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February 23, 2010

Explaining The Local: East Village, NYU's Collaboration with the New York Times

"Look: Not everyone is going to be thrilled that NYU is doing this with the New York Times. We'll have to take those problems on, not as classroom abstractions but civil transactions with the people who live and work here. You know what? It's going to be messy and hard, which is to say real."

The New York Times and NYU’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute announced yesterday that they will collaborate on a news site serving the East Village neighborhood of Manhattan. It will be called The Local: East Village, and it will appear on the The site will be edited and produced at NYU.

In this post, I will explain what we’re up to and why we’re doing it. I don’t speak for the editors of the Times, but I have been discussing the East Village project with them for over a year and I have some sense of what brought them to this collaboration. And it is a collaboration: NYU will produce the site; the Times will publish it. The Times will provide the online platform and strong editorial guidance; NYU will try to bring the East Village community to that platform and innovate on it.

Jim Schachter, editor of digital initiative for the Times, said the project was made possible by shared values, a single set of standards, the most important of which is “increasing the volume and scope of quality journalism about issues that matter.”

Here’s my own description of the project and how it will work:

1. The Local: East Village will be a news site about the culture and politics, the life and times of the East Village of Manhattan. That to us means the area bounded by 14th St. on the North, Houston Street to the South, the East River and Broadway to the West, which is about 110 city blocks. The offices of the NYU Journalism Institute (at 20 Cooper Square) lie within the coverage area. We work in the East Village, and many of our students live there.

2. The url will be (It’s not live yet.)

3. The Local: East Village (or LEV, as we’re calling it) builds on the prior work of the Times in starting two other community news sites on the wordpress blogging platform: one for Maplewood, Millwood and South Orange New Jersey, the other serving Ft. Greene and Clinton Hill in Brooklyn. The CUNY Graduate School of Journalism is collaborating with the Times on the Brooklyn Local.

4. In another sense the collaboration unveiled yesterday builds on two earlier announcements: that the Times would join with the Bay Area News Project in a San Francisco edition and the Chicago News Cooperative in a Chicago edition. In all three cases, a non-profit supplies content to the Times and permits it to provide better coverage than it otherwise could. Chicago and San Francisco are key places on the cultural map for the New York Times; so is the East Village.

5. The editor of the site will be an NYU faculty member, Richard G. Jones, who is a former metro reporter for the New York Times. He will work closely with Mary Ann Giordano, a deputy Metropolitan editor at the Times who is in charge of The Locals. These two people are the “hinge” between institutions. We already know they can work together because they did before, when Jones was at the Times.

6. Whereas CUNY took over the production of an existing site, LEV is more of a start-up. The Local: East Village doesn’t exist yet. The Journalism faculty and students at NYU are to give form to it, and we are presently hard at work on that, assisted by the editors and blogging team at the New York Times.

7. Deciding how to launch the site, how it should operate, and how to make it effective in the East Village community are ideal tasks for students in NYU’s Studio 20 program, which I direct, assisted by my colleague, Jason Samuels, formerly of The students in Studio 20 are immersed in the innovation puzzle in journalism; they learn by doing projects with media partners who are struggling with the same puzzle. We’ve devoted their spring seminar—a class called Studio 2, which I teach—to this collaboration with the New York Times. They are working on every aspect of the project: from the design of the site to relationships with the community, from work flows to topic pages, data apps to user participation, social media to beat reporting.

8. Once the site officially launches in the fall of 2010, The Local: East Village will be partly sustained by a new course in NYU’s Reporting New York program. It will be called The Hyperlocal Newsroom, and offered during the fall, spring and summer terms. Faculty members Yvonne Latty and Darragh Worland will teach it, assisted by Rich Jones, the editor of LEV. The idea is that there’s no better way to learn about “reporting New York” then to cover a neighborhood in New York for

9. Coverage of the East Village—including blog posts, news reports, video, audio, slide shows and the like—will come from students in the The Hyperlocal Newsroom, plus other NYU students and alumni who wish to contribute, plus contributors we recruit from the East Village (bloggers, citizen journalists, community leaders, writers and video artists who live there) who want to report on their community or speak to it. This probably won’t happen right away, but a key goal is to get to 50 percent community contributions. (Wanna help us get there? Email studio 20.)

