Demise of lauded hyperlocal news site TBD.com highlights U.S. journalism's troubled future
Just six months after launching as an online, hyperlocal news site with a network of more than 100 bloggers and a focus on social media news gathering, website TBD.com is reorganizing, slashing staff, and shifting coverage focus from politics and news to local entertainment and lifestyle features, according to the Washington Post. WJLA TV is taking over the site.
While TBD.com traffic was growing steadily -- the site reported 1.5 million unique visitors in January, up from 715,000 in November -- revenues were another matter, the Post said, although exact figures were not available. Also, internal dissension played a role.
Under the new arrangement, eight reporters and editors -- less than half the staff -- will keep their jobs. Their work will be supplemented by television reporters from WJLA-TV, Washington's ABC affiliate, and NewsChannel 8, which will contribute both to TBD and the soon-to-be relaunched WJLA.com, which was closed when TBD first started, according to Politico.
While many traditional print journalists have jumped on the online bandwagon, TBD's shift to an entertainment niche site showcases the funding difficulties and still to-be-determined future of online news. Poynter.org talked with former TBD staffers about what journalism lessons can be learned from the site's short lifespan.
In another Poynter article, Rick Edmonds looks back and analyzes what went wrong, offering six business lessons to be learned from TBD's early demise. For example, branding matters, effective ad sales are paramount, an existing need must be filled, pedigree does not equal strategy, building out big is a risk, and fail fast.
While speculation abounds about the potential for hyperlocal sites to replace newspapers, TBD's restructuring fits with the high mortality rate of such sites.
Still, Journal Register Co. CEO John Paton scolded Allbritton Communications for giving up on TBD so quickly, arguing in his blog that if TBD had been supported and given more time, the site could have been successful.
Patton concluded, "Allbritton Communications can do whatever it wants with its money – God Bless America – but it can’t pretend to have seriously tried the hyperlocal business space after a six-month experiment it derailed half-way in. And it can’t hide behind apologists like Edmonds. Local journalism and the TBD team deserve better. So do the Americans who rely on their community news providers."
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