Wick Communications

Goodbye, City Room

In Innovation on December 3, 2015 at 2:48 pm

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Recently, the New York Times announced it was discontinuing its City Room blog. The blog was a creature of the newspaper’s Metro department and a place for tidbits that might not otherwise make the newspaper. All that color made it feel very different from the gray lady of American publishing. It may feel a bit of a dinosaur today, but the blog represented a big step forward in the digital space when it debuted in 2007.

It’s funny and a bit daunting to think of the speed at which things come and go these days. A blog that was launched eight years ago simply ran its course, but in so doing, it taught a legacy media organization an awful lot about the tone, speed and quirkiness of successful publishing online.

“If it were 100 years ago, this would have lasted for 50 years, but the way technology changes and the way reader nature changes every five years now, its lifespan was just so much shorter,” New York Times metro editor Wendell Jamieson told Joseph Lichterman in a provocative piece written for Nieman Labs. (The piece itself is very interesting because it is presented as a sort of oral history of the project from the perspective of many players in City Room. You should check it out for its format if nothing else.)

I was really struck by two things. First, many of the early adopters at the Times have gone on to really interesting things both in legacy media and in other forms of publishing. Take Jennifer 8 Lee. She was one of the best-known young voices at The Times until relatively recently and she was a contributor to City Room. Today, she is CEO of Plympton, which is an online book-publishing platform that sends serialized fiction to digital devices, among other things. Here’s what she says in Lichterman’s piece. …

“One of the main problems with The Times, historically, was that something had to rise to the level of a Times article in order to be noted. There were a lot of wonderful, interesting things that could be Timesean that were not of article-length, so we could take a Timesean eye on littler topics. … You could slice the world in different ways and that freedom was really great.”

Could you substitute your newspaper for “Times” in that above paragraph? Are there interesting things that don’t necessarily sound like a newspaper story in your community. You know that there are. That is one of the big lessons to be gleaned from the Internet so far. “The news” isn’t what a gatekeeper says it is. It’s what we say it is, and sometimes that isn’t a 12-inch story from City Hall.

Think of how your digital game has evolved at work and in your personal life. Since 2007, you likely acquired a Facebook page, a Twitter presence, a LinkedIn profile, maybe a Pinterest, Flickr or Dropbox account… Evolution no longer takes generations.

Clay

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