TBD.com — a Washington-focused experiment in online, hyper-local journalism from the creators of the political news site Politico — launched this morning with much fanfare. In addition to the Politico connection, the arrival of TBD (whose name comes from the abbreviation for “to be determined”) has been eagerly awaited, in part because of the involvement of Jim Brady, the much-admired former executive editor of the Washington Post’s online unit. However, whether the new startup’s blend of local reporting and blog aggregation can win it an audience in the nation’s capital remains to be seen.
TBD, which has been in development for almost a year, has made integration with a network of more than 125 local bloggers a core element of its approach: a community effort that is driven in part by Steve Buttry, the startup’s director of community engagement. Buttry, a former editor with Gazette Communications in Iowa, has written in the past about his philosophy for online media outlets, which he described as creating a Complete Community Connection through the use of social media and mobile apps, which allows writers and editors to engage with their readers.
This is an approach that TBD seems to have adopted as well, with a heavy focus on the use of social media such as Twitter. Many of the new site’s staffers — including Buttry and Brady, who is the head of digital strategy at Allbritton — have been active on Twitter since the startup was first being assembled, and the company had most of a seven-person community engagement team in place before the website even launched, and before it had filled out its roster of reporters, the Nieman Lab notes. TBD also launched with an Android app, and its iPhone app is waiting for approval by Apple, according to Buttry.
Since the company is being financed by Washington media mogul Robert Allbritton — whose father was the former owner of the ill-fated Washington Evening Star newspaper that shut down in 1981 — it’s also being integrated with a local television channel owned by Allbritton that has been renamed TBD TV. The new company has hired about 50 people in the past few months for its editorial and advertising sales teams, according to a post at the Nieman Journalism Lab. The connection with an existing media entity could give TBD a leg up compared to some other local news ventures, but the company will also have to compete with Patch.com, the local journalism effort being funded by AOL to the tune of $50 million that has said it plans to move into the Washington area.
The Washington Post gave a nod to its new competitor in a profile last week, which journalism professor and media pundit Jeff Jarvis described in a Twitter comment as “a velvet shiv.” Jarvis also said the newspaper should be scared of TBD, and that it should be “ashamed” that it didn’t manage to produce a similar hyper-local effort. Jim Brady and Steve Buttry will be taking part in a live discussion on the Poynter Institute website today to talk about the launch of the new site. The New American Foundation also recently published some in-depth research on the Washington, D.C. media landscape, including the impact of blogs, community sites and other local online outlets.
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