It’s not all that often we at Sheepshead Bites stop our daily grind to toot our own horns. But sometimes the failings of other so-called “local” news outlets are so great, that we have to pat ourselves on the back for a job well done.

Last week’s coverage of the Gravesend natural gas crisis, in which service was cut along Ocean Parkway leaving thousands of residents without hot water and other amenities, was one example of the service we at Sheepshead Bites provide that no other outlet does.

Let’s back up a second. Local news is currently all the rage in the journalism and advertising industries. With 72 percent of American adults professing to be “local news enthusiasts,” and the local advertising spending to exceed $136 billion this year, every player in town is hopping on the bandwagon. You hear it all the time; slogans like “As local as local gets” and “Your source for local news,” and hyperlocal this and geo-target that.

But what’s it all really mean? What is local?

I can tell you what it’s not: a big ol’ corporation based in some out-of-neighborhood, out-of-borough, out-of-city and even out-of-state office making the decisions on what matters to you, your life and your block. When that happens, the important, actionable information you need to get through your day gets jettisoned in favor of the trivial and sensational.

Often, to these corporate outlets, local stories means crime stories. They’ll be the first ones down here with camera crews when there has been a stabbing or shooting. They probably won’t tell you what the crime rates are in the area, and if that story really matters to you – which we define as having an effect on you or you having the ability to affect it. But they will work all day to find out how long Perp A’s rap sheet is, and all night to get that magic quote from Neighbor B about how Perp C was “such a nice, quiet boy before all this.”

Add to that “local” crime coverage a sprinkling of quirky, offbeat and trite stories, and you’ve got a pretty comprehensive roundup of local news for the average neighborhood in New York City.

But when a story breaks that affects you, as it did on Tuesday when water flooded National Grid gas lines and caused a five-day long outage, where was the local coverage then? Where were the stories explaining to residents what’s going on, how long it would go on for, and what they can do if they have questions?

Only Sheepshead Bites had that story.

And as great as a job I think the team here did – from reporting on the initial outage, to aggregating reports from readers about what they were hearing on the ground, to soliciting updates and explanations from National Grid representatives – it’s a damn shame we didn’t see any of these other “local” guys on the ground getting the story.

With 1,200 households denied service, that meant 3,000 to 5,000 people going through their work week without a hot shower, heat or a stove-cooked meal. Three thousand to 5,000! That’s the size of a small American town! And I bet you, had this happened in some rural town, the local online media there would’ve been on it in a heartbeat.

But here in New York City, it wasn’t until Sheepshead Bites began reaching out to larger media outlets several days into the crisis – at the same time, just about, that National Grid issued its first press release – that anyone else covered it. And then they just regurgitated the press release (with errors).

While major outlets like the Daily News or ABC may have had other major stories during the Gravesend crisis – I mean, Dick Clark did die last week, OMG! – there was one particular outlet whose failure shocked me above all: News Corporation’s local paper, Bay News.

Dedicated to our area – in theory – Bay News has still not written a word about the service outage, not that it matters anymore. They were too busy pumping out poorly-researched columns teetering on hate speech that has nothing to do with our neighborhoods. Since Bay News moved its headquarters from Sheepshead Bay Road all the way to other end of Brooklyn in One Metrotech Center, they’ve not only symbolically abandoned our neighborhood, but literally as well.

And, here’s the real kicker: National Grid’s communication team is also located in One Metrotech, which means all a Bay News reporter would’ve had to do is ride the elevator to get the full story on the Ocean Parkway fiasco.

Why do I care what the so-called “local” news does? Two reasons. First, they’re giving local a bad name. And I’ve written before about why I think local news is too important to be ignored.

Second, I care because at the same time that they’re abandoning our communities, they’re blaming independent startups like Sheepshead Bites for siphoning away readers and advertising dollars from traditional media, making local news “unsustainable;” as if merely the presence of an alternative is what’s killing them.

No. Sorry, legacy local news outlets. It’s much simpler than that.

In coverage, in community and in commerce – you dropped the ball. And you’re never getting it back again.

