Chapter 3

Reporting Local News in the Nation’s Capital

A Survey of Washington’s Local News Landscape

In the shadow of the federal government, local politics in Washington often escape the light shone upon issues of national concern. Walk one mile up 16th Street NW from the White House, and you will find yourself at the edge of Columbia Heights. Head west just two more blocks, and you may see the president’s house reproduced in a mural on an Adams Morgan building with the words, “If you lived here, you’d be home now…but you still could not vote.” As the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., suffers no shortage of ambitious, talented journalists running around looking for scoops. What is problematic is when those journalists have their sights trained on the Capitol to the exclusion of the city’s surrounding four quadrants, where local stories can go uncovered in many neighborhoods and local politicians are left unaccountable. Complicating the media needs of Washington further, the Washington media market also reaches nearby counties in Maryland and Virginia, in addition to serving a patchwork of diverse urban communities within the District. Furthermore, because federal employees live in or near the District, the line between local and national news can blur, at times seeming nonexistent. Consequently, providing comprehensive, quality local news coverage for Washington, D.C., and the surrounding area—no simple task—requires unique solutions.

Mainstream Media and Its Niche Counterparts

The District as a whole has no dearth of journalists. Gloria and Hadge (2010) counted 2,642 journalists employed by local news organizations in Washington, with over 700 at The Washington Post alone (20). Nevertheless, even the paper’s online editor for local coverage, Justin Jouvenal of PostLocal.com, admitted, “The Post just doesn’t have the resources to put someone on every corner in the Washington area” (“Digital District” 2010). Instead, PostLocal.com features a network of local bloggers, as a way of trying to tap into the work being produced among hyperlocal outlets (“Digital District” 2010).  Mainstream local media in Washington include daily newspapers The Washington Post and The Washington Times, the latter of which suffered numerous cuts to its reporting staff in the first decade of the twenty-first century. Free sheets The Washington Examiner and Express (owned by the Washington Post Co.) are distributed on weekdays at metro stations, apartment buildings, and other locations across the metro area, and The Washington City Paper is the city’s free alternative weekly newspaper. Several neighborhoods still have free weekly newspapers—for example, The Northwest Current or The Georgetown Current—but those that have survived the economic challenges to the media industry in the growth of online news tend to be in wealthier parts of the city. In broadcast media, Washington has two public television stations and two Public, Education, and Government (PEG) access channels, as well as 11 commercial television stations and 25 public and commercial radio stations. Few of the commercial radio stations include news programming (Gloria and Hadge 2010), but the non-commercial stations incorporate public affairs programming.[1]

However, in a multi-ethnic city with a population that is 13 percent foreign-born, 55 percent black, and only 32 percent white (non-Hispanic) (as of 2005-2009; “DC City Profile”), niche media provide much of the reporting on subjects of interest to immigrant and non-white ethnic groups. As Gloria and Hadge (2010) found, these niche newspapers and online outlets—ranging from the veteran Washington Afro paper, which covered the 1968 riots in D.C., to the much younger Muslim Link—serve African, African-American, Ethiopian, Vietnamese, and Hispanic communities, among others (20). Together, these publications fill gaps too specific to receive thorough coverage from the mainstream media. In fact, Alexandra Moe of non-profit New America Media observed, “Sometimes what the ethnic media excels at is the hyperlocal story”  (Gloria and Hadge 2010, 20). Latino newspapers often end up covering Columbia Heights, for example, because of the high levels of Latino residents there,  as Ariel Valdez, one of the inaugural class of fellows in the Public Media Corps (described below), observed (“Digital District” 2010). Some survey respondents in this study indicated the non-profit Pacifica Radio (WPFW-FM), located in Adams Morgan, as a primary source of news. WPFW describes itself as “an accessible media outlet for Blacks, Hispanics, cultural groups, women, seniors, youth and other ethnic and non-traditional groups” (WPFW.org) and fits in with a community media approach that has many supporters in some of the District’s undercovered neighborhoods. Community media—generally public-interest oriented reporting or citizen journalism—is also championed by several of the Columbia Heights non-profit organizations mentioned in Chapter 2, which reach out to some of the city’s underserved populations.

