Out by the parkway, a new player rolls onto scene

Two news novices launch a website, and break a story

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Candice Novak
Globe Correspondent / March 23, 2008

When this month broke the news that ended speculation over a potential race for state Senate, the site's success surprised even its creators.

The 129-word story (typos and all) on March 12 reported that state Senator Marian Walsh had told Governor Deval Patrick she would not leave office to become a district court judge.

The news, posted to the homemade website two days before the neighborhood newspapers reported it, left many wondering, how'd they get that? And, more important, who are these guys, anyway?

Parkway Boston, which covers only West Roxbury and Roslindale, harkens back to the infancy of the Web: a linear layout, lots of text, and only a few colors. No pop-ups or moving graphics. No ads.

The aim of journalistic newcomers Ed Coppinger, a mortgage broker, and John Fitzgerald, manager of a job placement firm, is also simple: deliver in-depth neighborhood news.

So how did two guys with full-time jobs, no office, and a volunteer staff scoop the competition? "We're connected," Coppinger said.

Interest in Walsh's seat was stimulated when she was included last month on the governor's list of potential nominees for district judge. For its first edition, on March 5, Parkway Boston named three possible candidates for the position.

The night before, "we had the cellphone numbers of the three local politicians who were thinking of [running] . . . It was literally Tuesday evening from 9 to 10 o'clock - we talked to all three at my kitchen table," said Coppinger. "We grew up with these guys."

The next week, another acquaintance put the editors in touch with Walsh's longtime political consultant, Michael Goldman, who ended the rumors that Walsh would leave office.

Although being buddies with the interviewees has helped so far, it could become a drawback in the future.

"You can't swing a baseball bat without hitting a cop or fireman in West Roxbury," said Coppinger, who worries about covering the police or fire departments. Things "could get hairy . . . if we're going to do a good job and be objective."

The website feeds on the longstanding community identity of West Roxbury and Roslindale. "The churches, the schools, the sports, and a lot of the local organizations tie them together," Coppinger said. So a news outlet seemed natural.

The cost of running the site is minimal, say the two men, who plan to sell advertising once they figure out ad rates and other details.

Other Boston-centric online writers have taken notice of the newcomer. Adam Gaffin of the local blog aggregator wrote that Parkway Boston "has potential."

A less charitable view was expressed in the freelance foodwriters' blog Food on the Food, where Tammy Donroe wrote: "It looks like someone's 8th grade kid designed it."

Still, people are keeping an eye on it. Parkway Boston had almost 40,000 visitors in its first two weeks.

Kelly Tynan, executive director of West Roxbury Main Streets, a nonprofit that promotes neighborhood businesses, says the site is a great resource because it includes such things as applications for sports teams and information on schools.

"There's no other outlet for finding all the little documents and forms," said Tynan, who regularly directs people to the site. So far, Tynan said, "it's been very popular."

The next few weeks will prove whether it was a one-hit wonder, Coppinger said, adding that this was a good time to start a news site.

"There was a lot of information between sports sign-ups and the potential Senate race, and then no Senate race," he said.

Now that a standard has been set, he said, "we just have to keep digging, and we'll keep getting better."

Correction: Because of a reporting error, a March 23 City Weekly article about the new website incorrectly attributed a quote saying the site appeared to be designed by an eighth-grader. The comment was made by Tammy Schuetz Cook, from the blog Bostonfoodandwhine.

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