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A Day 1 Appraisal of TBD.com, Washington's New Hyperlocal News Site

By Sree Sreenivasan | August 9, 2010 2:53pm
The TBD home page.
The TBD home page.
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By Sree Sreenivasan

DNAinfo Contributing Editor

Movie critics write reviews after one screening, so I suppose it's OK for me to write about the launch of a new website after only one visit. The site in question launched this morning at 4:28, so there hasn't been a lot of time yet for me to watch it evolve. 

TBD.com is one of the most anticipated — by media insiders — launches in recent media history. It is, like DNAinfo and dozens of other sites across the country, a hyperlocal news site. Hyperlocal sites are filling specific neighborhoods, towns or regions where traditional newspapers and TV stations have cut back their coverage. Media folks are paying extra attention to TBD in particular because of its location and its lineage. 

Its coverage area is Washington, D.C., and the surrounding area, and it is owned by Robert Allbritton of Allbritton Communications, which owns local TV stations. One of those stations, Newschannel 8, has been rebranded TBD and will be part of the reason the site succeeds or fails. 

More importantly, in 2007, Allbritton created a site from scratch that has become a must-read for people inside the Beltway and beyond: Politico

Like Politico, which was launched by well-known DC journalists, part of TBD's allure is who's on the masthead. Many veteran journos with incredible news and Internet cred are part of the startup, including: Jim Brady, the general manager who once ran WashingtonPost.com; Erik Wemple, editor, who came from Washington City Paper, an alt weekly; Steve Chaggaris, VP of cable news, used to political director of CBS News; and Steve Buttry, director of community engagement, has a lengthy newspaper resume, but also is well-known digital media expert.

Some of the more unique features of the site:

* The project is a combination of a website with an established local news cable station and the integration of a second site, WJLA, the local ABC affiliate that Allbritton also owns. Some partnerships between newspapers and TV stations have run into trouble in other markets, so a collaboration between a news sites and two stations is surely to be even more complicated. At the same time, access to the resources of the three newsrooms gives TBD unparalleled newsgathering and distribution. 

* The site has a dozen reporters, and here's how the editor Wemple, describes them in his Letter from the Editor:

One of them writes nothing but lists. One is all over pedestrian life. One holds politicians throughout the region accountable. Three carry a year-round obsession with the Redskins. Three are covering some of the fastest-developing communities in the region.Three are the final authority on all things arts and entertainment.

* The site has put a major emphasis on linking out to other sources, with more than 125 bloggers in its local network, which are listed in its Community Partners

* The site has six staffers who work on social media and community engagement - you can find their handiwork on Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare.

The design is clean, clear and easy to understand, though not revolutionary. From the looks of things, TBD is putting its emphasis on local politics, sports, entertainment and something everyone who lives in the area cares about: the local commute. People on the Internet love lists, so TBD has 'em. The first is about the most notable local classes. "The Best of TBD," a running list of items worth watching, is on right side of many pages, but should be on all of them, including the front page. 

All this is happening on the home turf of the Washington Post, so seeing how it responds is going to be fascinating. 

And, finally, a word about the name. TBD, which means "to be determined," is a cute name for a site that, like the news, will keep evolving. As the folks at Amazon (remember when it used to be mainly a river in South America?) - or DNAinfo - can tell you, it's not the name or its origin that matters, but what it delivers on a regular basis. I'll check in in the months ahead and report back. 

What do YOU think? Let me know via Twitter @sreenet or via the comments below.

Every week, DNAinfo contributing editor Sree Sreenivasan, a Columbia Journalism School professor, shares his observations about the changing media landscape.