10. The Times is providing: the publishing platform including the servers, editorial supervision, the url, other tools and data sources available to its various blogs, and, of course, inspiration, reputation and a standard of excellence recognized around the world. NYU is providing: the editor’s salary, student and faculty labor, offices (including a meeting space, production studios, classrooms and a location in the East Village) plus the reputation of its journalism program and the University at large. No money is changing hands, but ideas are flying. A simple one page agreement governs our relationship.

11. There are other parties collaborating in this project. Dave Winer, a visiting scholar at NYU and technical adviser to Studio 20, has already contributed, a river of news-style feed that will help us curate the blogosphere and wider web. He will advise us on other parts of the project, as well. Avi Fein and Natalie Marchant, students from the Stern School of Business Consulting Corps, are working with Studio 20 on the sustainability puzzle. I’ve asked them to figure out what the most likely sources of revenue are and recommend a strategy we can follow over the next year or two. Anuj Bajaj, Erik Froese and SungHyun Bang, students in Professor Evan Korth’s Information Technology Projects class in the computer science program at NYU are collaborating with Studio 20 on an open source assignment desk system that we can use for LEV. (This is one of the holy grails of citizen journalism.) Darian Shirazi, founder and head geek at , is building us an aggregation tool based on his system for isolating new web content about particular places.

12. We plan to pay for at least some of the contributions flowing into the Local East Village from the community, students and freelancers. How much we can pay and what percentage of the content will be paid for…. well, we cannot say at the moment. But Brooke Kroeger, director of the Journalism Institute, is determined to raise enough money to give the editor a modest “war chest” that would compensate key contributors and fill the gaps when NYU is not in session. LEV will be a pro-am site. The only compensation system that makes sense, and the only one that is practical for us, is to pay for a portion of the content, with priority given to the most reliable contributors, the highest value journalism and work that takes the most time, effort and talent. We certainly know that these sketchy promises will do little to mute criticism about exploiting cheap labor. All we can do at this point is to acknowledge that we’re aware of the issue and will take what steps we can to address it. (Want to help fund us? Email me.)

13. Once The Local: East Village launches, Rich Jones will edit it, the Hyperlocal Newsroom course will feed talent to it, the East Village community will be invited to contribute to it, the open source assignment desk will (we hope) make it easy to be involved in it, and students in the Studio 20 program will be able to innovate with it. Again, I don’t speak for anyone at the Times, but based on my discussions with them, I believe the editors are hoping we can make progress on the hyperlocal journalism puzzle and maybe think of things they didn’t. One of my priorities is the ergonomics of participation: making it super easy and efficient for people without journalism backgrounds to contribute. Another is to operate the site so that it helps sustain the local news ecosystem, including the existing blogosphere. Jason Samuels adds another: “How do we leverage the new and rapidly emerging tools of digital journalism to consistently produce engaging multimedia content to serve our LEV audience?”

14. Our aspiration is not to give birth to a replicable site—the East Village is not your typical neighborhood—but an outstanding one. Then we can say to the journalism world: go ahead, steal some of our best ideas. We’re not aiming for typicality but we are deeply interested in practicality. One example: if the open source assignment desk works in the East Village, it can work in Grand Rapids, Michigan, too. We’ve conceived of the LEV as a learning lab for extremely local, web-based, pro-am journalism. NYU will pour as much into it as we can. Not because we think every neighborhood will one day have this level of service; that’s unlikely. But what we discover by trying to provide very good service to a single community can benefit other communities and other sites in the same general category.

