NBCU Shutters Pioneering Hyperlocal Network EveryBlock

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EveryBlock, which pioneered with data journalism that made neighborhood news out of everything from restaurant inspection results to overturned garbage cans, was abruptly shut down by NBC Universal Thursday.

In announcing the closure, Vivian Schiller, senior vice president and chief digital officer at NBC News, said, “The decision to shut down the site was difficult. But in the end, we didn’t see a strategic fit for EveryBlock within the portfolio.” The network served 19 cities.

In an interview with Street Fight, Schiller said about the EveryBlock staff of 10: “We’re working with them individually to see if there are other roles for them inside NBCU.” Asked whether NBCU would sell off what remains of EveryBlock, she said,“It’s not off the table.”

Schiller told Poynter’s MediaWire,”I understand that the EveryBlock community is disappointed. So are we. We looked at various options to keep this going, but none of them were viable. It was a tough call to make.”

The EveryBlock team posted this “farewell” blog post today:

“It’s no secret that the news industry is in the midst of a massive change. Within the world of neighborhood news there’s an exciting pace of innovation yet increasing challenges to building a profitable business. Though EveryBlock has been able to build an engaged community over the years, we’re faced with the decision to wrap things up.”

The sudden closing shocked many people in the industry, as well as EveryBlock users, more than 500 of whom posted comments in the early hours of the news:

“Wow, I am shocked and surprised to hear this. EveryBlock was a regular part of my day and I learned so much about what was going on in my neighborhood. It will be missed by many,” commented Roberta Naftulin Siegel.

“Really loved what you guys have done over the last few years, and am very sorry to see it go. I’ll miss the daily emails, the random questions about quirky neighborhood things, and the lovely design,” wrote M. Jackson Wilkinson.

EveryBlock’s original goal was to collect as much local data as possible, sort and filter it, and then present it to its audience. EveryBlock’s president, Brian Addison, who was hired by NBC in mid-2011, changed all that. “We’re focusing less and less on data,” he said in an interview with Street Fight in October.

“While data was at the core of our product when EveryBlock first launched” in 2007, Addison said, “we found, over time, that it kind of has a niche appeal. In a way, we need to return to the question of. What consumer need are we trying to address with this data? How much value do we as a reader place with that type of information?”

Serving as a panelist at last month’s Street Fight Summit in New York City, Addison stressed that sites that sought to make news out of metrics needed to insert a “human layer” between the audience and the data.

And he was almost dismissive of the basic product on which EveryBlock was founded, saying of data, “It’s dry and also creepy to a certain extent.” (See my further analysis of EveryBlock’s model.)

Adrian Holovaty, who launched EveryBlock in 2007 with a $1.1 million grant from the Knight Foundation and left the company last August, three years after MSNBC.com acquired the local network, said today on his blog, “I had no idea NBC News would be shutting it down (in fact, at the time [in August], I said I expected it would be around for a “long, long time”).”

Added Holovaty: “The last time I talked with an NBC News representative, at a conference a few months after I left EveryBlock, he indicated that NBC was optimistic about the site’s future.”

In an interview with the Verge at the time of acquisition, Holovaty said, “I can’t think of a better place for us to have ended up than msnbc.com.”

Tom Grubisich is The New News columnist for Street Fight.

This story has been updated to reflect that MSNBC.com acquired EveryBlock, not MSNBC.