Local Government and Public Information

The District of Columbia Government itself is a crucial purveyor of public information in the city. The District’s Freedom of Information Act allows the public to access government meeting minutes, in addition to other documents, online, and the DC.gov website serves as an online portal for information and select government services. The D.C. Office of the Chief Technology Officer has made copious amounts of data available to the public through the District of Columbia Data Catalog,[2] including reports, raw XML feeds, and links to examples of how members of the public have used these data to visualize information about crime, construction permits, and others issues of interest. DC.gov also shares mobile applications, created by the government and private individuals, for transportation, public safety, and government transparency information.[3] Furthermore, the D.C. Public Library (DCPL) system offers approximately 625 computers with Internet access, as well as computer instruction, in its 25 branches across the city (Gloria and Hadge 2010, 18). As DCPL CIO Chris Tonjes observed to Gloria and Hadge (2010), “We think the future of interaction with the library is probably going to be electronic, in many cases” (18). These efforts at government transparency and information access are part of a broader trend seen across the city’s media to increase the active participation of the public in generating and consuming news and information.

Online Experiments in Hyperlocal Media

Mainstream media companies have also tried experimenting with new models, especially hyperlocal coverage. Patch, AOL’s network of hyperlocal news sites, launched its first D.C. site in September 2010, covering the Georgetown neighborhood (“About Us”). While Patch has several sites in towns bordering Washington in Virginia and Maryland, the network had not expanded further in the District at the time of this study.  In August 2009, Allbritton Communications—owners of the newspaper/website Politico, WTOP radio, and two television stations in Washington—launched TBD.com and rebranded its News Channel 8 as TBD-TV (Gloria and Hadge 2010, 6). TBD.com launched a local blog network that promoted content from local bloggers around the D.C. area, and, in a unique move, hired a “community engagement” team, which spearheaded the site’s outreach to its audience. Many of these were hyperlocal blogs already covering certain neighborhoods in the city, while others were geared towards niche interests. The site also included a curated news aggregation feature to highlight stories by ZIP code on a portion of the homepage. The site’s founding general manager, Jim Brady, said,  “I think its goals were to be a regional site that had hyperlocal elements to it…It was never considered a hyperlocal site at its core” (Kirchner 2011). In February 2011, Allbritton Communications announced it would convert TBD-TV back to News Channel 8 and reorganize TBD.com and another online property, WJLA.com, with an expectation of slashing the TBD.com staff in half and rebranding TBD as an arts and entertainment site (Farhi 2011).

Although TBD’s experiment did not meet with the success many predicted, the site was both predated and survived by dozens of hyperlocal and metro blogs that cover neighborhoods in every quadrant of the city. The oldest continuous neighborhood blog in D.C., JD Land, was founded in 2003 to cover the ongoing development of Near Southeast, D.C. Just three years later, Dan Silverman’s blog Prince of Petworth, described further below, grew out of a similar interest in the ongoing changes in that author’s neighborhood (Gloria and Hadge 2010, 12-13). DCist, one of a suite of metro blogs owned by Gothamist LLC, has the largest following among Washington’s blogs, with 1.7 million page views per month (Gloria and Hadge 2010, 12). Editor Aaron Morrissey described DCist as filling its own niche: “We’re a conduit between smaller hyperlocal blogs…that focus on one neighborhood or a street or a corridor, even,” and outlets with broader scope (Gloria and Hadge 2010, 12). While many of these are news-based—and some, such as DCist and Prince of Petworth, even break news—other blogs publish less time-sensitive narratives that nonetheless reveal undercovered stories. The People’s District, for example, was started by former government employee Danny Harris in July 2009 to share the stories of the people he encounters in his daily life—from crossing guards to the homeless—and in doing so, share parts of the city’s history through that of each of his interviewees (Harris 2009).