15. Permit me to say what I find so fascinating about this project. Man, it has everything in it— everything I’ve been studying since I gave my first talk to newspaper editors in Des Moines, Iowa in 1989. It’s neighborhood journalism; it’s cosmopolitan too. It’s about innovation; it’s about the classic virtues, like shoe leather reporting. It combines the discipline of pro journalism with the participatory spirit of citizen journalism. It’s an ideal way to study the craft, which is to say it’s an entirely practical project. It’s what J-school should be doing: collaborating with the industry on the best ways forward. It’s news, it’s commentary, it’s reviewing, it’s opinion, it’s the forum function, community connection, data provision, blogging— all at once. LEV I said is a start-up, but it’s starting with the strongest news franchise there is: the New York Times.

16. But the thing I really love about it… NYU is a citizen of the East Village, a powerful institution (and huge land owner) within the frame. Our students are part of the community; they live there, or at least a lot of them do. Because we’re located there; we can’t really separate ourselves from our subject. Look, not everyone is going to be thrilled that NYU is doing this with the New York Times. We’ll have to take those problems on, not as classroom abstractions but civil transactions with the people who live and work here. You know what? It’s going to be messy and hard, which is to say real. But what better way is there to learn what journalists are yet good for in 2010?

See also this interview at Nieman Lab: What the Times-NYU partnership says about the future of journalism education: A Q & A with Jay Rosen.

Update, July 19, 2010. Unfortunately, this article on what we’re doing, which appeared in Capital New York (a new site covering the city) is flawed. “The interns will not be paid,” writes the author, Eliza Shapiro, “but they will develop skills that may or not be valuable in a few years, depending on the success of projects like the Local blogs and the idea of citizen journalism.” This is incorrect. All the interns working on The Local: East Village are paid. She writes:

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 labor.

Shapiro never asked us if that was correct. (Neither did the Awl.) The LEV is planning to employ a mix of volunteer and paid systems for its contributors. For more on The Local: East Village see this page.

Posted by Jay Rosen at February 23, 2010 1:01 AM   Print


Good morning, Jay,

Good post summarizing this exciting planning phase of the Local East Village. Just one comment, albeit necessarily vague, on the first sentence of your point No. 12: Ideas brewing.

Posted by: Brooke Kroeger at February 23, 2010 7:12 AM | Permalink

Hi Jay -

You should look at the business models of successful community newspapers like the Riverdale Press, which won a Pulitzer for its hyperlocal pov (and where I spent my apprenticeship)

Couple of thoughts:

- Doing it as the big local institution does present problems and opportunities. Are you believable? Is there a hidden development agenda (so much of hyperlocal news coverage stems from land use)? But you also start out as a big investment with some validation - it's not the equivalent of the transitional shopper. You might look at what Dart Westphal did with the Mosholu Preservation Corp and Montefiore Medical Center back in the 90s. And what Buddy Stein is doing with the Hunts Point Express online.

- You have to get into the weeds of local governance to succeed. Based on my decade of community newspapering - basically a slower, weekly version of what you're attempting - that's what gives the site/paper/outlet/community real staying power. It's also where the local hard-core activists are - and they will breathe life into community, er, citizen journalism. ULURP, baby. Some crime. Then the cultural stuff will be the shrubbery around the big house - it won't be the house, in my view.

- I think if your team obsesses over the replication dream, this hyperlocal project won't succeed. I'm not sure there's a replicable model for citizen/community journalism. Tools maybe. A framework maybe. But you always need local knowledge and a local sales force.

- The transitional nature of the typical student tenure will be an issue - we saw this at Bronx Beat at Columbia in the 90s. Sure, it's great for the students but in the community, the sense of the transitional defeated the sense of permanence and believability you needed to affect the local conversation - and to sell hyperlocal advertising, frankly. You might want to develop some posts in between your two Times editor types and the semester-limited. Fellowships?

- On the business side, I'd lean on the Times for the best sweetheart deals you can wangle for some cooperative advertising - like, do a display/classified package in LEV and get a bonus online ad on You need some kind of advantage. Not to mention a salesforce!

- Isolation isn't an option. I'd be careful with the hyperlocal news concept - not a single person who lives in the East Village has a life that's totally enclosed by it. Indeed, that's hard to come by even in small midwest towns. You have to cover the big issues from the local POV, as well as the big local issues, in my view. Citywide politics. Boroughwide politics. Immigration. The Parks Department. Sanitation. The weeds! Always a tricky balance.

