NBC pulls plug on hyperlocal website EveryBlock

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Adrian Holovaty
  • BRIAN KERSEY/AP
  • Adrian Holovaty
The hyperlocal website EveryBlock was shut down Thursday by NBC News. NBC News senior vice president Vivian Schiller told Poynter blogger Jeff Sonderman that EveryBlock was a "wonderful scrappy business but it wasn’t a strategic fit with our growth strategy and — like most hyperlocal businesses — was struggling with the business model."

The good news, I suppose, is that people notice and people are shocked. From Patrick Boylan, one of Chicago's hyperlocal news pioneers, I got a two-word e-mail, "HOLY COW!" Another EveryBlock regular e-mailing a heads-up told me, "An informal poll in my office showed 100% of those people within ear shot of my desk used and loved EveryBlock. None of us knew the others were using it. They gave no notice . . . just turned it off like Mayor Daley ripping up runways in the middle of the night. Hope you will cover (uncover) what really went down. Somebody at NBC should lose their job — either for shutting it down, or not having the ability to monetize something that was actually working in hyper-local journalism."

It was working, but NBC couldn't monetize it. Hyperlocal digital journalism is starting to look like one of those corner restaurants that change hands every 18 months because nobody can make them work (even though everyone needs to eat). Maybe Joe Ricketts, founder of DNAinfo, has the one and only sensible business model: make a billion dollars doing something else and then lose no more than you can afford to lose doing journalism.

Financed by a $1.1 million Knight Foundation grant, EveryBlock was launched by Adrian Holovaty in 2007, taken over by MSNBC in 2009, and has been controlled by NBC News since last summer. Holovaty eulogized his creation in a blog post Thursday. "The premise of EveryBlock," he wrote, "was to offer you a custom site devoted to news in your neighborhood. We showed you nearby public records (crimes, building permits, restaurant inspections), pointed you to automatically indexed articles (newspapers, blogs, forums) and provided a sort of 'geo-forum' that let you talk with people who lived near you." Holovaty went on to say that when he left EveryBlock last August ''I had no idea NBC News would be shutting it down (in fact, at the time, I said I expected it would be around for a 'long, long time'). 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."

Click here to read the final post from the "EveryBlock team." It's an impressive exercise in verbal sinuosity when a straightforward explanation would do. We're advised that "though EveryBlock has been able to build an engaged community over the years, we're faced with the decision to wrap things up . . .

"Along the way, we hope we've helped you be a better neighbor."

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