November 15, 2012

Exciting developments in the East Bay's hyper-local news landscape

A new news website has emerged in the East Bay suburbs, started by veteran journalist J.D. O’Connor, who, until recently, was editor of Lamorinda Patch.  

News 24-680 covers “the crossroads of Contra Costa County”: the towns of Lamorinda, Walnut Creek and Danville.

J.D. and other creators behind News 24-680 describe themselves as a collection of “Old School” journalists, tech-savvy “Young Turks” and supporters – “all of us dedicated to bringing local news to the people in an unfiltered and unflinching new way.” That means: “deep, local coverage of news and events important to residents of the Highway 24/Interstate 680 corridor.” The site promises to adhere to traditional standards of gathering and reporting events, but bringing them to you “with the lightning-fast expediency the latest technology affords."

 This all sounds very exciting, considering that we in the 24/680 corridor will now have quite a selection of local and hyper-local news outlets: the Contra Costa Times, the Patches (Lamorinda, Walnut Creek, and Danville), and Claycord, amongst them.  They all deliver news in different ways.  

Both JD and I started our respective blogs – East Bay Daze and Crazy in Suburbia – around the same time and in response to what we saw as a need to provide our communities with alternative sources for news. At the time, The Contra Costa Times and its weeklies pretty much dominated the landscape, except for that upstart over in Concord and Clayton, Claycord.

In 2010, we both took a chance on joining AOL Patch’s growing network of news websites. Patch gave us salaries, health benefits, and the technical infrastructure to start, respectively, Walnut CreekPatch and Lamorinda Patch. In my humble opinion, JD and I were both pretty good at running our sites. We both worked hard to offer good journalism and to bring in good writers, reporters, photographers and videographers to help out. 

Both our sites were always at the top or near the top in things that matter most to Patch (UVs and sales); we both benefited from smart, engaged readerships, and it was fun building a community around which readers could participate in conversations about local issues.  

But, then I left Patch in 2011. It was a tough decision, but Patch wanted to take its empire of 800 sites nationally in certain directions.  JD continued to operate Lamorinda Patch until a few months ago, when he was asked to leave following a disagreement with Patch management over comment moderation. His supervisors apparently didn't like how he challenged people leaving scathing comments about other political candidates to identify who they represented, O’Connor told Jim Romenesko.

 “The good editors established strong ties with a dedicated readership and I was a beneficiary of that level of trust,” O’Connor told me. “I believe we need to keep things independent and transparent and the readers believing that what they were getting was as near the pure truth as we could deliver -- and I knew that model resonated with them in a big way.”

After being “jettisoned” from is job, J.D. began receiving inquiries from people around the area who said they wanted to help him build a new resource for news and information.  Those people included tech-savvy individuals who helped build the website and content management system, JD says. 

“All in all the experience has been really fun, with the usual thrill-ride pump of a start-up combined with the old magic of doing community journalism combining to keep things interesting,” he says. “Some very young people with sharper minds than mine have some ideas for how we should go about delivering the news here and we hope to bring them to market soon.”

Some say there is no market or money in hyper-local news, given the way Patch and other major media organizations have struggled to establish revenue-generating sites. But, perhaps their top-down model is wrong.  The apparent success of locally created East Bay sites like Claycord and Berkleyside may tell a different story.


Anonymous said...

Great news, especially if you'll be asked to pitch in. I hope you will. I can't take Patch anymore. A good idea soured. Horrible, long, boring non-local malicious comment strings, and pray little local news.

Austin Walker said...

This is great, I agree with the post above, Patch has become a waste of time. I can hardly stand to check it.

Austin Walker
Teen Activities Director

Martha Ross said...

Having selection is a good thing, a variety of sources can be helpful, though it can be overwhelming sometimes, too. I know the gentlemen who run the Patch sites in Lamorinda, WC and Danville, and they are all hard-working, good journalists. JD has done great work, and so do the reporters and editors at the Times. It will be interesting to see how all this evolves.

Anonymous said...

Can I say, I wish this venture well and I agree with the Patch comments, but I think they need some work on their presentation and design. I find it really hard to find the news!
It's way too busy and confusing. I'm afraid they won't survive as is. People want local news that is well-written and easy to find and to read.