Does the Web Need a Community Newspaper?

Nicholas White’s family has been in the newspaper business for six generations. He is a cousin of the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist William Allen White and related to one of the founders of the Associated Press. His great, great granduncle, I. F. Mack, bought the Sandusky Register in 1869. His extended family has been in the news business ever since, assembling a media company that now includes 12 newspapers and 10 radio stations.

But it took White time to find journalism. It was only after bouncing around jobs in his 20s that he landed at a family-owned newspaper in northern Ohio as a reporter. The 32-year-old quickly noticed that the newspaper’s website wasn’t very user-friendly. He taught himself to program and began lobbying for changes to the paper’s online presence.

“My job was to run out to the end of the pier and be as crazy as possible,” White recalled.

But even as White was becoming a young, rising media mogul, he was keeping an eye on the changing media landscape. So when Nova Spivak and Josh Jones-Dilworth, both experienced new-business developers and entrepreneurs, approached White about launching a new kind of community news site, a site that would deliver news about what was happening around the Internet aimed at people who didn’t work at ad agencies and tech companies, the idea resonated.

Last January, White, Spivak and Jones-Dilworth got to work developing what would become The Daily Dot, the title of which, said White, refers to the fact that “there are dots all over the Web.” White has been assembling a writing staff that is headed by executive editor Owen Thomas, who was most recently executive editor at VentureBeat and formerly the editor of Gawker Silicon Valley blog Valleywag. The site is funded “strictly by friends and family for now,” says White, but he says that he will be looking for VC funding in the near future.  Although the Daily Dot is headquartered in Austin – White says he likes the great food and live music – the staff is far flung, with reporters in Chicago, the DC area, and Brooklyn. “Syracuse is our largest bureau,” said Thomas, by which he means that two of the site’s reporters work out of that upstate New York city.

“The basic germ was that Techcrunch and Mashable and whoever else; they cover what happens online plenty, but they cover it very much for industry wonks or technology people,” White said. “What about consumers? What about, for lack of a better word, normal people? Who covers what happens online for them?”

The thing is, by “normal” White doesn’t mean the grocery store clerk or the plumber. If you ask him who the audience for the Daily Dot is, he can tell you exactly. It’s a friend of his named Meg. “Meg is a food-and-home-design blogger. She’s active on Twitter, and her Tumblr makes my Tumblr look pathetic. She doesn’t read [the digital technology sites]. She just doesn’t care. But she needs a place to find out what’s happening on the Internet.”

Ask Daily Dot executive editor Owen Thomas who his readers are, and he will also start to describe his friend, food-blogging, Tumblr aficionado Meg. It turns out that Meg, although she may have begun life as a real-life person, is now a figment of the editorial staff’s collective imagination, created for Daily Dot writers to use as target practice.

It’s hard to imagine a very large universe populated by Megs, but it turns out that someone is reading the Daily Dot. The site, which has been live only since August 23, has recently passed 100,000 unique page views for the month of September, according to its tallies.

The Daily Dot identifies itself as the “paper of record of the digital community,” although it is not completely clear that the site has earned such a broad and lofty mantel. A quick survey of the site reveals a strong entertainment and culture bent, with a smattering of harder news. Some of the content would seem to stretch the boundaries of what constitutes Internet-related news. Thomas pointed to a recent story about the hundreds of postcards that Reddit.com’s million-plus community sends to its editors as a piece of original reporting that does what he thinks the site is best at.

“Our community is the World Wide Web, and that’s huge,” he said. “I give us points for ambition if not for sense. We really want to take on anyone who sees themselves as a citizen of the Web.”

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