journalists who scan the region’s blogs, newspapers, and magazines every day. They categorize all the stories from sources in our coverage area so that you can find them with virtually no effort. Just tap your ZIP code or neighborhood into the “My Community” box, and you’ll get the entire “news feed” for your area. Never again will you end up out of the conversation. Moments ago, I entered my ZIP. I found 55 stories written over the past 72 hours from 30 sources.”
The great hope being invested in this site is because to date no one has found the model to make hyperlocal sites profitable on a large scale (emphasis on large). And even if TBD works, it is paired with two Washington-area TV stations, one of them a 24-hour news channel, which may mean some things would not translate to other markets. But it’s the new-media show to watch, and it may answer questions about the viability of online news. If nothing else, it could alter some features of news sites’ designs.
8/10 UPDATE: A view from the broadcast perspective:
“On many levels, TBD is worth talking about. It’s the first aggressive effort in local TV circles to compete in a new world of online/mobile news. Allbritton added about 50 people for the site, roughly as many staffers already working on the TV side. And it combined its online brands: WJLA.com and Newschannel 8’s website now redirect to TBD.com. Allbritton is so serious about TBD, it’s rebranding its cable news channel, Newschannel 8 with TBDTV.
“It also is taking a fresh approach to local news: a ‘platform-neutral’ approach to sales, agnostic aggregation (link the competition!) and a citizen blog network with a revenue sharing arrangement, to name a few. …
“(T)his is the first time that a local media group — especially in the TV space — has wrapped these ideas together and aggressively launched them with an investment to back it up.”