While Danny Harris eventually left his government job to pursue blogging full-time, most of Washington’s local bloggers do so part-time and work in white-collar professions to earn their living. DCist, though the most widely read blog, employs only one full-time staffer, the editor-in-chief; the rest are volunteer contributors with a few part-time paid editors (Gloria and Hadge 2010, 12). Prince of Petworth, on the other hand, is author Dan Silverman’s full-time job (D. Silverman, pers. comm.). D.C. is home to a number of blogs that show an interest in urban planning, and one, Life in the Village,[4] is the side-project of urban planner Veronica O. Davis, who combines her professional interests with her concerns for monitoring the accountability of the city in her own condominium development of Fairfax Village in the Southeast neighborhood Hillcrest (Davis, “About Miss V”). Greater Greater Washington,[5] on the other hand, is the full-time project of an amateur to both blogging and urban planning. David Alpert began the blog, which now has seven additional editors and nearly 50 contributors, in 2008 to give readers information on urban planning and transportation issues that they would be less likely to find in the mainstream media and to encourage them to attend community meetings (Gloria and Hadge 2010, 13). Though Alpert has no professional experience in journalism or urban planning, he has grown the blog into a full-time endeavor, and it is now part of the Washington Post’s online “All Opinions Are Local” blog network (D. Alpert, pers. comm.).

There is limited racial and socioeconomic diversity in the make-up of Washington’s hyperlocal bloggers, and this may reflect a broader divide in the District’s Internet users. The non-profit group Public Media Corps, discussed later in this chapter, conducted a study that revealed the demographics of Internet users in Wards 1, 7, and 8, as well as characteristics about how these D.C. residents use Internet (Leach 2011). The study focused on differences by race (rather than by ward) and found that African-Americans and Hispanic/Latinos were less likely to have Internet access at home than whites and were more likely to connect to the Internet through their mobile phones than white respondents. In line with these findings, African-American and Hispanic/Latino respondents reported using the Internet less frequently than white respondents, and African-Americans were less likely to consume news on the Internet than the other two population groups. The primary reason for not having Internet access at home was cost (for 37.8% of respondents), followed by not owning a computer (31.7%) (ibid.). In Ward 1, of which Columbia Heights is part, those who have a home broadband connection include 25.6% of African Americans, 21.2% of Latinos, and 62.1% of whites (ibid.). Those without any home Internet access in Ward 1 include 44.5% of African Americans, 53.8% of Latinos, and 5.6% of whites (ibid.). These findings provide a lens for some of the findings on Columbia Heights’ hyperlocal media users discussed later in this study.

Holding Government Accountable

DC Watch is an online magazine run by two Columbia Heights residents that tracks corruption and inefficiency in the city government. Led by husband and wife team Gary Imhoff and Dorothy Brizill, DC Watch began in 1995 with “dcstory,” a “moderated e-mail discussion forum” (Brizill and Imhoff, “themail@dcwatch”). DCWatch describes its mission as follows:

Before DCWatch, no other citizen organization functioned primarily as a watchdog on corruption and as an independent voice seeking to reform the District government. The lack of such an organization has allowed governmental waste and mismanagement to remain largely unchecked. This situation has proven to be destructive of the fiscal order of the District, of the public’s confidence in government, and of the District’s relationship with the federal government.

DCWatch has been modeled after the Citizens Union in New York City, the Committee of Seventy in Philadelphia, and the Better Government Association of Chicago. The BGA of Chicago, for example, was established in 1923 to promote voter registration and to make candidate endorsements. Its principal focus for the past several decades, however, has been to eradicate government waste and corruption through thorough, independent investigations. (Brizill and Imhoff, “What Is DCWatch?”)

Now the e-newsletter is called “themail” and is delivered to subscribers twice weekly. The DC Watch website[6] includes archives of all “themail” newsletters, as well as columns that are updated less frequently. The website contains links to community organizations, lists of government organizations and officials, and a bibliography of relevant books and news articles, most of which date back to the turn of the twenty-first century. Brizill, the executive director, describes herself as a “community activist and civic reformer,” trained as a political scientist (Brizill and Imhoff, “What Is DCWatch?”). Washington’s mainstream media have dubbed her “D.C.’s most outspoken watchdog” (Mathis 2007) and, with her husband, “the First Couple of municipal kvetching” (DeBonis 2010).

