The launch of NYT/NYU's hyperlocal blog does not immediately seem like big news, considering the project already made headlines when it was announced in July. Jay Rosen however insists that The Local be given fresh attention because it brings fresh ideas to the hyperlocal game.
The major factor, he writes on Pressthink, is the Virtual Assignment Desk, which will allow community members contribute 50% of content. "The Virtual Assignment Desk is a WordPress plug-in, still in beta form, that is designed to help us reach our goal: a 50 percent community-authored hyperlocal newsblog," Rosen explains. "It allows for an editorial work flow system that is "open" to the community."
The flow process starts with registration, after which users can view assignments. They can either vote for these assignments, volunteer to cover them or propose further information. Users can also suggest stories by filling pitch forms which the editor can approve or reject. Interestingly, a user can both pitch a story and volunteer to cover it. In all of this, the editor holds the final say, with veto power over both pitched ideas and offers to volunteer. She supervises the pitches and assignments through a dashboard widget.
"The East Village is already well served by a healthy blogosphere," Rosen admits, which is probably why the hyperlocal blog needs to go an extra mile in ensuring quality. While community contribution to hyperlocal blogs is definitely not new, the issue of control is usually a problem. Hyperlocal sites have been criticized when they have insufficient control over community postings and The Local is attempting to avoid such problems, without discouraging community participation. This is a lesson news publishers who take advantage of crowdsourcing may be able to learn from The Local.
Rich Jones is The Local's editor, while Kim Davis is the community editor. NYU's Hyperlocal News class will make contributions to the site, and Rosen has been quoted as having intentions of paying "for at least some of the contributions flowing into the Local East Village."
In Rosen's words, "there's going to be high expectations-- and some resentments. The plan is to make steady progress, not to wow people out of the gate."