Adios, SocialStudies DC

What’s the reason behind yesterday’s shutdown of LivingSocial’s video and multimedia website?

By: Harry Jaffe

SocialStudies DC, an adventurous website about the life and times of the nation's capital, shut down Tuesday.

Such a pity.

Established last May by LivingSocial, the DC-based high-flying discount coupon enterprise, SSDC fell victim to changes within the company, according to staffers. The collection of video, journalistic, and multimedia postings was the darling of its editor team, directed for most of the past two years by Emily King. She helped establish LivingSocial's editorial side but has moved to another job within the company.

The official reason for SSDC's demise came from spokesperson Maire Griffin: "We are proud of all the conversations SocialStudies DC provoked, but we need to focus on our core business."

City Paper dismissed SocialStudies DC as "couponing as journalism," and let's be clear, the site was part of the business model aimed at driving readers and customers to LivingSocial's discount deals. But at its best, SSDC could be both informative and amusingly creative.

"You can define social studies as you like," says Eliot Stein, LivingSocial's managing editor. "But it fit with LivingSocial's overall mission."

Before it's taken down, check out "Requiem for an Ice Cream Cone," a video of a melted, three-flavored cone with jimmies, shot in reverse coming back to full form. Delicious. The creation of multimedia producer Mathew Ramsey was picked up by MSN's Bing, according to Stein, where it got three million hits but neglected to credit SSDC, before it was forced to take it down.

SSDC's report on the Meridian Hill Park drum circle didn't break news, but the interviews and video were both informative and entertaining.

Okay, the voiceover on how to pronounce "Bamma" was a dud, but you can't score every time.

The demise of Social Studies DC is hardly a reflection of LivingSocial's editorial efforts, which are booming. King and Stein were the only staffers when the writing division started two years ago. They began by writing a comprehensive style guide, much like the basic AP Stylebook.

"This was a very different type of business model," Stein tells The Washingtonian, where he worked as an intern before moving to LivingSocial. "We had to figure out how our consumers would best respond to it."

Now the editorial staff has grown from two to 76, comprising 61 copy editors and 15 photo editors. Stein says the staffers range from former journalists to standup comics to to PR professionals. They write daily deals and travel deals that attempt to reflect the local flavor of the destination.

"It's a difficult voice to master," says Stein.

Will LivingSocial attempt to master journalism, as it did with SocialStudies DC?

"LivingSocial is an evolving entity," Stein says. "We're testing a lot of things."

Translation: maybe.