Exciting stuff.

Posted by: Tom W. at February 23, 2010 8:08 AM | Permalink

Hope your project will be more successful and just as enjoyable as the Bryant Park Project, which I only discovered after it ceased publishing. That project was not really crowd-sourced but did have the energy your NYU students should provide.

I'm especially interested in seeing whether the Locals will start talking to each other once they are all up and running, though "Chicago" and "Bay Area" only seem local as tiny markers west of the Hudson on the Saul Steinberg map.

Posted by: Peter Zingg at February 23, 2010 8:41 AM | Permalink

Exciting stuff. Agree with Tom's warning about worrying about what's replicable, so I was glad to see you say the focus will be on making an outstanding East Village site, not a replicable one. Someone in New Orleans or Wiscasset or Milan will see what you're doing, get fired up and figure out how to copy/remold/tweak/reinvent your successes for their communities. And then, one hopes, round and round we go.

Best of luck. Will be watching eagerly!

Posted by: Jason Fry at February 23, 2010 10:05 AM | Permalink

East Village imperialism!

Over in Alphabet City they consider themselves to be LES not L:EV. Haven't you ever read the street signs on Avenue C? Its Avenida Loisaida. And you casually colonize NoHo, whose loft architecture has nothing in common with Village tenements and brownstones. To the south, you claim all the way to Houston Street even though the F train now calls the Second Avenue stop "Lower East Side" not "East Village." On the west, the East Village extends to Bowery/Fourth Avenue not Broadway. On the east, the limit is Avenue B. The only border that does not seem expansionist is 14th Street.

How come it does not surprise me that the two institutions behind this real estate putsch are NYT and NYU?

Posted by: Andrew Tyndall at February 23, 2010 10:49 AM | Permalink

A lot of good things in this project, Jay--you've covered a lot of bases, including pay for some of the contributors. I have to agree with Tom (and Jason) about not worrying too much about the replicable aspect. So many hyperlocals that are successful have their own flavors. Whatever flavor you develop in the East Village can be a paradigm but not the paragon. You will also need those "roots" that Tom mentions: students will do good, but there's got to be long-time residents who know the merchants, etc. who will want to keep things going. That may be a bit trickier. Think about how you might be able win over, or charm, the community. The Times affiliation might help there. Depends though on the people, how they feel about the Times brand out there, etc.

The tools may be great. The platform may be great. But it always comes down to the people.

Anyways, good luck --I'll be most interested in the process and the results :)

Posted by: Tish Grier at February 23, 2010 10:54 AM | Permalink

Jay -- my last was lighthearted but seriously, sarcasm aside, L:EV will have to be bilingual if it seriously considers its beat to go all the way to the East River. Yet you do not address the Spanish language issue anywhere in your 16 points. cheers -- andrew

Posted by: Andrew Tyndall at February 23, 2010 10:54 AM | Permalink

Andrew - the 2nd ave stop on the F is widely considered the border between LES and EV.

Posted by: tim at February 23, 2010 11:37 AM | Permalink

tim -- I agree. I think the F train is misleading in telling us we have arrived in the LES. That notification should wait until Delancey Street. But this New York University/New York Times gentrification project would have us believe that Broadway/Lafayette is in the EV too. It seems that the development speculators who gave us NoHo have thrown in the towel.

Posted by: Andrew Tyndall at February 23, 2010 11:53 AM | Permalink

Andrew, get something better to worry about. This isn't gentrification, it's a project in CITIZEN journalism.
The most valid point I'd be concerned with is, like Tom said, "the transitional nature of the typical student." I do believe non-student local interest and input will be key to success.
Exciting project.

Posted by: JS at February 23, 2010 1:24 PM | Permalink

Jay - Nice post. I would just add that on the content side, the LEV project is also about developing new models of innovative multimedia content. How do we leverage the new and rapidly emerging tools of digital journalism to consistently produce engaging multimedia content to serve our LEV audience?

