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TBD, open for office hours

July 30: If Stacey Viera could take the “diet” word out of people’s mouths, she feels the blog she runs with registered dietitian Samantha Lewandowski, Everyfoodfits.com, would be a success. Putting the blog in the black would be a nice perk.

She just might get her wish when TBD.com adds her blog to its repertoire of news content once it launches later this summer. Owned by Allbritton Communications, TBD.com is an innovative approach to D.C.-based hyperlocal news. The site will include aggregated content and original reporting, as well as a gamut of bloggers, with coverage spanning from allergies in Loudoun County and news on Washington Capitals hockey, to specific areas of the community. The idea is that the news will consist of slices of the D.C. area as well as niche areas of interest. “You put them together and you’ve got a very rich picture of community life,” said Steve Buttry, TBD director of community engagement.

In its partnership with area bloggers, TBD.com will also sell advertising for blogs that may or may not have had any experience with the process before. TBD recently announced that it had also teamed up with GrowthSpur to help bloggers learn how to sell advertising for themselves. “This is something, monetizing a blog has been up to this point, so confusing that we just haven’t perused it at all. Now that we’re getting the tools from people who really understand how to do this, it’s a fantastic tool for us and I’m sure other bloggers,” Viera said.

TBD is not a Web-only endeavor; it will also have a television component as News Channel 8 becomes TBD TV, integrating the staff and producing Web and TV programming that will complement one another, noted Buttry.

Although he’s keeping mum on specifics, Buttry said that some of its reporters’ beats won’t be the traditional coverage seen at a bigger news organizations. For example, a journalist covering the Redskins might report on it in such a way never before seen. One of the core ideas behind TBD is that news is a process and conversation, not a story with an end. With that in mind, the organization will focus on the element of community engagement, which will include social media and getting out into the community and talking with real people.

Recently Lisa Rowan, a community host with TBD.com and a former employee of Vocus, invited community members to meet her at a D.C. tea house via Twitter for public office hours to chat with her on ideas and issues going on in the area. In fact, Twitter is how she first got involved with TBD by tweeting Buttry her interest. With TBD, she saw the opportunity to be “part of a news operation and dive into the ‘new media’ strategies that other publications are struggling to integrate,” she said. “I get to brainstorm with the editorial staff, blog on TBD.com, and do things that are completely different, like plan collaborative events with local museums. Most importantly, I’ll have time to listen. We won’t have a traditional ombudsman, but the community engagement team will be making sure that we’re serving our users as best as we can.” She even volunteered her own blog, Quarter Life, which covers vintage clothing shops in the area, to be a guinea pig for the site, hoping to also gain more followers and some ad revenue.

Like Rowan, Viera and Buttry both got involved with TBD by utilizing one of the tools that the news site emphasizes is a fundamental aspect of their organization – Twitter. “I was looking for a chance to get involved with someone who was pushing journalism and the news business in the direction I think it needs to go,” Buttry said.

So where is the future of news? Buttry believes it should be timely, engage the community and be relevant in location and interest. Either way, TBD.com has captured the interest of the media, which is watching as a new media business model takes shape. “TBD isn’t talking at the people, it’s creating conversation with the people,” Viera said. “I think that’s particularly impressive and really a humble way of pursuing new journalism.”

— Katrina M. Mendolera

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