Sometime today, The New York Times is supposed to launch two new citizen journalism sites focused on local communities.
"The Local" will appear on the Times' Web pages with sites dedicated to three communities in New Jersey -- Maplewood, South Orange and Millburn -- and two Brooklyn neighborhoods, Fort Greene and Clinton Hill.
A Local Version of the Times
With most of the contributions coming from recruited local residents, the goal is to "encourage and instigate people in their communities to do their own reporting and contribute their own creativity to the community we are trying to build online," said Jim Schachter, Times editor/digital initiatives.
Each site will be overseen by a Times staffer, but locals will file stories, photos and other items to each site on a volunteer basis. The Local will also feature a map-based real-estate listings section that will tie back to the NY Times’ main real-estate site.
Can Citizen Journalism Work for the Times?
Although we aren't certain this is a plot to replace its local coverage, which has been reduced in the last few years, it's definitely a grassroots effort intent on discovering how citizen journalism can be a part of the Times' mission.
It's hard to ignore the fact that the self-described leader of world news is suddenly so focused on local communities. As budgets for world news bureaus around the world are considerably reduced or altogether shut down (coupled with last week's announcement that the Rocky Mountain News has printed its last newspaper) this may be the time to start firing on all cylinders.
An Evolving Model
Covering local communities with much depth as it does the world can be costly, so it's not surprising that this current model may evolve over time. Schachter has commented on just that, saying:
Our two pilot sites are staffed with full-time NYTimes reporters. That’s not cheap. Obviously, it’s also not a sustainable model. We’re trying to figure out what would be. Can we create a combination of journalism, technology and advertising that people who don’t work for us can adopt? How much or how little oversight by us would be needed to keep the quality high? Would people pay to be associated with us? Would there be enough revenue that some split between us and a non-NYT blogger would work? I’d love to know what readers here think.
Can the Times be an online newspaper for everyone, whether you're in Jakarta or Jersey? Or it is more realistic for newspapers to be focused exclusively on the communities they directly serve?
In such unstable times, there's no telling what will work and what won't, except if you don't try anything at all.