Michael Grotticelli /
05.21.2010 04:27 PM
Allbritton combines platforms for online hyperlocal news experiment

This summer, independent station owner Allbritton Communications will unveil a new kind of hyperlocal news website covering the nation’s capitol that it hopes will blend the best of TV news and print into a form that is unique to the Internet. Called TBD, for “To Be Determined,” the site is a real-time, continually evolving news site.

The site will combine the work of WJLA-TV, Washington’s ABC affiliate, with 24/7 cable news outlet NewsChannel 8 and Allbritton’s print/Web entity, Politico. Former WashingtonPost.com executive editor Jim Brady and ex-CBS News political director Steve Chaggaris will run TBD.com.

When it launches this summer, the new entity won’t look like a conventional TV station website. Brady said it would attempt to combine what makes the Internet interesting and TV such an effective medium.

Allbritton, based in Arlington, VA, owns seven TV stations. Its net revenues were up 14 percent to $45 million for the quarter ended March 31. The company is trying to think different when it comes to the Internet and is entering the same turf as the Washington Post did in 2007 when it was unsuccessful in covering hyperlocal news in the same market.

TBD.com expects to have about 50 staffers, including one-man-band reporters, who will cover local transit, sports, crime and entertainment. The site will report the news in dozens of local communities in the Washington, D.C., area.

The site will publish news in a blog format, where the lead is whatever happened most recently. This is different from most news websites, which feature complete lead stories listed in order of importance, as determined by editors. Continuous news, without leads, is more akin to how users access Web pages and has proven successful for TV stations that have experimented with the format.

“In the continuous news model, everything is a breaking event. There is no ‘lead’ story, for the only thing that matters is the time,” said Terry Heaton, a former news director and now media consultant. “Bits of stories are sufficient, and they can be tied together through search, tags and a ‘more coverage’ button, if we believe that’s necessary.”

“Belief that the audience can’t figure out what’s going on — what’s important — is tied to our finished product news genes, but it’s an insult to empowered consumers,” Heaton said. “Creating news for the Web that appeals to the lowest common denominator is a broadcast mindset.”

TBD will be watched by the broadcasting industry as a promising new experiment that could signal a new direction for Web-based news. “TBD will never be a finished product,” wrote Steve Buttry, director of community engagement for TBD. “We’ll always be in motion: constantly updating, improving and evolving. We’ll be a place you visit to watch the news unfold in real time.”



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