The Washington Post and the news on the net

If you haven’t ever seen any of the short videos in the onBeing video blog section of WashingtonPost.com, you should do yourself a favor and check them out. They are incredibly funny and profound, yet the idea is simple: People from the Washington D.C. area talking on the subject of being themselves.

The web arm of The Washington Post is one of the most innovative news organs out there. Rob Curley is head of the “skunkworks” team that conceives and builds the newspaper’s creative web presence. He gave a presentation on Thursday at Macworld in which he described himself and his team as “Mac nerds from Kansas trying to save a dying industry from the Internet.” He sees that salvation coming from local and even hyper-local news delivered through a variety of inventive web tools.

Rob Curley at Macworld 08

OnBeing profiles ordinary people and allows their local community to blog about each video. This creates a unique opportunity for dialogue among people living in the D.C. area. This isn’t exactly news in the traditional sense. It is an entirely novel way for people to be informed about the community they live in. They aren’t just reading the news, they’re creating and experiencing the news.

The site LoudounExtra.com is the newspaper’s first hyper-local news site. The site runs Loudoun County, VA’s local and breaking news, high school sports coverage, and the like; stuff The Washington Post won’t even run, like 16 car break-ins all occurring in one part of town on the same night. But the site also has so many clever features for allowing users to create and participate in the news that I couldn’t even begin to describe all of them, so I’ll just name a couple.

The searchable community calendar on the site is probably the most useful. It lists everything going on in Loudoun County, VA, a part of the Washington Metropolitan Area, and allows users to click on an event and have it sent to their iCal, or they can schedule email reminders and even have text messages sent to them prior to the event. No event is too small, either: Rob specifically mentioned that even things like 3rd grade plays are listed.

People’s photos, videos, and blogs are uploaded directly to the site from Facebook, YouTube, and Flickr, and it gets placed right alongside the content produced by WaPo staff. They’ve given recording devices to many local churches and allow them to upload Sunday services as what they call “Godcasts.” They’ve created a Facebook newstracker app and a widget for your desktop that will automatically alert you when your favorite store is having a sale. It’s really a site worth checking out even if you aren’t interested in the local news from Loudoun County.

And all of this is created on Macs. Rob says of their offices: “It looks like an Apple store threw up in there.”