Why is the Gray Lady building websites for the obscure suburbs of South Orange, Maplewood, and Milburn? Perhaps because those are the exact same towns Google executive Tim Armstrong picked for Patch, his local-news startup.
Armstrong, Google's top U.S. sales executive, has invested in Patch, a company which promises to develop "hyperlocal" websites focusing on news coverage specific to their communities. He's putting in money from his own fortune — money which he made through Google's lucrative IPO — but one must imagine New York Times executives view Patch as a stalking horse for the search engine.
Hence the new Times feature called The Local. Besides Patch's three towns, The Local will also cover two Brooklyn neighborhoods. It will be entertaining to hear the Times spin on why it picked Patch's turf to launch The Local. Milburn's attractive demographics? South Orange's thriving cultural scene? No, the Times is waging an old-fashioned newspaper war — on the still-unfamiliar turf of the Internet, against a Google millionaire. This will be by far more interesting than anything else that happens in Maplewood.