With many newspapers focusing on city and national news these days, an army of bloggers have taken to hyperlocal reporting, covering everything from new restaurants to community board meetings.
Over the past few years, neighborhood blogs have become increasingly crucial sources of local news, not just for residents, but for real estate professionals, too.
“Any broker who is not reading their local blogs is doing themselves and their clients a huge disservice,” said Jacob Goldman, founder of the Lower East Side–based brokerage LoHo Realty.
In particular, blogs have “become very important in covering harder news that comes up at community meetings,” said Jonathan Butler, the publisher of Brownstoner, a hugely popular blog that focuses on Northwest Brooklyn. “Decisions about any number of quality-of-life issues that come up at these meetings can have a great impact on locals, and much of it would go unreported without the neighborhood blogs.”
Few of these bloggers are professional writers or reporters, and even fewer are paid. Instead, they are activists, professionals and residents who are passionate about chronicling the goings-on in their communities.
This month, The Real Deal looked at some of the city’s most popular and influential neighborhood blogs to find out how they got started and what kind of real estate news they’re covering.
Neighborhood: North Brooklyn
It’s a long-proven fact that there’s no money to be made in neighborhood blogging,” Butler said, “so the blogger has to be doing it for the love of the game.”
Brownstoner — far and away the most influential of the city’s neighborhood blogs and one of the most successful when it comes to advertising — is profitable enough to employ three people: Butler, full-time editor Emily Nonko and freelance managing editor Cate Corcoran.
Founded by Butler in 2005 while he was working on Wall Street, Brownstoner covers all of Brooklyn, but tends to focus on Northern and “Brownstone Brooklyn.” The site specializes in real estate news: developments, open houses, listings and neighborhood trends. Butler said the site gets more than 300,000 unique visitors per month.
“It’s the focus on real estate that makes it a viable business,” Butler explained in an e-mail to TRD. The real estate emphasis has made it a must-read for industry people working in Brooklyn, who therefore view it as a smart advertising decision.
“Everyone tries advertising in different sources, but Brownstoner really gets the most juice out of it,” said Jeffrey Schleider, managing director of the brokerage Miron Properties, which has offices in Manhattan, Brooklyn and New Jersey.
Brokers say Brownstoner’s “Listing of the Day” feature can make a huge difference in the price and speed of sale. Prudential Douglas Elliman broker Dena Driver said one of her clients had bid on a house in Clinton Hill and was in the process of negotiating the price when Brownstoner featured the property. “The owner stopped negotiations and said, ‘We’re going to show it for another week and get a highest and final offer,’” she recalled. Driver’s client eventually got the house, but had to submit a higher offer to compete with the other bids prompted by the Brownstoner post.
Bond New York broker Shana Allen said she is a “religious” Brownstoner reader, noting that the site helps her “predict which neighborhoods are going to be hot next.”
And while the site itself may not be hugely profitable, Butler has demonstrated that there is money to be made through the connections and fame that can come from blogging. In addition to Brownstoner, he also runs the enormously popular Brooklyn Flea in Fort Greene and the Smorgasburg food market in Williamsburg.
“The flea market business is a much better business than blogging,” Butler said. Additionally, Butler has tried his hand at real estate development, converting 1000 Dean Street into an artist workspace with a beer hall and artisanal food court.
“Certainly, it’s helpful being at the nexus of a lot of information flow with Brownstoner, to be aware of potential investment and development opportunities,” he said. “And having the site to write about them periodically certainly doesn’t hurt either.”
Neighborhood: East Village
Penned by an anonymous East Village resident, EV Grieve is one of the city’s most-read neighborhood blogs.
The site snagged the Village Voice’s 2010 award for the Best Neighborhood Blog, and covers everything from lost pets to retail; EV Grieve was the first to report that neighborhood institution the Mars Bar would close, for example. Averaging 10 posts a day, the blog does not sell advertising, according to the site’s founder, who identifies himself only as “Grieve.” While the site lists a few contributors, most posts are written by the founder himself, though he said he gets lots of help from a small army of tipsters.
Grieve told TRD in a phone interview that the site gets around 300,000 unique visitors per month, and that he tries to document the area’s constant development and change with a balanced view.
“When Kate’s Joint opened 17 years ago, people were saying, ‘There goes the neighborhood!’” he said, referring to the vegetarian restaurant on Avenue B. “When it closed, they said, ‘I can’t believe Kate’s Joint is closing!’”
Brokers working in the East Village said they look to the site’s retail coverage for tips.
“Grieve will write, ‘Hey, it’s a Tuesday, this restaurant isn’t open and hasn’t been for three days, maybe it’s closing,” said Schleider. “They have that news before anyone else, and we represent restaurant owners, so we try and get our customers in those spaces quickly.”
