“So is Sheepshead Bites your full-time job? Is it your vocation?”

That’s a question I get asked a lot. It surprises some people that I dedicate more than full-time hours to Sheepshead Bites, trying to build not just a news outlet, but a sustainable business model for the next generation of journalism. But on the day I was asked this particular question in this particular way, it came with this particular follow-up:

“Is that all you aspire to do with your life?”

Yikes. I’m about to turn 27. Us quarter-lifers, as the media has termed us, don’t like to wrestle with such questions. But there it was, drooping in front of me like a gnarled apple rotting on the limb. And it came from a rather prominent figure in the community who, apparently, didn’t “get it.”

There’s no easy answer of course. There’s a lot I aspire to do. I hope to write a book one day. I’ll eventually be married – this beaut of a face can’t stay on the market forever. Then there are all the places I plan to travel. Oh, and let’s not forget the billion dollars I’m going to make; can’t forget that.

But you know what? There ain’t a bit of shame in aspiring to own and run the premiere online destination for a community of more than 160,000 people. There’s no fault in wanting to reconnect neighbors with neighborhoods, and communities with their local government. My role is to create a place for civic discourse, and, of course, make a living out of it.

And by doing that I get to be the master of my own domain, and doing something I believe is crucial to democracy.

I believe local journalism, local government and local economies are the linchpins of a vibrant, healthy nation. For decades, as conglomerates swallowed up independent news outlets across the nation (our own local paper, Bay News, is owned by News Corp. – the same company that owns Fox News and the New York Post, for example), local coverage was watered down because community reporting is expensive, and stockholders want dividends. And because corporations can view employees as easily replaceable cogs, one reporter who lives in the community and has covered it for decades is just as valuable as one straight out of journalism school three states over.

But community reporting requires more than cogs. It requires more than an academic familiarity of those it covers. What meaningful local reporting requires is a personal investment. If the reporter doesn’t stand to benefit from a healthy community, his coverage will serve to dramatize and exacerbate problems rather than solve them.

When Sheepshead Bites ventures to cover the community, we do it because we’re neighbors. Our writers live here. Our business is based here. And we endeavor to support and uplift our neighbors for all of our benefit.

Our reporting sees results. When we complain about garbage, it gets cleaned up. When we question politicians, they endeavor to meet our concerns. When we cry to the city that Sheepshead deserves more – well, we’re still waiting to see about that one. This alone makes the site a worthwhile exercise, because, to me, the significance of one’s aspirations is only measurable by how much it helps others. Not to get preachy, but a preacher’s quote is especially applicable here: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” (That’d be Martin Luther King, Jr., by the way.)

And it’s not just bettering Sheepshead Bay that I’m concerned about. Sheepshead Bites is part of a nationwide movement of independent online news publishers striving to build sustainable, locally-owned journalism operations at the community level. We’re out to prove a point: local reporting is valuable and profitable. The stakes are high – community papers from coast-to-coast are shuttering and large media companies are reducing their investment in local, overburdened by corporate overhead and stockholder’s expectations.

That paints a nightmarish picture for the future of communities and for journalists.

By abandoning communities, media conglomerates are ripping out the foundation of American democracy and civic participation. Without their local news outlets, neighborhoods will have no watchdogs. They will have no one sounding the alarm on issues as small as a lingering pothole or as large as political corruption. There will be no one to root for neighbors and local businesses. There will be no one explaining the difference between a civic group and a community board, or explaining how new legislation could affect you. Quite simply, there will be no one fighting for you.

Without local participation, how can citizens ever expect to get results from the larger political processes?

