With Sharon Bass’s Hamden Daily News, another Connecticut community becomes part of the online journalism revolution. Already the dailies must follow the News’s scoops.
If parents in town didn’t know about the Hamden Daily News before August 12, they probably did afterward. That’s when the new online journalism site moved a story about how the local high school hired a Spanish teacher who police accused of arson just weeks earlier. The News’s piece contained highly critical quotes about school administrators, along with the education leaders’ explanations that the teacher’s contract had been signed before the alleged arson. And, incidentally, the teacher’s mother holds a management position at the school.The story caused a stir in town, and within days the New Haven Register decided to follow up. Since its debut two weeks ago, the News has published a story about a local property owner who is accused of using rental income for personal expenses instead of paying down his enormous environmental fines, along with extensive coverage of Hamden’s raging Democratic mayoral primary campaign.“In general the reaction has been great,” founding editor Sharon Bass said. “People have been very supportive and happy I’m here.“Hyperlocal web sites like the News are popping up in communities all over the country, as independent papers struggle to pay the bills and larger dailies cut back on staff, thus scaling back their coverage of what goes on in people’s back yards. Bass hopes to attract advertising dollars, perhaps even enough to eventually hire a part time reporter. In the meantime, her site is in the thick of one of the hottest municipal elections this year, with incumbent mayor Carl Amento fighting for his political survival against Democratic challenger Craig Henrici. “A lot of people have said we came in at the perfect time,” Bass said. A longtime journalist, Bass returned to Connecticut in May after working in Maine for nine years. She worked for alternative weeklies and launched a community newspaper in Windham, a town outside Portland. Her community newspaper roots are on display with the News: the site’s got a police blotter, along with a section for children in town to submit their own writing and artwork. Yet even though her site is catching on, as with many stand alone journalists, the transition from print to bytes isn’t seamless. It doesn’t take long to figure out that Bass’s fingers are still stained more by ink than cyber-silicon. Asked about the level of traffic on the site’s, Bass replies with a question.“You know, I’ve been wondering, how do you find that?“But she also speaks passionately about the news business, whatever form it takes, with or without a huge revenue stream.“I’m really lucky. People seem to be really embracing this,” she said, adding: “I don’t have to be rich. I just have to do what I love to do.”