F’d in Park Slope
Neighborhood: Park Slope
The snarky blog F’d in Park Slope — or FIPS, as its founder Erica Reitman affectionately calls it — was started anonymously.
“I was so afraid about what the reaction would be,” Reitman recalled. “Nobody had been making fun of this crazy, unique neighborhood in such a public way.”
She was surprised to find that the reaction was overwhelmingly positive. FIPS now attracts half a million page views per month, Reitman said. Its humorous posts touch on topics such as rich-families’ nannies filling in for shifts at the Park Slope Food Co-op.
Much of Reitman’s material comes from real estate. She has written about dissatisfied residents at the Arias on Fourth Avenue, and the blog has a regular column called ‘Show Me Yours,’ where residents post photos of their homes and state how much they pay in rent.
Recently, FIPS had a hand in bringing a new restaurant — the chain Just Salad — to the neighborhood.
“For years, I’ve been saying I wanted a salad place,” Reitman said. “Whenever I mentioned it, the commenters would go crazy. I tweeted a post at Just Salad, and I just got an e-mail from them: ‘Read your post, hope you’re right and we’ll see you soon in the neighborhood.’”
Indeed, Just Salad will open up a restaurant this winter at 252 Seventh Avenue in Park Slope, said company spokesperson Jennifer Konde.
The company had already been scouting for locations in the neighborhood, Konde wrote in an e-mail to TRD, but “F’d in Park Slope’s blog post a few months ago absolutely reaffirmed our decision to open up a shop there.”
Some 20 unpaid contributors now write for FIPS in addition to Reitman, and she has a managing editor on staff. But the blog’s success has not allowed Reitman to quit her day job as a marketing director at the apparel company Ruby Ribbon.
The site does earn some profits from advertising, but much of its revenue goes back into covering expenses, Reitman said.
Neighborhood: Lower East Side
In 2009, a late-night fire destroyed several buildings on East Broadway and Pike Street. Bowery Boogie cofounder Elie Perler was the first to the scene, posting photos and videos of the fire. “Bowery Boogie pretty much exploded after that,” Perler recalled. “A lot of people were linking to us and tweeting us, and it really put us on the map.” The site now gets around 80,000 unique visitors per month, said Perler, who started the blog five years ago, shortly after moving to the neighborhood.
“I was reading all the other city blogs religiously, but their coverage of the Lower East Side just wasn’t there,” he said.
A few months later, his childhood pal Dave Gustav brought his “technical know-how” to the site, Perler said.
While both have full-time jobs elsewhere — Perler in the music business and Gustav in television — the site pays for itself through Google Ads. The site’s nine contributors are all volunteers, however.
Hot real estate topics on Bowery Boogie include the new Marriott Hotel on East Broadway, which rose in the aftermath of the devastating fire; the demolition of buildings on Bowery for the new citizenM Bowery hotel; and the newly opened Coleman Skatepark on Pike Street.
Goldman said he finds Bowery Boogie useful in terms of “what’s going on in the neighborhood,” especially when it comes to new restaurant and bar openings.
And Perler and Gustav said they’ve actually seen some changes in the neighborhood as a result of their coverage.
“We write something and a day later, a crew comes and fixes a hole in the street,” Gustav said. “It’s really rewarding.”
Hide Harashima founded DumboNYC in 2006 after moving to the neighborhood from the Upper East Side and discovering that there was little online news about Dumbo.
Six years later, the blog gets 40,000 to 50,000 unique visitors per month, and has become “a second full-time job, but it’s a labor of love,” said Harashima, who works in web marketing. Local companies advertise on the site, but Harashima said he donates all profits back to the community through local nonprofits.
DumboNYC is well-known among local residents and real estate professionals. Harashima said brokers have told him that the site’s historic photos of buildings help them find out details about properties they’re listing.
DumboNYC has been particularly active in covering Two Trees’ controversial Dock Street development, which will include 325 new rental apartments. For one post, Harashima asked parking garage employees at the development site how long they were expecting to keep their jobs in an effort to predict when construction would start.
Brooklyn Heights Blog
Neighborhood: Brooklyn Heights
The Brooklyn Heights Blog, along with sister sites the Cobble Hill Blog and the Brooklyn Bugle, received a Community Service award in 2010 from the Brooklyn Heights Association.
The three blogs are run by John Loscalzo, an executive at CBS who moonlights as a Brooklyn Heights tour guide. The Brooklyn Heights Blog has covered everything from helicopter noise to a feud that erupted over proper dog poop disposal.
The site also regularly covers local developments, like the planned hotel-condominium being built by Toll Brothers and Starwood Capital adjacent to Pier 1 in Brooklyn Bridge Park.