But I’m also a journalist deeply concerned about the state of journalism. By abandoning communities, media conglomerates are ripping out the foundation of journalism. Local reporting is where young reporters earn their chops, and it’s where they learn to respect sources (because your sources know where you live). It’s where larger news outlets pluck their stories from and find the pulse of the city. And, when all is said and done, local media is always relevant to readers, and has served for generations as citizens’ introduction to larger media. It’s where they learn media literacy, and discover that the news – whether it’s local, national or global – is and always has been interactive; readers are meant to engage with editors and reporters, not merely consume. Without that literacy – which is sadly uncommon these days – mainstream media seems both monolithic and beyond comprehension.

Without local media, how can citizens ever expect to navigate and influence the larger media landscape?

Our national movement of independent online news publishers is out to rebuild those foundations, create sustainable business models, and ensure our neighbors have a voice. It’s a matter of resuscitating the most basic elements of journalism – that have, unfortunately, given way to punditry, conjecture and insincerity – and a quest to reinvigorate civic life.

So, the point is, if this is all I aspire to, that’s a heckuva lot to do. And I’ve got to get back to work…

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  • Anonymous

    PSH all them haters just keep on hatin!

    LOL

    on a side note.   we should celebrate your bday when that comes around proper!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=195100291 Randy Contello

    ned, i never once questioned if this was your job, from a readers and a artists prospective, i could tell this is part of you, the formost of that being the Gelmen stabbings, you had been scooping local media on it for hours and hours on updates…

    this isnt your job, its your child, and you are a great father of it, as your child serves us all amazingly.. the site is wonderful, the news great and on point, and the event that was help, introduced me to some great locals..

    i think i speak on behalf of the community, when i say thank you for putting the local back in news.

    • Anonymous

      you know………Every child needs a Mother.

      Hint Hint.

  • Anonymous

    Ned do you know what TL;DR is? Telling me about his tough life…long hours, like I would give a shit…Thinks he has it bad…talentless hack… Erica is the one who is busting ass here…this one is even too lazy to shave…

    Stop telling us about your personal problems and get us some real news. I have no idea where new cellphone store opening. So get behind that typewriter you call your computer and click clack away.
    Oh and one more thing, thanks for running S Bites. It in my top 5 websites that I check everyday. It’s great and I respect all the work you put in to it, even if I do disagree about a few things. Great job buddy.

    PS I hate Bensonhurst.

  • Truth

    I have long ago noticed that people who ask questions such as “is this all you want to do” or “don’t you want get a real job” are the people who have long ago sold themselves out to the corporate matching.  They might be well off financially, but deep down they despise people who try to make their dreams a reality because they have long ago gave up on theirs.  That is of course why they love to see artists and businesspeople fail cause they can feel a little better about themselves.

  • superhero

    how many hits do you get a day on this site?

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

    This is ridiculous. What you are doing makes a very positive impact on the community, and those who live in it. It is not easy, it is a serious endeavor, and whoever doesn’t get that has shallows values and probably makes no perceptible contribution to the world we live in.

    Keep moving ahead and don’t look back on those who are losing ground because they can only see what is immediately in front of them. Their only intention is to slow you down.

  • Windy

    Ned and his staff do a wonderful job.

  • Neighbor

    You doing a great job. It is very hard to find anything out about local happenings,  plans, etc. It is just wonderful you try to fill this niche. Thanks.  

    • Truth

      Yes Ned, like the lowly earth worm you play a dirty yet necessary part in our little world :-D

  • Brightonresident

    You do a GREAT job of reporting local news to the community.  I read about things here long before “traditional” media reports on them.  KEEP UP THE GREAT WORK!!!

  • LadyS

    Ned, You have my deepest respect and admiration!  In this day and age I am amazed that you are able to “carve” a living doing something that you have a great passion for – YOU RULE! Having been both an independent and an employee, let me assure you that being the master of your own fate is so much better. I hope you live to be 110, and still doing the Bytes, if that is what you long to do. Great job, keep it up!!

  • http://www.brucebrodinsky.com Bruce B ex Eminem

    “Is that all you aspire to in life?”  I hope so. It’s a worthy cause, no need to elaborate, as others (and you) have. Keep up the invaluable task, sir, that you do very well.