When you look at the current hyperlocal news space on the web - video/multimedia content is scarce. We hope that LEV will be a place of multimedia innovation and experimentation in the hyperlocal space.


Posted by: Jason Samuels at February 23, 2010 1:59 PM | Permalink

Hello, Jay.

Exciting news. Here at The Orange County Register in California, we're in our second year of a partnership with Chapman University students covering neighborhoods in the city of Orange on this Register blog:

The first semester, I was the blog's editor, handing off after that to the editor who oversees Orange coverage, who added the Register's city reporter to the blog.

Separately, the Register has city Web pages for every Orange County community. Here's the one for Orange:

With a recent change in our front-end Web production system and our page design, we're planning to merge the blog into the city page site. That will add the benefit of the photo and video tools and our community bloggers, linked already from the city pages. (And we're adapting The Local's "virtual assignment desk," too.)

This semester, we're adding a Chapman broadcast class, which will have student teams adding video from Orange (and Anaheim, our next target city for hyperlocal coverage).

The parternship is great for the students, as I help in the classroom of the teacher, former reporter Susan Paterno, who heads the journalism sequence in Chapman's English program. In the Fall semester, students enroll in Public Affairs Reporting; in the Spring they enroll in Senior Seminar Journalism, the capstone class.

They learn how to report from community and find out about civic life. Everything we do goes on the Web first and their items frequently make the daily Register in print and our weekly delivered in Orange. Several have done academic credit internships with us, two have done paid internships and one has been hired by us and a second by a different Freedom Communications paper.

We've got our sights set on enlisting a public relations class to market the hyperlocal site and on an advertising class to sell hyperlocal ads, using the Register's self-serve Web tool, sharing any generated revenue.

I believe such experiments truly can be "wins" for everyone -- the students, the news organization and, most importantly, the community.

Good luck!


Posted by: dennis foley at February 23, 2010 2:12 PM | Permalink


I'm excited to see your experiment flourish. What you've written could be a description of a project Cole Campbell started in Nevada, but which we couldn't successfully grow without his presence.

Some of the things we learned in the process of failing:

-- You have to position yourself from within the community or from outside. Despite the arguments already evident in these comments, within has incomparable advantages over attempting to do community journalism from outside. Defining the position you hold within the community will be a constant challenge.

--The impulse to perfect multimedia journalism will overwhelm the need to do journalism differently, if not carefully tended.

--The transitory student problem is significant and may require different ways of organizing classes, semesters and faculty.

--Recruiting the right students is key; some students come to graduate school thinking it's about them and what they want to learn individually.

--Group work in graduate education goes against the tradition of the academy in many ways. This requires new ways of organizing, delivering and assessing graduate products.

--The pressure of feeding the beast can suck the time needed for thinking and reflecting in many subtle ways. It can also cause resentment among faculty who fled (or avoided) newsrooms for precisely that reason.

I hope one day we'll be building on the successes of your experiment. Can't wait!


Posted by: Donica Mensing at February 24, 2010 8:24 AM | Permalink

Jay, we at The Times share your ambitions for The Local: East Village, and the spirit - both of adventure and of commitment to the East Village community - that you express here about this collaboration.

Posted by: Jim Schachter at February 24, 2010 10:00 AM | Permalink

Thanks, Jim.

And thanks, everyone, for these many wise comments. Forgive me for being late in responding to some. It's been a whirl since the announcement went out.

Tom Watson: Those are great lessons from experience. We're not spending any time on "replicable." And we're pretty sure that hard core politics--especially land use--is the bedrock here.

We've been worried about the transitory student problem since we started, and it's come up repeatedly in the planning stages. I can't tell you (yet) what our answer is, but there is zero chance that we will go into this assuming students can be the sole producers of a 52-week per year news site. That won't work, and we know it won't work. One of the reasons for the "war chest" Brooke Kroeger spoke of is that.

Also, we have to get to 50 percent contributions from people the neighborhood as quickly as we can.

