Tree Maps and Dwindling Cigarettes: One Hyperlocal Site’s Approach to Sandy

screen shot 2012 11 06 at 3 13 39 pm Tree Maps and Dwindling Cigarettes: One Hyperlocal Sites Approach to Sandy

Ditmas Park Corner’s fallen-tree map

Two days after Hurricane Sandy last week, The Observer met up with Liena Zagare, the publisher of Brooklyn local news network Corner News Media, at a local coffee shop in Ditmas Park, and found her standing by the sugar and creamers, talking to a fellow customer and asking her to send tips along. That’s just how it goes for the publisher of one of the local sites that were particularly useful during the hurricane; for instance, the Ditmas Park Corner ran a tree map detailing the locations of downed trees throughout the neighborhood, a map assembled not through on-the-street reporting but through an assiduously groomed network of readers and tipsters.

“It’s mostly about having credible sources,” said Ms. Zagare, once we’d reached her workspace in a large Victorian-inflected house in Ditmas Park. She’d foreseen that the trees were likely to be a bigger problem than possible flooding in Ditmas Park, she said, due to years of living in the neighborhood. “We’re going to be trapped here forever,” she said. Ms. Zagare was also gearing up to edit an obituary of Jessie Streich-Kest, the woman killed by a falling tree while walking her dog during Sandy: Ms. Zagare was a friend of her family. Her reporters had worked throughout Sandy, with Ms. Zagare noting, “It’s some way of keeping sane when everyone’s going crazy.” One such example: a photo of the dwindling supply of cigarettes at a local bodega, posted by Ms. Zagare herself after she ran into the shop for a quick errand.

The site, with a masthead of one full-time reporter, a managing editor, and two contributors, has a similar mission, in some senses, to Patch, the national network of local news sites that bought Ms. Zagare’s original neighborhood blog and employed her for a time before she left to start the Corner News network (which also includes Park Slope Stoop and Kensington BK). Of Patch, Ms. Zagare noted: “It’s a suburban site–it’s not as local as we think is necessary.” The site, she said, lacks much aggregation simply because there’s not much to aggregate; seeing a dearth of specific news about individual neighborhoods in Brooklyn, she hopes to expand the network throughout Brooklyn.

Ms. Zagare resides in Ditmas Park with her husband, Buzzfeed editor Ben Smith. When asked to compare those two enterprises–the small-scale Ditmas Park Corner with the massive meme engine of Buzzfeed–Ms. Zagare was yet more forthcoming. “I like to say that Ditmas Park Corner is just the Buzzfeed of Ditmas Park,” she joked. “They both have cat pictures, but we actually know the cats.”