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  • Ilan

    Ned, you guys are the definition of “As local as local gets”, after every post you put up you should sign it “Only on SHBites, never on News 12, Never on CW11.” All jokes aside, I catch things here I really never ever see anywhere else and years after I still find this site a daily routine, who in SH doesn’t come here for a fix?

    • http://www.nedberke.com Ned Berke

      Thanks! And thanks for putting up with my ranting. ;)

  • BrooklynBus

    Ned, you did a great job on this one, like you always do, not that you need anyone telling you this.

    I was waiting for the Open Thread today so I could air my gripe how disgusted I am with local TV news today, so I will do it here.  Take the last few days.  We had a little rain, some areas more than others.  We needed it. So what?  The media blew this up the entire weekend saying “a Nor-easter” was coming so beware and they spoke about the weather every ten minutes, stopping countless people on the street to get their opinion on the rain.  The intelligent comments ranged from “we need the rain” to “I’m getting wet.” They tried to make it into another Hurricane Irene which they overblew as well causing the MTA to curtail service.

    I heard about the gas leak on TV once.  Coverage was no longer than 10 seconds because they had to get to “important” stories.  For the 4th day in a row, they’ve mentioned Governor Christie supposedly falling asleep during a Springsteen concert.  Didn’t realize that was illegal. He certainly isn’t fit to be governor after doing that.  Just utter nonsense.

    Keep up the good work!

    • http://www.nedberke.com Ned Berke

      Thanks Allan. I don’t think the media overblew Hurricane Irene, though. Any weatherman will tell you that you never know how big a storm is really going to be until it hits, and Irene had all the makings of a truly destructive one. Quite frankly, looking at its path in hindsight, I still can’t figure out how we escaped major calamity (unlike other areas north and west where it made landfall), and we’re very lucky to have come out of that relatively unscathed. The media was right to sound the alarm on that one, and the MTA was right to curtail service.

      • BrooklynBus

        The MTA was right to curtail service based on the forecasts, but the hurricane was immediately downgraded and never even hit as hurricane and was no longer a real threat.  That is when coverage should have winded down for the City, but they just continued on the entire day telling people not to leave their home or return home until 5PM when the emergency was officially lifted when there wasn’t any rain or real winds the entire day.  The real story after that was the flooding upstate which wasn’t even forecasted ahead of time.

        On the other hand, I believe on August 31, 1996 when Manhattan had 3 inches of rain and Brooklyn had 8 inches and Staten Island 11 inches, the story was barely mentioned on TV because it wasn’t a Manhattan story.  I remember because my car flooded in my garage.  We received 3 inches in about two hours.  About 10 years later, they made a real big deal when Manhattan received about 5 inches and  Brooklyn only got one or two.

        That’s why we need local news like you provide.

  • Allan from Gravesend

    Great coverage of the gas crisis from start to finish.  Great use of all resources to get the most timely info out to the community.  Don’t waste your breath on the Bay advertising rag.  If I am not mistaken your posts seem to be more frequent than before but don’t get caught up in the “breaking news” cycle of reporting.  Dig deeper and provide some follow up on earlier stories. 

    • http://www.nedberke.com Ned Berke

      Thanks, and yes, they have been more frequent. As for follow up – this is something I’m always looking to improve on, and I acknowledge a lot of stories get dusty as we work on new stuff. Is there anything in particular you want to see followup to?

  • Knickzmetz

    Excellent points. My wife and I used to work together for Courier Life Publications (The Bay News) years ago. When News Corp took over in October 2006, I saw the handwriting on the wall and left. My wife continued on and went along when they moved in March 2009 from The Bay to downtown Brooklyn. While in The Bay, we all took pride in the fact that we covered all of Brooklyn with the different newspapers we published for many neighborhoods in the borough.

    After the move to downtown Brooklyn, slowly but surely the papers lost their local flavor, and the editions which covered the different neighborhoods were either eliminated or merged into other editions. All of a sudden the income from display ads was more important than covering local news. If you don’t believe me, check out any of the remaining editions. When was the last time you saw a story in there about something that went on where YOU live, rather than a story that has borough-wide appeal and interest?