I really liked, "You have to cover the big issues from the local POV, as well as the big local issues." That's quite a challenge.

Andrew: Bilingual, good point.

Dennis Foley! (Someone I've know for 15+ years) Thanks for that point of comparison with the OC Register. Structurally very similar. Your capsule description is helpful.

Donna Mensing: every one of those warnings is on target. I am going to share them with my colleagues. Thanks!

Posted by: Jay Rosen at February 24, 2010 11:56 AM | Permalink

Rosen is "pretty sure that hard core politics--especially land use--is the bedrock here."

It is incontrovertible that the major impact that New York University has had on the East Village over the past decade has been as a property developer and landlord. Asserting that the bedrock focus of its new journalism venture will be "land use" will surely be a red rag to the bull for many in the neighborhood.

Rosen addresses this with the understatement that "not everyone is going to be thrilled that NYU is doing this with the New York Times." Given suspicions, often justified, of NYT's conflict-of-interest on real estate and development stories, this needs to be addressed much more forthrightly than a mere acknowledgment of a lack of thrill.

JS, earlier, advised me to get something better to worry about: "This isn't gentrification, it's a project in CITIZEN journalism." JS understands community attitudes towards NYU in the East Village differently than I do. I think the distinction between the university's real estate role and its journalistic role has to be spelled out and guaranteed, not just taken for granted.

Posted by: Andrew Tyndall at February 24, 2010 12:23 PM | Permalink

Andrew Tyndall, your "I think the distinction between the university's real estate role and its journalistic role has to be spelled out and guaranteed, not just taken for granted."

So do we.

Posted by: Brooke Kroeger at February 24, 2010 8:13 PM | Permalink

We're not going into this naive.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at February 24, 2010 9:54 PM | Permalink

Hi Jay, your blog offers such a great education for those who have not been formally trained but relish learning about journalism. I also so much from this great community of commenters. Thank you!

I wonder if one of the additional ways to mitigate the problem of a transitory student population would be to offer citizen journalist appropriate training to long time neighbourhood residents. You may not even need to pay, even though I also feel it vitally important to have the 'war chest'. If you tell important community stories and truly engage people with your content, money may not be the primary driver for people to contribute content.

Posted by: Arjun Singh at March 2, 2010 2:18 AM | Permalink

> NYU will produce the site; the Times will publish it. The Times will provide the online platform...

Presumably the NYT will refrain from metering or paywall, for readers?
(apologies if this was mentioned & I overlooked it)

Posted by: Anna at March 5, 2010 10:08 PM | Permalink

Unclear at this time. We have made our feelings known on the matter. The Times, which isn't expected to launch the metering system until 2011, hasn't made any decisions about what will and will not be outside the paywall.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at March 5, 2010 10:37 PM | Permalink

Consulting Editor position

The Local: East Village (LEV) is looking for a consulting editor to assist in the planning and development phase leading up to the launch of the site in summer 2010, and carrying over to the first few months of operation. (You can read about LEV here.)

The consulting editor will work directly with the editor of LEV. Responsibilities include:

* planning future coverage of local issues;
* recruiting potential contributors from the East Village community;
* producing high quality journalism from and about the East Village to run on the site in late summer and fall

This is not a full time position but a part-time paid consulting gig that would begin May 1 and end October 31. Requirements for the position and the criteria for evaluating candidates are:

Journalism background: You have at least three years professional experience as a reporter, news blogger or editor for a news organization or site.

Local knowledge: You live in the East Village and have lived there for a minimum of three years (East River to Broadway, 14th to Houston Streets.) You know the neighborhood intimately.

Web literacy: You have a good command of web journalism and are comfortable with its forms and requirements.

Independence from NYU: You are not an employee of NYU, or in a consulting role for any other division of the University.

If you are interested in the position and would like to know more about the duties, expectations and rate of pay, send a resume and cover letter to Rich Jones, Editor of The Local: East Village via email and cc Jay Rosen.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at March 24, 2010 10:40 PM | Permalink

From the Intro