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The New York Times has largely steered clear of local business advertising since its unsuccessful foray into local sales in the late 1990s, when it was working with Zip2. But now it is clearly reviving its local advertiser push.

Last June, it started working with AdReady to provide free templates for local SMB display ads. Now it is approaching SMBs from the other side, offering “community” tools via a new hyperlocal initiative that it will call “The Local.” On paper, at least, the site resembles  newspaper hyperlocal efforts from The Washington Post and others.

According to paidContent, The Local begins in Clinton Hill and Fort Greene in Brooklyn, and Maplewood, Millburn and South Orange, N.J. The site intends to cover schools, restaurants, businesses, real estate, crime, government services, transportation and events.

PaidContent adds that user-generated content will be solicited from the community, and the site will also be supported by a half-dozen grad students from Jeff Jarvis’ citizen journalism initiative at CUNY. It seems unlikely, however, that the students would have much to do with SMB sales or recruitment.

We solicited some views on The Times’ project from CEO Mark Josephson, who told us he admires individual, town-by-town efforts, such as Baristanet, etc., and they can be relatively successful. But regarding The Times, “I think they are just dipping their toe in the water.”

“Monetization is the big key, but from an expense basis, the only real answer is aggregation and organization,” he says. “I just don’t see huge biz in one-off hyperlocal sites. Each one is a lot of work. [You] need to aggregate them, organize them and hook them into network with great sales force.”

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  1. Techcrunch got more today (Friday) on The Local. Jim Schachter, who runs digital initiatives at The Times, told them:

    “We expect to sell ads to local merchants using our telesales and self-serve ad solution. Our two pilot sites are staffed with full-time NYTimes reporters. That’s not cheap. Obviously, it’s also not a sustainable model. We’re trying to figure out what would be.”

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