Loscalzo said the site gets 40,000 to 60,000 unique visitors per month, and its most popular posts are the ones about stroller etiquette and other “existential stuff.”
“If it poops, it leads,” he said. “God, my wife is going to kill me for saying that.”
Loscalzo said he was surprised by the responsibility he now feels to his readership. “When people start reading and interacting, there’s a responsibility to tell all the information,” he said. “It’s much different than writing a blog [for] your friends.”
For now, the site doesn’t make much money — “not quit-your-day-job money, or even quit your moonlighting job money,” he said.
But Loscalzo hopes that at some point he’ll work full-time on the site. For now, it’s one of the few blogs to pay a handful of its contributors — $10 to $15 for each post.
Pardon Me For Asking
Neighborhood: Carroll Gardens/Gowanus
Community activist Katia Kelly founded Pardon Me For Asking as a personal blog, but it has since blossomed into a “full-time passion,” said Kelly, a 27-year Carroll Gardens resident.
“I wanted to document the very accelerated changes that were happening to Carroll Gardens,” she said.
Kelly attends and reports on land-use hearings and community board meetings, because she knows people can’t always make the meetings, despite their interest in the issues. Recent real estate coverage has focused on the Lightstone Group’s plans to build 700 rental units near the Gowanus Canal.
Now the site gets around 30,000 unique visitors per month, and Kelly said she is sometimes recognized on the street. She added that she now feels guilty if she takes a day off from posting.
“What started as a passion has become a duty — I never leave home without my camera,” she said.
Kelly, the site’s sole blogger, sees small profits from Google Ads, but said she often posts free advertisements for friends’ businesses.
West Side Rag
Neighborhood: Upper West Side
West Side Rag is one of the city’s newer neighborhood blogs, but it has wasted no time in getting noticed. When its bloggers saw that a Times-Picayune reporter had called out Zabar’s lobster salad for using crawfish instead of the namesake ingredient, they jumped on the story with a post headlined: “Zabar’s Committing Lobster Salad Fraud?” The New York Times noticed and mentioned the blog in a front-page story in the paper. Zabar’s ultimately changed the name of the salad.
The site also covers real estate developments in the area, including Extell Development’s massive Riverside Center project on West 61st Street.
Founded by an Upper West Sider who requested anonymity, the 18-month-old blog has 20 volunteer writers and editors and is growing steadily: A particularly strong recent month saw 42,000 unique visitors, according to site analytics. While the blog makes some money when local businesses advertise, the site’s staffers are volunteers, according to Robin Koo, one of the site’s editors.
Queens Crap chronicles the daily frustrations of residents, especially when it comes to real estate — the blog’s logo proclaims its focus on the “overdevelopment and ‘tweeding’ of a borough.”
The blog’s unpaid and anonymous founder told TRD that the site focuses on “what many would consider to be small issues, but are big issues to those affected by them, like missing lane markers on a repaved highway, or a developer tearing down a quaint old one-family home and replacing it with a multi-unit nightmare.”
But the site also covers large-scale developments, like the Bloomberg administration’s proposal for a new mall, tennis stadium and soccer stadium at Flushing Meadows Corona Park.
Queens Crap — where all contributors and commenters are kept anonymous to protect them from retribution — has no advertising or monthly site stats, though it has gotten 5.2 million page views since 2006, according to a tracker on the blog.
“I do it because I know many people throughout the borough are affected by the same issues, and in order to effect positive change, they need to know they are not alone,” the blogger told TRD in an e-mail.
Ditmas Park Patch
Neighborhood: Ditmas Park
Founded: Became a Patch site in 2011
In 2011, the Ditmas Park Blog’s founder was hired by Patch, a network of hyperlocal blogs owned by AOL. The blog was renamed Ditmas Park Patch, and a new blogger, Caitlin Nolan, was hired as a full-time, paid employee, unlike most of her fellow neighborhood bloggers.
The blog’s real estate coverage focuses mostly on the comings and goings of retailers in the up-and-coming Brooklyn neighborhood.
“You name it — if it’s happening, it’s likely that I’m going to be writing on it,” Nolan said. During the recent New York Assembly elections, both 42nd District candidates — Assemblywoman Rhoda Jacobs and District Leader Rodneyse Bichotte — blogged on her site to reach out to residents.
AOL declined to disclose the site’s readership, but according to the online web analytics website Compete, Ditmas Park Patch sees around 5,000 unique visitors per month.
Patch launched hundreds of sites in late 2010 and early 2011, but is reportedly not yet profitable and started scaling back freelance budgets and content toward the end of last year. AOL’s CEO Tim Armstrong has maintained that projections show future profits for many of the sites.