Augmenting government accountability is a common motivation behind the District’s blogs. For example, both Silverman and Davis see a role for their sites in bringing concerns to the attention of government officials by providing residents an unintimidating, easy way to voice their concerns. “What I use my blog for, it’s one, to give information to the community…but then also two, to serve that accountability function,” said Davis (“Digital District” 2010). Her weekly list of open issues tracks concerns that government has not yet addressed, such as needed street repairs and development on vacant lots, and she documents her conversations with government officials on her blog (ibid.). Even WashingtonPost.com introduced a feature called “The Daily Gripe[7] when it launched the PostLocal.com local news hub; this allows readers to submit complaints for city repairs via SeeClickFix that are reported directly to government agencies. In many ways, hyperlocal bloggers are uniquely positioned to call for government accountability, as Davis observed:

Because we come from the community, I think there’s a certain trust factor that we have…If I write a blog post that is offensive, I still have to face my neighbors!…I know there’s some talk that bloggers aren’t bound to journalistic efforts, but in a sense we are, because my credibility is on the line as someone who lives in the community every time I write something. And I think that—from the standpoint of the local elected leaders—I think that where we actually put a little bit more pressure on them is that we are the voice of the community. We are the people attending the community meetings. We are the people that our neighbors trust. (“Digital District” 2010)

In the same conversation, Silverman disagreed: “I can deal with the low-hanging fruit…For the complicated issues that need investigative reporting, resources, brilliant minds, etc., etc.—that is still [the province of] The Washington Post. If that ever falls away from The Washington Post and mainstream media, then we’re in a lot of trouble” (“Digital District” 2010). While Silverman was addressing his concerns about bloggers’ lack of a certain professional skill set, it is also worth noting that despite the economic flux impacting the media industry, part-time and self-funded bloggers are in an even less financially sustainable position.

An Overview of Hyperlocal Media in Columbia Heights

Early Experiments

As described in Chapter 2, Columbia Heights benefited from the early introduction of technology even in its young history. While broadband adoption in the neighborhood has not taken hold with such swiftness (as evidenced in the findings presented in Chapter 6), at least some Columbia Heights residents have been experimenting with new media technologies as early adopters. In 1999 residents began using a list-serv (which later evolved into an e-Group, then the columbia_heights Yahoo! Group) to discuss the neighborhood’s transformation (Cherkis 2005, 18; E. McIntire, pers. comm.). Their discussions in the first few years of the twenty-first century exposed the tensions of the neighborhood’s re-gentrification (20). Users were not necessarily diverse, due to the economic limitations of Internet access, and one poster wrote of the intersection at 11th Street and Lamont, “The corner is basically an illegal-immigrant-outdoor-corona-pub” (ibid.). Tensions surrounding gentrification also extended to a sense of competition between Columbia Heights and Mount Pleasant, with the former claiming to have “more diversity and an authentic urban feel” and the latter, “nicer architecture and a better commercial strip” (Cherkis 2005, 25).[8] The gentrification that propelled this discussion group is still ongoing, and similar issues have surfaced on today’s hyperlocal media in Columbia Heights.

Elizabeth McIntire, whose husband David founded the list-serv along with InnerCity.org, said the motivation for beginning the list-serv came after she and her husband took a course on Washington, D.C., offered by the United States Department of Agriculture in conjunction with the Audubon Naturalist Society and taught by Dr. James V. O’Connor, who had been the official geologist for the District. The final project for the class involved researching the history of  a neighborhood, and as the McIntires learned more about Columbia Heights’ past, they became “vested” in the community and in “counteract[ing] the negative image of the neighborhood” (E. McIntire, pers. comm.). McIntire described the media context out of which the list-serv emerged as follows:

[M]edia reports would always designate the location on positive stories to Mt. Pleasant or Adams Morgan and anything negative would be identified as happening in the amorphous “Columbia Heights,” regardless of whether the actual address was east or west of 16th St. [The goal of the list-serv was to] publish information that would give the context of a thriving 14th St. in the first half of the 20th century, and the many solid community organizations, churches, schools, social service groups working in the current neighborhood. David was early to be fascinated by the new technology and the list-serv would help publicize what was happening and facilitate neighborhood discussion. (E. McIntire, pers. comm.)

