Micro News 

How local can local news get? How about one block?

click to enlarge feat37_10sblvd_200.jpg

Peter Feddo's first-floor apartment on the Boulevard doesn't look like the future of news. But the modest two-bedroom place just might be.

You might not recognize Feddo's name. But if you follow local news and politics you might recall the building's street address — 10 S. Boulevard — as the inspiration for Richmond's only “super-hyper-local” Web site, 10sboulevard.com.

There, Feddo and the site's co-founder, Joe Schilling, have reported on the news and events of the blocks around the building for the past two years: fires, car crashes, rabid raccoons, bad drivers, assaults, murder.

Armed with a Dell laptop, a smart phone and a Nikon D60 digital camera he bought for the site, Feddo prides himself on covering his neighborhood.

“If there's crimes and fires or whatnot we race the local news affiliates out there,” Feddo says. “If there's a fire, I'd IM [instant message] Joe and say, ‘Hey, you want to go?’” Usually he's the first to the scene (“We know the alleyways,” he explains) — so often that he got a first-aid kit in case he arrives at a car crash before the rescue squad.

The ultralocal approach has brought the site local attention. It also could paint a picture of a future in which everyone with an Internet connection and a computer becomes a reporter.

Feddo, 26, didn't intend for his site to become a full-blown news site. When he and Schilling founded it in June 2007 they wrote about silly things — a memorable neighborhood cat, for example.

But life on the Boulevard, where sirens sing you to sleep, encouraged a more news-oriented approach.

A few months after the site began, a garage fire drew fire trucks to the alley behind their building. Feddo was hauling laundry to the communal washing machines when he noticed the activity, ran to the scene, got the basic facts and posted a story on the site, complete with a Drudge Report-style flashing light. “COMPLETE DISASTER!” the headline screamed.

Once he got the taste for news 10 S. Boulevard was never the same. “It just started getting serious,” Feddo says, and he started spending about three hours a week on the site, with the goal of updating it daily. He drew about 1,200 visitors on a busy day, though a few hundred was typical. Not bad for a news site that covers four blocks of a midsized city.

Feddo disparages the way newspapers tend to run longer articles about basic news events, preferring the just-the-facts approach of a wire service. “We fill in what can be accomplished in two paragraphs,” he says. “It's a clever headline and it's a few lines after that.”

Feddo, who earns no money from the site and makes his living by designing Web sites for political campaigns, came by his interest in news honestly. At Thomas Dale High School he edited the school paper, yearbook and Web site (“I was like the Rupert Murdoch of my time,” he jokes.) He attended Virginia Commonwealth University for a while. After high school he worked for several years as a graphic designer for the Village News, a community weekly in Chesterfield County. 

That background may explain his site's focus on facts, however humorously presented, rather than opinion — a rarity in the world of independent blogs. If he were to use the site as a way to vent about, say, his disputes with his landlord, Feddo says, “it would betray the trust.”

Feddo's site is an example of the way information now spreads throughout a community, says Lt. Shawn Jones, public-information officer for the Richmond Fire Department. “No longer is there one news source” for residents to check for information, Jones says. People are “looking at more sources closer to home.”

Jones dealt with 10 S. Boulevard often, and praises Feddo's interest in getting the facts straight. Jones recalls an evening when he was on his way to a call and received an e-mail on his PDA asking him for details about the fire. “He might not do it full time but he keeps on top of things that matter to his community,” Jones adds.

Can sites like this take the place of a professional newspaper? In some ways, Feddo says, such as with breaking news and simple crime stories, they can. But he adds that they cannot supplant traditional news organizations in certain critical areas: “I can't do investigative stories. I can't go to City Hall to go over documents for days. I don't have the resources.”

And with no income from the site, why does he do it? “I would like to get as much truth out there as possible,” he says. Later, he adds: “I care about my community. I care about a safer place to live.”

A postscript: Feddo has learned a downside of running a news business: irritating the people in power. This summer his landlord won a longstanding feud with Feddo and forced him out of the apartment. Feddo says the landlord hated the bad press about the neighborhood on 10 S. Boulevard. The landlord told Richmond magazine that Feddo was a “troublemaker” who didn't pay rent.

But that hasn't stopped Feddo. He's moved a few blocks down Boulevard and recently launched a new microlocal-news site, Boulevardizen.com.

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