‘Times’ comes to town, sweating in its gown
In a few weeks The New York Times will launch its long-awaited latest experiment in collaborative online journalism, The Local: East Village.
The L:EV, as it is referred to by its editors (they pronounce it "Lev"), announced itself back in February, detailing a plan to develop a new site incorporating local bloggers, neighborhood residents and student journalists to focus on the neighborhood. The journalism comes from a collaboration with New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute. The local bloggers and neighborhood residents are, basically, supposed to volunteer, though a recruitment drive has been a big part of the ramp-up to launch.
But it hasn't been easy for Lev to make friends in the neighborhood.
“After helping ruin the East Village, NYU turns its attention to covering it,” read the headline on the popular East Village blog EV Grieve the day after the announcement.
“[The] East Village is officially now a hyperlocal journalism experiment at NYU,” wrote the author, whose online persona is the pen name E.V. Grieve (and whose policy of anonymity we complied with for this article). “Not content to just gobble up real estate all over the neighborhood, decapitate churches and fill the streets with obnoxious students, NYU has now teamed up with The New York Times to gentrify the EV blogosphere,” he continued.
At The Awl, Choire Sicha wrote that the site was cynical in that it seemed to be premised on the notion that the way to finance local news operations is on the back of free intern and "community contributor" labor.
(While interns who get course credit for their work on the site through N.Y.U. won't be paid, editors and advisors told Capital that the summer interns and interns working through the Times' internship program will be; and the site is currently developing a program designed to compensate community contributors.)
Members of hte Lev team, after the initial reaction, reached out to East Village bloggers.
“One enterprising student asked me if I knew how to get ahold of Ray at Ray’s Candy Store,” Grieve said. “I gave him the address of the store and suggested that he stop by.”
Another was more politic.
“I like to think of the EV Local as a way to start to make up for the things about NYU that EV residents hate, but this all depends on how well we do our job,” the N.Y.U. student involved with the project wrote to Grieve, in an email that also said the student understood why he was “cranky” and complimented the work he’d done on his blog.
"It seemed like a drive-by compliment," Grieve said.
“Hubris is the right word here,” said Bowery Boogie, in response to Grieve's original post about the site, which also served as a message board for East Village bloggers horrified at the announcement of the new site.
“Gee, I wonder if any of the arrogant little snots reporting on ‘their’ neighborhood will have to leave their cushy wood 'n’ purple NYU ‘trolleys’ and actually intermingle with the hoi polloi (NOT the ones in the bars they frequent) to report?” wrote a commenter named Lisa on Grieve’s original post.
“They need to be stopped,” wrote Jeremiah Moss of Vanishing New York, “and the EV Blog Mafia can stop them.”
THE EAST VILLAGE BLOG MAFIA'S chilly response means a few things. One: that Kim Davis has his work cut out for him.
Davis was hired as a consulting editor, a liaison to the community, a month after the announcement of the site. The listing described someone who would help recruit neighborhood “community contributors,” and who “[lives]in the East Village and [has] lived there for a minimum of three years (East River to Broadway, 14th to Houston Streets.)”
And, perhaps most importantly, the listing said: “You are not an employee of NYU, or in a consulting role for any other division of the University.”
But Davis' job has broadened to include diplomacy between existing East Village bloggers and editors and Lev. More, Davis is meant to emphasize the degree to which cooperation with Lev could possibly broaden existing bloggers' readership in the neighborhood and beyond. Davis is meant to be, according to Rich Jones, Lev's editor, “our ambassador to the community.”
This summer, Davis has been compiling lists of writers, photographers, and video artists to contribute to Lev; Jones spoke of “opening doors” for journalistic aspirants in the neighborhood, and “bringing folks to the table.”
The East Village is arguably the neighborhood-blog capital of New York, and its bloggers are a reflection of the neighborhood: various, and a little cranky. There’s Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York chronicling the openings, and, much more frequently, shutterings of East Village stores. Until May of this year, Neither More Nor Less has been providing a photographic chronicle of the East Village, focused mostly on Tompkins Square Park and the scene outside Ray’s Candy Store on Avenue A. Jill at Blah Blog Blah writes about the Avenue A noise problems. Flaming Pablum provides music news from downtown. Someone who goes by Melanie has an East Village photoblog. Until April, East Village Idiot wrote about EV news, focusing on the M.T.A. downtown. The East Village section of Neighborhoodr calls for posts from readers. GammaBlog posts street art from the East Village. East Village Eats covers neighborhood food news. Undergrads at NYU Local cover the university. The Villager has covered life downtown since 1933. The East Village Feed puts them all in one place.
Into this well-ordered society comes the Times, under full sail of press releases of Christopher Columbus proportions.
On one hand, the Times brings serious journalistic firepower to the endeavor: Mary Ann Giordano, who is the Times' point person on all of the Local sites, is a heavily credentialed local news veteran, as is site editor Rich Jones, who covered metropolitan news and sports for the Times before leaving for a Knight-Bagehot fellowship. At the same time, the cooperation, and the contributions, of local bloggers is to be an integral part of the plan for Lev. About 50 percent community-generated content is the goal. But the natives are protesting.
“To have 50 percent community contributions is a worthwhile target,” Davis told Capital. “But I don't think anyone believes we'll achieve it overnight. Certainly it means recruiting ‘citizen journalists,’ and my understanding is that these are people directly affected by news events, with something to say, who don't have ready access to traditional media except as consumers.”
But what about when community contributors have an ax to grind about N.Y.U.? (It happens!) Davis himself will cover news stories relating to N.Y.U., he said, to avoid any conflict of interest.