EveryBlock could still be sold, says Schiller, after abrupt closing of hyperlocal pioneer

EveryBlock, the hyperlocal news and community discussion site that abruptly closed last week, may be resurrected if NBC can find a suitable buyer.

NBC News Chief Digital Officer Vivian Schiller told me Monday that the network is continuing to talk with potential buyers who had been in touch before the shutdown, and that more have come forward since last week.

I asked Schiller about the prospects for a sale during a broader discussion about NBC's handling of the EveryBlock shutdown last Thursday, which surprised users and observers.

EveryBlock co-founder Adrian Holovaty, who left the company in August, told me in a phone interview that he was upset with how it ended.

"I am not upset about the concept of a company shutting down EveryBlock because it's not strategically aligned with them. That's totally fine -- I understand if a corporate giant doesn't want to have a neighborhood news site, that's totally cool," Holovaty said. "It's how it was done that's the problem."

Holovaty said he wished NBC had done more to pursue a sale of EveryBlock before resorting to shutting it down. He said he knew of at least one potential buyer (which he would not identify to me) who expressed an interest and was in touch with NBC but was not invited to make an offer.

He also said that since the shutdown last week, many companies have contacted him to say they would have been interested in buying EveryBlock if they knew it was for sale. Holovaty also said he would have been happy to help seek out a buyer if NBC had asked him for help.

Shorter version: This didn't have to happen, Holovaty said.

"News media in Chicago would love to have EveryBlock. It's a force of nature in Chicago. It's a big deal. In other cities, it didn't get a ton of traction, but in Chicago a lot of people used it," Holovaty said.

For example, after the shutdown announcement, The Chicago Tribune immediately placed a teaser near the top of its homepage trying to capture that audience -- "Miss EveryBlock? Use our crime maps."

Schiller said she couldn't share details of any possible sale negotiations, but that "we did look into a number of different options prior to last week, and we are continuing to look into options very seriously. ... We still have live conversations."

Schiller continued:

I respect Adrian so much that it's painful to me that he is upset and he is angry at me personally. But he's not with the organization anymore, so he hasn't been involved with those conversations. He resigned, and I know he still feels passionately about it, as well he should, but he's not privy to all those conversations. All I can tell you is there were conversations prior to the shutdown, and there are still very active conversations to this day.

I asked whether those conversations seemed at all likely to lead to a sale of EveryBlock. "It's hard to say at this point," Schiller said. "I think that would be a wonderful outcome. I remain hopeful, because I'm a hopeful person. But anything beyond that is speculation."

Other issues

Holovaty also raised the question of what would happen to the approximately 10 members of the EveryBlock staff who lost their jobs last week. "They're my crew," he said, "like family."

Schiller said in a interview with Street Fight last week that "We're working with them individually to see if there are other roles for them inside [NBC Universal]."

Holovaty said based on his contacts among the EveryBlock staff, that wasn't true. "They have not worked with them individually to see if there are other roles. Put another way: If NBCU was helping the EveryBlock team find jobs, that's news to the EveryBlock team."

Schiller told me that when she met with the staff last Monday to break the news she also said she personally would be glad to provided recommendations to other employers or to see if they could land elsewhere within NBC.

"I can't guarantee that people will have jobs in the company ... It has to be the right fit. But there are at least three people who I or a member of my team have been in contact with. Nobody is placed yet, but this whole situation is only a few working days old," she said.

Holovaty also questioned why the site had to be closed so abruptly and completely. Why couldn't the community of users who were heavily engaged in the site have some advance notice or access to archived data?

"Just look at the way the site went down -- it was a complete surprise to the users. You wake up Thursday morning, check the site, and there's nothing there anymore. There's no archives, there's no downloadable data,"  he said. "The people working for EveryBlock are some of the best techies in Chicago. They're world-class. They know how to run a website correctly. If it were up to them ... they would have treated the community right."

Schiller said the decision to shut down the site all at once was discussed with "senior members" of the EveryBlock team in advance. She didn't go into detail about those discussions, but said: "I understand that different people could take a different point of view, but all I can tell you is that's what we decided was best."

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    Jeff Sonderman

    Jeff Sonderman is the deputy director of the American Press Institute, helping to lead its use of research, tools, events, and strategic insights to advance and sustain journalism.


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