At The Batavian, a leech slithered darkly

A malicious computer virus known as “Darkleech,” which has hit an estimated 20,000 websites recently, created a big problem last week for The Batavian, an online-only news site that covers Genesee County in western New York. Some visitors — especially those using Internet Explorer on a Windows computer (gee, what a surprise) — ended up with the virus themselves.

Publisher Howard Owens was forced to remove all advertising from the site until the weekend, when he switched over to a new, improved ad server. Owens wrote on Saturday:

This virus crisis was very stressful and I want to thank all of the readers and local business owners who were so patient and understanding over the past week. We didn’t get a single angry phone call or e-mail; nobody accosted me in the street. Everywhere I went people were more curious than upset with the situation.

As you can see if you pay The Batavian a visit, it’s once again displaying dozens of local advertisers. The Batavian, which marks its fifth anniversary this Wednesday, won a “Spirit of Downtown” award last week and is featured in “The Wired City.”

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Rory O’Connor reviews “The Wired City”

Veteran progressive journalist Rory O’Connor has written a favorable review of “The Wired City” for the Huffington Post. He writes:

When we as a democratic society are at what Kennedy accurately calls “a historical moment when nonprofit media — supported by foundations, donations, and, indirectly, taxpayers, since contributions are tax-deductible — are in many cases more stable than for-profit media,” his book offers a valuable window into one possible future…. Researching his book, Kennedy concludes, “left me profoundly optimistic about the future of journalism.” Reading it will do the same for you.

O’Connor, an old friend, is, among many other things, the author of “Friends, Followers, and the Future: How Social Media are Changing Politics, Threatening Big Brands, and Killing Traditional Media.” I interviewed him about  his book for (sniff) the Boston Phoenix last May.

Commenting on this site

I just posted and responded to the first commenter to weigh in here. It was an anonymous comment, which is something I don’t allow on my main site, Media Nation. But the commenter made reasonable observations that I thought deserved a response.

So here’s what I’m going to do from this point forward. I’ve changed the settings so that you can comment if you log in using WordPress, Facebook or Twitter. I’m going to hope that’s sufficient authentication, and we’ll see how it goes from there.

Local journalism and the perils of retail chains

IMG_1095One of the arguments I make in “The Wired City” is that the viability of local journalism depends on the vibrancy of the local communities it serves. Among the projects I look at is The Batavian, a for-profit online-only news site that serves Genesee County in western New York, about halfway between Buffalo and Rochester.

The Batavian is a free site, though publisher Howard Owens is experimenting with a membership model to provide extra benefits to readers who choose to pay. But what really makes The Batavian work, and has allowed it to prosper despite co-existing with a local daily newspaper, is the persistence of locally owned businesses. The site is packed with ads from car dealers, florists, pizza shops, hair salons, doctors’ offices, funeral homes and much more.

So I was intrigued when Owens posted a story on Friday reporting that a Dick’s Sporting Goods may be moving in to a former Lowe’s location — and that more than $1 million in tax incentives may be used to make it happen. Dick’s, of course, is a large corporate-owned chain, and it would compete directly with locally owned sporting-goods dealers.

One of those local business people, Mike Barrett of Batavia Marine, compared such tax incentives to “using your own tax money to put yourself out of business.”

There are, of course, other considerations. WBTA Radio, which has a content-sharing arrangement with The Batavian, reports that Dick’s would bring 120 much-needed jobs to the area. The Batavian’s competition, the Daily News (which, citing an anonymous source, reports that it’s a done deal), quotes a local official named Gregory Post as saying, “Anytime we can convert empty space and bring in a retailer of that magnitude is good. This will be fantastic for our town.”

In the long run, though, the spread of corporate chains and big-box stores leads to the demise of locally owned businesses. That’s bad for communities and for the news organizations that serve them. Owens, a dedicated localist, gets it.

Photo (cc) 2009 by Dan Kennedy. Some rights reserved.