    BIG MISTAKE moving out of The Bay! So much so, that the NewsCorp SVP who spear-headed the purchase and transition admitted it within the last year or so . . .

  • nolastname

    Yes Ned, you did do a great job. And as in the past you have thanked the people not on your payroll for their tips. You have a great bunch of tipsters that help feed site.

    • http://www.nedberke.com Ned Berke

      Absolutely right – our tipsters are the best, and definitely fuel the site. Thanks!

  • randyice

    Ned, and the team at shbites, i think i speak for everyone in the area, when i say you guys are way beyond anything else even close to “local”.  you guys have time and time again, proven yourselves as the best and only place for what goes on in the area.

    why you have people like me and other photographers, always sending in stuff, yes we enjoy getting it up, but for myself, and i think others aswell. we do it so that we can help make the site that much better.

    as i have said many times in the past to you, and say again, anyway i can help you, you know i will, and i think that statement is shared by many other people who come to this site every day.

    Cheers to Sheepshead Bites.

    • http://www.nedberke.com Ned Berke

      Keep shootin’, Randy.

  • nolastname

    My Monday gripe would have been the gates on the piers. If someone said “Take a long walk off a short pier” a person would not have to go far.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/34224145@N04/6963060326/in/photostream

  • Georgia

    Sheepsheadbites the best and very informative about our neighborhood. Great work to everyone.

    • nolastname

      Do you think the city will extend parking meters in the area because of Marshalls? I know there will be parking on site but if the city can make spit on an opportunity they will crush homeowners like flies. I am 2 1/2 blocks away and feel safe…kinda’.

      • http://www.nedberke.com Ned Berke

        I don’t think so. There haven’t done that for Doody’s, Stop and Shop or Petco, why would they for Marshals? And people on the surrounding blocks would fight back – many of them do not have driveways.

        • BrooklynBus

          They did originally put meters all around the block when Stop and Shop was built as Finast.  They were removed due to community pressure and because no one used them because Stop and Shop had ample parking.  Only the residents were inconvenienced by their placement there.  And there are meters around Doodys.

          • Georgia

            Yes BrooklynBus you are correct I remember that also. These meters are something else.

      • Georgia

        I don’t thik there will be parking meters. There is a SMALL parking lot on the roof of Marshall’s. I am on the next block from there. My side don’t have driveways but accross the street does. I think it’s going to be nuts with this parking because there is not enough ample space.

  • Arthur Borko

    Local News doesn’t get any better then Ned. 

  • Pingback: National Grid Makes Video About Gravesend Gas Outage | Sheepshead Bay News Blog

  • Dave Bell

    I think you’re rock-solid on that. I see the same signs where I live, and I am not even on the same continent as you. It isn’t so bad a situation here, but, living in a rural area, there sometimes seem to be gaps in coverage. When the distribution system, based on century-old trade patterns, doesn’t match local-administration boundaries, you can need one newspaper for politics, another for local events, and sometimes a third for shopping.

    A few months ago, one of the two possible local daily newspapers shifted to a weekly format. Most of the resulting content is the same weekly “special supplements” as the other still-daily newspaper includes. A weekly news cycle is different, and we’re in the “nibble-area” of another weekly local newspaper, who have expanded coverage in this direction (and run a pretty good web-site–I regularly check the obituaries).

    There is certainly centralisation of printing, sometimes of advertising. The news collection, that is still local

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

      Rural areas need immediate information as much as urban ones do. And the fact that your area sustained two daily papers for so long proves that they can be viable. But if they fail to provide what people need to know, in the current environment they will be supplanted by new media, such as newsblogs which involve involve the community in the process of gathering news.

      The shift to a weekly platform for a newspaper is not a good development. Not when many things occur in which immediate information is required, and expectations of a quick recapping of events is expected. Traditional media which uses the current technology to augment its print coverage will survive. Writing the last word on a news story doesn’t cut it, it never did. I don’t forsee a healthy future for weekly local publications. Unless they provide daily coverage through a web site.