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Now with 3 Local Media Outlets, West Hollywood is Getting More Attention than Ever

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Photo by jorizaga via LAist Featured Photos on Flickr

Photo by jorizaga via LAist Featured Photos on Flickr
On its own, West Hollywood is a small city of around 35,000 people living within 1.9 square miles. But look at it with broader eyes and the island city surrounded by Los Angeles and Beverly Hills is nothing but small. It's played a major role in rock and roll history on the Sunset Strip, is a center of gay culture and is a hot spot for celebrity life. And beyond that surface, it's a city founded upon principals that takes a progressive stance on issues and on how to produce a high quality of life.

Like every city, it's not without bureaucratic problems, scandal and controversy, or the need for its residents to be informed. For nearly five years, Weho News has been the single source for information about the city, but this year saw growth in the local media market with the addition of two more outlets: Weho Daily, which entered the scene earlier this year, and West Hollywood Patch, an AOL-owned hyperlocal news website that launched today.

Additionally, Weho News tomorrow will formally announce its partnership with Southern California's largest gay publication, Frontiers Magazine. "It's a match made in heaven," said Editor in Chief Ryan Gierach, who finds relief in the new partnership where the Frontiers publishers have the controlling interest. "I can take a deep breath and focus totally on editorial while they take over the administration and promotion and the the other publisher stuff."

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Gierach started WeHo News five years ago this September. He originally started working for a short-lived throwaway bi-weekly called the West Hollywood Tribune. Although publishers Grigory Adlivankan and Agassi Topchaian guaranteed him six months of work, the paper only lasted 13 weeks, folding in April of 2005. But it was too late for Gierach, he was already hooked. "They left me with the biggest scoop," he said explaining that he never had a chance to publish his story about one of the biggest pot club raids at the time. So he threw up his story about the Yellow House, a story he's followed throughout the years, on a blog.

"Suddenly I'm getting a thousand hits a week and realizing there was a real need for news," he said. Several months later, WeHo News was launched online. Today it publishes in depth longer-format stories about the city twice a week.

The two other publications in West Hollywood should nicely complement Gierach's coverage. Darin Weeks at Weho Daily provides fast-paced real-time updates and city briefs and West Hollywood Patch intends to also cover the city daily.

"The Patch approach is to come in and cover it from the ground up, to talk to people in the community, to enlist people in the community... it's highly interactive," explained Sara Catania, the regional editor for Patch, which this year has sprouted a number of local community news websites, complete with full time editors, in the South Bay, Beverly Hills, Calabasas and other neighborhoods.

"Our whole goal is to make West Hollywood Patch a source for information and a place where people can come and be a part of the conversation about the community," she said, noting it was not just about news, but services, shopping and eating, and all in one place.

Gierach who authored a book on the history West Hollywood, also based his goals around community conversation, but with a twist: "to make [WeHo News] the public square for safe civic dialogue," as opposed to the snarky vibe many websites brand themselves with. He says West Hollywood was the "first self conscious creation of a municipal emotional safe space," focusing on renters and gay rights. "There was an explicit promise -- to protect peoples' homes and to protect them from discrimination inherent -- in cityhood. I still can't find another city that was created" to do that.

So based on that and the LA Shanti model of emotional support for HIV patients, which is having a compassionate non judgemental presence, thus creating a safe space for people to say the things, Gierach created a dialogue in West Hollywood followed by locals and city hall for years.

Also creating dialogue, but of a different sort, is Darin Weeks at Weho Daily. Armed with a number of police scanners and a background in web development, Weeks this year entered the local online news scene without any apologies. If there's a fire, police action or a celebrity with paparazzi in tow causing traffic, Weeks is on top of it and letting people know on Twitter. There has been some public back and forth squabbling between him and Gierach, but the two serve completely opposite needs in reporting. Still, Weeks style of reporting has raised eyebrows with city officials. Sheriff's deputies met with him to go over concerns such as officer safety and unintentionally aiding criminals, which could make him an accessory to a crime.

"I know the people there, I care about the people there," said Weeks, who used to volunteer at the Sheriff's Department. "The last thing I want to do is put them at risk or the public at risk. I want to see the bad guys get caught. It's one of my primary missions to increase public safety. And yes, it's been addressed with the sheriffs, I take steps to be careful about what's being twittered."

"No large organization, including the city of West Hollywood, likes to have someone monitoring them so closely, so I can understand them not being so happy about it," he added, "but my experience is that people are feeling much safer knowing what's going on. The fear of the unknown is actually worse than knowing most of the time."

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Weeks originally started Weho Daily with the intention of making it an aggregator. "There is a tremendous amount of information out there being reported about West Hollywood, we're kind of the center of action in L.A. in a lot of ways," he explained, saying he wanted to find a way of pulling all the coverage from the New York Times, TMZ, local blogs and newspapers, etc. into one spot and link back to them.

At the same time, he was volunteering at the Sheriff's Department and was trying to to better understand the police scanner. Soon he noticed a pattern of pedestrians being hit by cars, which would get a lot of attention on Twitter and something that deeply concerned him personally. And from there it naturally evolved into what it is today -- real-time police monitoring with Twitter and selected stories expanded upon on the website.

"I'm still trying to figure out what my voice is and what my positioning is," he said. "I'm trying hard not to be necessarily a media source... it's kind of a place that brings the information together and it just so happens that we sometimes break the news."

Like Weho Daily, Patch plans on doing its fair share of aggregating, too. "We're really excited about coming into West Hollywood, we have a great deal of respect and admiration for the media outlets already there," explained Catania, who said the West Hollywood Editor Nancy Rodriguez will be letting readers know about stories on other sites. "We know patch doesn't exist in a vacuum."

Nor does West Hollywood exist in a vacuum. Small in size and population, it's big in many other ways and the local media is giving the city its due.