Elizabeth McIntire also argued that this discussion group played a key role in the restoration of Columbia Heights’ Tivoli Theater and accompanying development on 14th Street by Horning Brothers and GRID Properties discussed in Chapter 2: Politicians, developers, and the media followed the list-serv’s heated debates (E. McIntire, pers. comm.). McIntire described another “heated discussion” about “unruly kids” in 2000 that led to the development of a community marketplace in a previously empty lot that gave residents a place in which to gather on the weekends, mitigating complaints and regaining control over the neighborhood’s public space (ibid.). Thus, new media in their earliest uses in Columbia Heights were used to enact real change that impacted the physical development of the neighborhood—an outcome reminiscent of Mary Foote Henderson’s letter-writing campaigns that brought about the construction of Meridian Hill Park nearly a century earlier.

The McIntires’ interest in publicizing a more positive image of Columbia Heights also led to the development of the web portal InnerCity.org, also created by David McIntire (E. McIntire, pers. comm.). The site is still live, but no longer updated, and while the design and functionality are clearly dated, it remains a comprehensive source of certain kinds of information. InnerCity.org includes directories of businesses, nonprofit organizations, and churches, including information on social services available to residents, ranging from child care and health care to information on job training and acquiring citizenship.[9] Discussion tools include a link to what is now the “columbia_heights” Yahoo! Group list-serv, as well as user-generated calendars and message boards that are no longer active. The site also contains a wealth of information about the history of Columbia Heights. Resources include news articles on Columbia Heights from 1995 to 2001; a brief history written by David McIntire; and audio recordings of interviews with residents sharing their personal histories in the neighborhood. For a project that grew out of a personal project, InnerCity.org is surprisingly thorough, but despite the aids of technology that would make such a project much easier today, no one has attempted a site of the same scope in the Web 2.0 era. Interestingly, information and conversation about Columbia Heights have instead diversified across multiple channels in the intervening years, some of which will be detailed below.

List-servs

What became increasingly clear as I surveyed the list-servs in use among Columbia Heights residents is that they often serve a highly specific community. In fact, some list-servs that require administrator approval to join are unavailable (and thus also difficult to trace) for people living outside the boundaries of the area to which it caters, sometimes as small as a few blocks, such as the “700blkHobart-Columbia-Harvard” list,[10] which covers three blocks between Hobart Street, NW, Columbia Road NW, and Harvard Street NW. It was founded in 2006 and numbers over 120 members five years later. This list-serv and most others brought to my attention are managed through Yahoo! Groups, which allows members to post messages through a website and also receive e-mail digests of posts at a frequency of their choosing. Other, more inclusive, list-servs include the following:

  • columbia_heights: This Yahoo! Group covers the entire neighborhood and dates to June 3, 1999. It had 1,720 members as of 2011.[11] As mentioned above, it was begun by David McIntire (E. McIntire, pers. comm.) and was hosted by eGroups.com before Yahoo! bought that particular e-mail list management site.
  • southcolumbiaheights: This Yahoo! Group was founded December 19, 2007, and had 454 members in 2011. The list-serv owner is ANC 1B Commissioner Sedrick Muhammad, who is also president of the South Columbia Heights Neighborhood Association (Muhammad, “Updates”). It covers news of particular interest to those living south of Columbia Road NW.
  • NCHCA: This Yahoo! Group is associated with the North Columbia Heights Civic Association, which also has a blog and a Facebook page.[12] It was founded May 25, 2000, and had 384 members as of 2011. It pertains especially to areas north of Columbia Road NW.
  • NWCHCA: This Yahoo! Group, founded October 21, 2008, only has eight members listed, but it is affiliated with the Northwest Columbia Heights Community Association, which also manages an e-mail list through its website. It has a particular focus on public safety and crime prevention.[13]
  • WardOneDC: This Yahoo! Group, founded October 13, 2003, had 1,135 members in 2011. It serves all of Ward 1, which includes the neighborhoods of Columbia Heights, Adams Morgan, Shaw, LeDroit Park, and Mount Pleasant.[14]
  • MPD-3d: The Metropolitan Police Department maintains multiple list-servs for its third district; additional lists include “3DSubstation” and “PublicSafety305.” The “MPD-3d” list, founded November 12, 2004, covers Police Service Areas (PSA) 301, 303, 305, 307, and 308, while “3DSubstation” covers PSA 302 and 304.[15] “MPD-3d” had 1,407 members in 2011. Unlike the other list-servs, this one is managed by the District of Columbia Government and has posted guidelines for its use.[16]

