(Photo by Flatbush Gardener)
It's overdue to observe that, while the act of blogging--using a self-publishing platform as an independent writer--might once have been unusual, there's not much commonality between place bloggers and mommy bloggers and craft bloggers, to pick a few categories in the "Blogs of a Feather" get-together, which at least was a sign of the growth in blogging. (After all, staffers from magazines serving those constituencies don't compare notes much.)
Some report. Some opine. Some take photos. Some keep watch on building permits. Some aggregate news. Some focus on their neighborhoods. Some have a rich set of commenters. Some post daily. Some post weekly. Some post randomly. Some post press releases verbatim. Some have contributors. Some take ads. Some offer personal musings. Some promote their businesses or brands. Some aim to create community. Some identify themselves by name and biography. Some mix various elements of the above.
"It's getting harder and harder to define what a blog is," Crawford said in her introduction. "It's what everyone in this room is doing." OK, but that doesn't get us far enough.
Reporting can be done by professionals, but many people are capable of some level of reporting. The starting point is simply stenography--taking notes and reporting on civic meetings, including public hearings, political debates, and meetings of precinct councils and Community Boards. (If that's too hard, why not just film it and put it on YouTube?)
While it would be better to go beyond stenography--to offer analysis while reporting, based on knowledge and links to other documents and reportage--even the vaunted New York Times often reverts to stenography, such as in this report on a speech by former Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff.
Growth and quality
The late Robert Guskind, to whom the event was dedicated and who was palpably present in a memorial video, last year suggested that more neighborhoods needed blogs and, indeed, blogs have sprung up in places like Sheepshead Bay and Sunset Park. So there's more ground-level notice of neighborhood events and controversies, if not actual reporting.
And some bloggers have stepped up. Miss Heather of New York Shitty, whose blog began as a chronicle of messes on the street in and around Greenpoint, has gone on to chronicle larger and more civically significant messes, like poorly constructed buildings and "nondos" turned into illegal guest houses.
That said, I mostly disagree with the comment last night by Gothamist's Jake Dobkin (with the mike) that "I don't think Brooklyn needs any more neighborhood blogs." He spoke in the context of relatively well-blogged neighborhoods like his own Brooklyn Heights, urging bloggers to not start anew but to collaborate. Fair enough.
One odd element of last night's event was the countdown Crawford read, in three semi-dramatic installments, of a list provided by aggregator Outside.in (an event sponsor) of "the top topics, places, and neighborhoods in Brooklyn that got buzz and traffic so far in 2009."
Keep in mind, as I learned later, that these were topics that got buzz and traffic via Outside.in's site and its partners; the list was not a measure of the quantity of posts about a topic. That's why, for example, Atlantic Yards--source of the "bloggiest" neighborhood claim--was not on the list. (I'm pretty sure people looking for Atlantic Yards news go to NoLandGrab well before Outside.in.)
10. House of Yes in Bushwick
9. Aero Restaurant in Bay Ridge
8. Clinton Hill
7. Toren Building
6. Sunset Park High School
5. Atlantic Center mall (in part because of FIPS' videos of the Target in the Atlantic Terminal mall)
4. Park Slope
3. Trader Joe's
2. Pomegranate Market
1. Alex McCord of the Real Housewives of New York
To which I say: WTF.
These topics may indeed have a lot of "buzz," at least according to Outside.in's metrics. But they don't necessarily correspond to issues of journalistic importance.