Departure of Baristanet founder doesn’t portend changes, says editor

With founder Debbie Galant taking a new job at Montclair State University, where she’ll join “an ambitious effort to nurture digital and hyperlocal journalism in New Jersey,” Baristanet co-owner Liz George now has a busier summer ahead of her.

But George said she doesn’t expect major changes in the hyperlocal site’s coverage or approach.

“We have such a mix of voices, I don’t think there’s going to be a dramatic change,” she said in a phone interview. “We have a sensibility that we’ve worked on for eight years, throughout the site.”

In the past several months, George said she and Galant spent most of their time managing the business and handling editorial issues, with some writing interspersed. She said it wasn’t a full-time job for either of them, though of course it will be harder with Galant gone and contributors away on summer vacations.

“When one person is minding it, you’re pretty much minding all the time,” she said. “It’s like having a child.”

Baristanet has gotten attention as one of the hyperlocal efforts that seems to be working. In a post praising Galant’s new gig, Jeff Jarvis wrote:

That blog has been an amazing success, covering Montclair and Maplewood with a strong local voice (and having fun while they’re at it) while innovating ways to serve local advertisers and earning enough to support the endeavor. Success became Baristanet’s burden as many others jumped in to compete in its not-at-all-metaphorical backyard: Aol’s Patch, for a time The New York Times’ The Local, not to mention the long-established weekly paper.

The challenge that everyone seems to be trying to solve with hyperlocal, George said, is how to scale it. Patch chose a templated approach for many different communities; Journatic uses low-cost, faraway writers to assemble stories.

But at Baristanet, “we’re only trying to figure it out for us,” she said. “We’re able to deliver something that people are willing to spend money on, to advertise on us.” Traffic varies, she said, but she’s happy with it and the level of engagement on the site and on social media.

“We’re small and we’re nimble. We really do know what’s going on. We make relationships in towns where people feel connected to us and want to share information with us.” Perhaps other companies have trouble simply because they can’t operate at that micro-level, she suggested.

As far as Journatic’s approach, George said she would expect readers to detect a lack of authenticity in stories written by people who don’t live in the community. She recalled a time when readers criticized someone for misspelling a local place name that was familiar to locals. ”Our readers, I hate to say it, they know BS. They call you on it.”

Related: Baristanet now covers six towns with nearly 200,000 peopleBaristanet expands rapidly after New York Times exits hyperlocal New Jersey | ‘Hyperlocal is not what the New York Times’ business is about’

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