Twitter and Facebook

Unlike list-servs, which have played an active role in Columbia Heights’ media from an early stage, Twitter and Facebook have been slower to catch on as hyperlocal technologies. As indicated in the media list in Appendix C, many Twitter feeds and Facebook pages related to Columbia Heights are associated with blogs. For example, New Columbia Heights, Prince of Petworth, and The Heights Life blogs all have Twitter feeds, and New Columbia Heights also has a Facebook page. Community organizations also make use of Facebook profiles as a supplement to other media. In particular, the North Columbia Heights Civic Association uses its Facebook page primarily to promote content published to its blog (Jeff Zeeman, pers. comm.). These Twitter feeds and Facebook pages that are used to publicize content from other media tend to be the most active.

The Twitter accounts and Facebook groups and pages that are unique to those media are often not updated regularly. A number of Facebook pages or groups dedicated to Columbia Heights in general have few regular “wall” posts; the same is true of the Twitter account “@ourcoheigh,” which has not been updated since November 2010.[17] Members of the D.C. Government have given some attention to Twitter: ANC 1A created a Twitter account (“@anc1a”) in 2010, but it has not been active since the November 2010 elections.[18] Councilmember Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), however, does actively use his Twitter feed.[19] On Facebook, one group that has remained active is devoted to the “Columbia Heights Dog Park (11th & Park).”[20] Interestingly, these active accounts both correspond to individuals or social groups that are already active in the community offline. Given the current sparse use of many of the other accounts mentioned above, whether Facebook and Twitter will be used more widely at the hyperlocal level or passed over for the next technology remains to be seen.

Blogs

Prince of Petworth

Dan Silverman’s blog Prince of Petworth[21] first garnered attention during coverage of a special election to replace his ward’s city council member (“Digital District” 2010). His blog now covers approximately 75 percent of the city’s neighborhoods, but he estimates the largest contingent of his readership (approximately 30 percent) comes from Columbia Heights. Silverman views his role as that of a facilitator, “connecting people that would normally never be connected, that would normally never have a conversation, and the conversations that they have” would be too controversial too take place (Silverman, “Digital District” 2010). Prince of Petworth averages in excess of 800,000 page views per month (D. Silverman, pers. comm.), and Silverman publishes approximately 20 posts daily. While Prince of Petworth covers most of the city, the blog’s approach still stems from a hyperlocal perspective that differentiates it from other metro-focused publications. Silverman explained, “I seek to enhance the overall quality of life in neighborhood living. That’s in every neighborhood, but obviously, I personally spend a lot of time in Columbia Heights; Petworth, a little bit; Adams Morgan, a little bit; Mt. Pleasant, a little bit. But some of the issues that are discussed are completely applied to every neighborhood” (D. Silverman, pers. comm.).

Although the majority of the site’s advertisers approach Silverman, he is able to maintain the blog as his full-time occupation. Having time to report is central to his approach, as many of his posts reflect news or scenes he comes across in his journeys around the city. In fact, the blog grew out of Silverman’s flaneur-like tendencies during his early years as a Petworth resident in 2006. While he initially started the blog to provide a forum for discussing development in Petworth, Silverman said, “I walk everywhere, and I saw changes in Columbia Heights affected me almost as much as changes in Petworth,” which prompted him to expand the scope of his blog (D. Silverman, pers. comm.). While these changes encompass both the positive and the negative, “A lot of times I try to highlight positive things,” Silverman said (D. Silverman, pers. comm.). Silverman says that although he votes in every local election, he never attends ANC meetings and maintains no affiliations or memberships in any organization (except the Democratic Party) (D. Silverman, pers. comm.).

While much of Silverman’s content is generated from news he comes across in person, he began using Twitter as a means of both publicizing his own work and following local news in 2010. Silverman’s “@popville” account has over 3,000 followers, but he follows fewer than 70—primarily a mix of government officials, mainstream media outlets, and select bloggers[22] (D. Silverman, pers. comm.). Twitter is especially useful for keeping abreast of news in areas he does not travel to as often on foot, such as H Street NE, a hotbed of transportation and business development. However, Silverman observed that many—both within and outside of mainstream media—violate the “unwritten rule” of crediting news stories broken via Twitter to the original authors (D. Silverman, pers. comm.).