      However, since this an open thread I will elaborate (rant) on the phrases’s close cousin:  “GET A LIFE”. (Did anyone expect otherwise?)

        This hated phrase is always announced FROM someone whose life is either hitting the bar scene, shopping all day with money they don’t possess, or making sure they watch American Idol and the Kardashians every day. 

         It’s always announced TO someone who has a passion, however eccentric: railroads, or sports, or exercise, or the arts, mathematics, reading, really, any subject in which one actually has to think and ponder and dedicate.  

        You know where i’m going on this. I think Americans’ idea of “getting a life” these days is sad and pathetic. It’s been turned upside down, inside out, and been twisted. It’s a Mobius strip and a torus combined (sorry, that’s what i’m reading now!)

  • Local Broker

    Don’t take no shit off nobody spider!

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  • http://welocally.com/ Welocally

    So just so you know one of my favorite blogs Boing Boing just posted this manifesto, and I am totally happy for the bites, because it means probably a lot of traffic on a really important subject. Just so you know we love the independent locals, and we hope that our products can help them monetize by referring locals to the great local places around them. Congrats Sheeps Head Bites! 

  • http://twitter.com/mrdamian76 Damian Radcliffe

    Great post!

    For a UK perspective of this subject, with an international flavour, readers may want to look at the UK landscape report recently wrote for the UK innovation agency, NESTA. At 15,000 words, it is the first UK report of its kind. Hopefully it is a useful tool for anyone with an interest in this space.It is accompanied by 1m GPB ($1.6m) of funding for new ideas too, which is really exciting. Here’s a link to the press release: http://www.nesta.org.uk/news_and_features/news/assets/features/1million_boost_to_develop_uk_hyperlocal_media_sector And here’s a link to the report: http://www.nesta.org.uk/about_us/assets/features/here_and_now_uk_hyperlocal_media_today Many of the issues outlined above are covered in the report – these are issues and considerations relevant to people in this space the world over.

    I covered this last week for Street Fight mag – http://streetfightmag.com/2012/04/27/report-identifies-elements-of-hyperlocal-success-in-the-u-k/ - which included a call for international / transatlantic partnerships to work through these areas of commonality and to share the learning.

    http://www.damianradcliffe.com/hyperlocal

  • http://kibblesbits.wordpress.com/ Ann

    I actually read this more than I read my local online paper, even though I moved years ago.  I can’t be bothered with the paywall, and they hardly cover local news properly here at all.  There are some things that people back in Brooklyn would at the very least raise an eyebrow to, things that would be considered scandalous, immoral, outrageous, wrong, and no one bats an eyelash.  The papers here only do police reports and feel good stories about what’s going on.  It’s sad.  Thankfully our next move will be to a place with a bit more guts to it.  I only wish my local paper was as good at this.

    • Arthur Borko

      I was wondering why I never saw you post on LJ anymore.

  • ATT

    Interesting. The person means no harm. Everything happens for a reason and that question was put before you for a reason. There is so much more to life than news. There are so many more was to effect change than through a news operation. So the question and the motivation behind it is legit. Don’t let this all-encompassing thing crowd out all the other very important things in life –specifically yours because it will.

    • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

      Nonsense. So much more than life than the news? Do you understand how important it is for people to know what is going on in their communities? The motivation behind the question was one of cynicism, and the mistaken belief that success and passion are rarely joined.

  • socialpda

    Hi Ned,
    Just saw this post from d tweet of @2e013a1df38808c3d62df184ae6465fc:disqus willperrin . I was touched by your sincerity. You captured what separates ‘journalists’ from other writers, advertisers or marketers -> a bigger purpose (truth, community building, progress of society) beyond the sales & making money. 
    @Kibblet:disqus 
    Hope local businesses support your efforts as you support them! 

    Regards,
    Celina M.
    http://www.jabberly.com

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