Do Hipsters Do Hyperlocal?: Bedford + Bowery Editor on Communities and Culture

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a_190x190NYU’s hyperlocal East Village blog is growing up and adding a few new ‘hoods. The Local, which had covered New York’s East Village and the Lower East Side, has become Bedford + Bowery, a site that now also covers the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Williamsburg, Greenpoint, and Bushwick. The original incarnation of The Local had been a partnership with the New York Times, but the new site is developed and hosted by New York magazine.

So what makes these neighborhoods — hipster havens of the highest order — a fertile proving ground for hyperlocal?  We spoke with Daniel Maurer, the NYU professor who oversees the venture to talk a bit about how the project has evolved, the emerging revenue models for these kinds of sites are, and his definition of success for hyperlocal news.

Bedford + Bowery covers a group of neighborhoods linked less by geography than by the type of people who live in the areas. Do you think that the site could be a model for other hyperlocal sites going forward? 
While it’s true that a river runs through these neighborhoods, they’re geographically linked by the L train to the north and the Williamsburg Bridge to the south. They’re also historically linked by waves of gentrification (both the East Village and North Brooklyn have had heavy Polish, Hispanic and bohemian populations that are being displaced by a more upscale demographic, to varying degrees).

I can’t speak to this serving as a model, but we feel there’s more than enough to make these particular neighborhoods cohere as a coverage area. Just in the past week we’ve had stories about a Lower East Side bar opening a sister location in Bushwick, a pair of buddies who’ve opened ice cream shops in Williamsburg and the East Village, simultaneous film festivals in Williamsburg and Lower East Side, a band that’s playing in Williamsburg and the Lower East Side, and there’s plenty more where that came from.

We want to challenge this divisive notion of having to be allied to Brooklyn or Manhattan — which is why we just did a video proving that if you’re in line for Mighty Quinn’s in Williamsburg, you can get to the East Village location of Mighty Quinn’s and order a sandwich there quicker than you’ll get to the front of the line in Williamsburg.

Why is this demographic in particular interested in granular local news. Patch has targeted upscale suburban communities — is there some quality the Williamsburg set has in common that makes them good targets for hyperlocal info? 
I don’t know that we’re catering to a specific demographic or the “Williamsburg set.” What we’d like to do, above all, is to highlight the creative energy and entrepreneurial spirit that thrives in these neighborhoods even as development changes their character and makeup.

Is NYU still funding the project as they had The Local? Are you looking into revenue models? At some point, does this entity have to find a way to pay for itself? 
Yes, we generate our annual revenue via a successful and growing summer academy for undergrads and pre-college students. We’ve had the benefit of a generous grant from the Knight Foundation and our base at NYU provides an indispensable buffer. Both the university’s and the Carter Institute’s commitment means that many of our hidden costs are covered as part of the project’s academic mission. It means sustained editorial, digital and administrative support, equipment, space and plenty of academic expertise we can tap throughout the university.

We have interest this round in experimenting with additional revenue streams for the sake of further staff growth. We could see ourselves seeking grants for experimental innovations or for specific editorial or data-driven projects. We did this (from the New York Council for the Humanities and private donors) for the East Village Other project in 2012. But our goal — which we had already reached in our first year — is to continue to be able to sustain ourselves.

What is New York‘s role? Do they provide editorial guidance? Sales people? A platform? Will the publication’s role be appreciably different from what the Times provided? 
New York magazine’s developers designed and built the site, which is located at NY Mag will be constantly looking for worthy items to feature on their other channels (Grub Street, Daily Intel, etc.) or in the magazine, and we hope to feed items to them regularly.

You’ve said one of the major advantages of moving from the Times to New York is that you’ll be more free to experiment with development. Can you share any plans with how you see the site developing? What are some things you’d like to try that you weren’t able to before? 
I know New York magazine is looking forward to seeing what we do with our deep multimedia resources. Video is something we’ll be having a lot more fun with, and we’d also like to experiment with voice and formatting in the same way Vulture and NY Mag’s other sites do. And we’re excited to offer a robust events calendar.

How will you define success? In your mind, what were some of the shortcomings of The Local and how can you alter the outcome?  
I’ll say that by keeping Bedford + Bowery casual and conversational (but still smart), we’re hoping to cultivate an engaged readership that’s eager to participate in the site by commenting, tipping us off to news and stories we can develop, and — given how much literary talent there is in this neighborhood — writing for us.

Noah Davis is a senior editor at Street Fight.