As a facilitator, Silverman encourages his readers to form a community online and offline. He will sometimes post e-mails from readers looking for advice and invite others to offer their input in the comment section, and he tries to reply to every e-mail he receives from readers, which can total up to 100 messages per day. The advantage of his blog over mainstream media, Silverman acknowledged, is that readers know whom to turn to with questions: He is the sole blogger behind the site and makes himself accessible to those who want to get in touch. “You have to build a trust with your readership,” Silverman said (D. Silverman, pers. comm.). Offline, he also hosts occasional happy hours to bring his readers together in person. (D. Silverman, pers. comm.).

New Columbia Heights

Andrew Wiseman started the blog New Columbia Heights[23] in March 2008 when he had trouble finding local news solely focused on Columbia Heights (A. Wiseman, pers. comm.).  The blog receives approximately 5,000 unique visitors per week.[24] While Wiseman makes some revenue from ads, the blog is not his full-time job, and he is the sole contributor (A. Wiseman, pers. comm.). He covers news on local businesses, restaurants, politics, and other subjects. New Columbia Heights includes a blogroll to other D.C. Neighborhood blogs and several local websites, a map of select dining and cultural establishments in Columbia Heights, links to several neighborhood list-servs and local government websites, and links to the blog’s Facebook page and Twitter and Flickr accounts. Wiseman has also included a link for readers to send tips, and he does at times receive e-mails from residents about the local issues on which he blogs. He has even heard from tourists planning to visit the neighborhood, looking for advice on things to see (A. Wiseman, pers. comm.).

The Heights Life

The Heights Life[25] blog also dates back to March 2008, when two young Columbia Heights residents decided to chronicle their experiences in the neighborhood. Though writing in the same casual tone as other hyperlocal bloggers, the authors behind The Heights Life—known on the site under the pseudonyms “Art Bart” and “Spud Lite”—take a slightly more irreverant and more personalized approach with their self-described “one-stop snark shop”: Their inaugural post explains their choice to start blogging “[b]ecause we sit around over beers with our friends discussing and analyzing our lives as young people living in Columbia Heights, Washington, DC” (Spud Lite 2008). Nevertheless, The Heights Life covers similar content to that on New Columbia Heights, but publishes slightly less frequently. (While only eight posts were published in the first two months of 2011, some months see more activity.). This blog also has a Twitter account and blogroll of neighborhood bloggers. Although the blog’s readership is unclear, its corresponding Twitter account, @theheightslife,[26] has over 1,000 followers and is updated almost daily

Public Media Corps

Though not a hyperlocal media outlet itself, one experiment in community media worth noting is the Public Media Corps (PMC), a national non-profit organization that launched its first class of fellows in 2010 in the Washington neighborhoods of Columbia Heights and Anacostia. The program describes its mission as follows:

Based on other service corps models, such as Teach for America, the PMC is a new national service that proposes to promote and extend broadband adoption in underserved communities by placing Fellows skilled in technology, media production, and outreach in residencies at underperforming high schools, public broadcast stations, and non-profit community anchor institutions. (“About,” PublicMediaCorps.org)

In Columbia Heights, fellows worked with the non-profit CentroNia, which provides educational programming and family support services; the Latin American Youth Center, a non-profit serving low-income youth and families in D.C.; and Pacifica Radio (WPFW-FM) (“About,” PublicMediaCorps.org). The fellows directed the production of mobile applications, a television show geared for teens, and other projects (ibid.).

While explicitly geared towards encouraging broadband adoption, the Public Media Corps also embraced an ethos that supported media produced by the community and in its interest. When Dan Silverman of Prince of Petworth aired his opinion at the “Digital District” panel discussion held in July 2010 that mainstream media are uniquely equipped to do investigative journalism, co-panelist Ariel Valdez, the PMC fellow at CentroNia, disagreed. Instead, Valdez saw community media producers playing a more integral role in the broader media ecosystem, albeit one aided by the resources of mainstream news outlets:

I feel like it’s incumbent upon outlets like the Washington Post and like local public media outlets which are stewards of public access information to create an environment in which these people can go out…and do this deep investigation and then they become the next WikiLeaks, the next—whoever’s going to make the next big difference. I feel like it’s incumbent upon these large established organizations to create an environment where that can happen. (“Digital District” 2010)

While this chapter has detailed many examples of citizen journalism and community media among Columbia Heights’ hyperlocal offerings, it is only efforts such as the Public Media Corps that have sought to make sure production of these media is widespread among diverse populations.

This chapter began by observing that local stories often risk being overlooked by the mainstream media, but the range of other media sources that have proliferated in the District and in Columbia Heights in particular show that traditional media need not necessarily fill all of Washington’s local news needs. Local government, engaged residents, curious amateur bloggers, and public communication on list-servs and other media offer alternative ways of filling gaps in traditional news coverage. Furthermore, the efforts of non-profit organizations such as Public Media Corps strive to train a community in journalistic skills that could help expand existing local and hyperlocal media. In today’s knowledge city, residents’ interest in engaging in knowledge production and the existence of public, accessible media through which to do so will be vital to ensuring sustainable forms of knowledge-based development. In Chapter 4, I will elaborate on the concept of the knowledge city and many other areas that contribute to the theoretical framework for this study.


[1] A comprehensive analysis of Washington’s mainstream media can be found in Gloria and Hadge (2010). This study will instead highlight less-traditional media outlets and sources of information in the Washington area.

[2] See http://data.dc.gov/, accessed 27 Feb. 2011.

[3] See http://apps.dc.gov/, accessed 27 Feb. 2011.

[4] See http://fairfaxvillage.blogspot.com, accessed 28 Feb. 2011.

[5] See http://greatergreaterwashington.org/, 28 Feb. 2011.

[6] See http://www.dcwatch.com, accessed 28 Feb. 2011.

[7] See http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/special/metro/daily-gripe/index.html, accessed 28 Feb. 2011.

[8] This paragraph adapted from Hadge 2010c.

[9] See http://innercity.org/columbiaheights/agencys.html, accessed 28 Feb. 2011.

[10] See http://groups.yahoo.com/group/700blkHobart-Columbia-Harvard/?yguid=256248246, accessed 28 Feb. 2011.

[11] See http://groups.yahoo.com/group/columbia_heights/, accessed 28 Feb. 2011.

[12] See http://groups.yahoo.com/group/NCHCA/ for the Yahoo! Group; http://www.northcolumbiaheights.org for the blog; and http://www.facebook.com/#!/northcolumbiaheights for the Facebook page; all accessed 28 Feb. 2011.

[13] See http://groups.yahoo.com/group/NWCHCA/ for the Yahoo! Group and http://www.nwchca.org/index.html for the NWCHCA website; both accessed 28 Feb. 2011.

[14] See http://groups.yahoo.com/group/WardOneDC/, accessed 28 Feb. 2011.

[15] See http://groups.yahoo.com/group/MPD-3d/; http://groups.yahoo.com/group/3Dsubstation/; and http://groups.yahoo.com/group/publicsafety305/; all accessed 28 Feb. 2011.

[16] See http://mpdc.dc.gov/mpdc/cwp/view,a,1242,q,567080,mpdcNav_GID,1523,mpdcNav,|.asp, accessed 28 Feb. 2011.

[17] See http://twitter.com/#!/ourcoheigh, accessed 28 Feb. 2011.

[18] See http://twitter.com/#!/anc1a, accessed 28 Feb. 2011.

[19] See http://twitter.com/#!/JimGraham_Ward1, accessed 28 Feb. 2011.

[20] See http://www.facebook.com/#!/group.php?gid=104241402957770, accessed 28 Feb. 2011.

[21] See http://www.princeofpetworth.com, accessed 28 Feb. 2011.

[22] Counts accurate as of 28 Feb. 2011; see http://twitter.com/#!/popville, accessed 28 Feb. 2011.

[23] See http://newcolumbiaheights.blogspot.com/, accessed 28 Feb. 2011.

[24] Estimate based on StatCounter.com analytics, http://statcounter.com/project/standard/stats.php?granularity=weekly&project_id=3604490, accessed 28 Feb. 2011.

[25] See http://www.theheightslifedc.com, accessed 28 Feb. 2011.

[26] See http://twitter.com/#!/theheightslife, accessed 28 Feb. 2011.

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