I got an e-mail today from a journalism grad student at UNR, asking me to write about Around Carson, what I’m doing here, what kind of response I get to the site, and how it relates to traditional media like the Nevada Appeal. I thought my answer was a good insight into how I look at the site and where I’d like to see it go in the future, so I’m publishing it here too.
I have no background in journalism, except for a 101 class at UNR in the early 90s, and two bylines in the Sagebrush that were so bad that they didn’t ask me back for a third (I only did it because I had a crush on the editor). I got started blogging about five and a half years ago, mostly because I had been reading a lot of good blogs and I wanted to try it for myself. I first started at my personal blog (www.computer-vet.com/weblog), mostly writing about technology and my personal life.
As time went on, I found myself writing more and more about local issues, putting up pictures of things that had happened around town or writing about local concerts and museums. And at the same time there was a lot of excitement on the web about hyperlocal sites, community sites and blogs that focused on one town or community. So it was around May of 2005 that I decided to spin off all of the writing I had been doing about Carson City and start a new site. And that’s where Around Carson got its start.
When I’m writing for the site, I never think about if I’m filling a need, except for the need to please myself and create the kind of site that I think Carson should have. There are times that I’ll see a story in the paper, and I’ll wish there were more photos, so I’ll go out and take some pictures and put them up on my site, with a link back to the original story. And I’ll add in some of my opinions, and maybe some background or history, that I thought the article had passed over. So in situations like that I feel like I’m filling in a gap in the paper’s coverage. Or not necessarily filling a gap, but just building on top of what they’ve done so the story becomes richer. Almost like a companion piece. I never see myself in competition with the newspaper, or deliberately trying to one-up them or beat them to the punch. And I really don’t think of what I do as “journalism”. There’s no hard news or politics on the site, because those subjects don’t interest me. I don’t interview anybody to get a deeper view of the facts, I just go with my own thoughts and impressions. Mostly when I write it’s because there’s something inside me that has to get out, something I really want to share. I don’t set assignments for myself, or deadlines, or quotas. I can go five or six days at a time, adding nothing to the site, and then all of a sudden have a flood burst out and I’ll write four posts in two hours. It all depends on how inspired I am. I’ll come across a picture that I want to share, and use it to launch into a small history lesson. Or I’ll see some construction happening on the way to work and write about the progress. It’s a haphazard way of building a site, but the result is that I only publish stuff I’m really happy with. And the blog form allows you to be as haphazard as you want anyway, so I don’t worry about it.
The response from the community hasn’t been huge, but it has been satisfying. I do have a small core of readers that I know about. Some of them are other local bloggers, and some of them are just readers that send in a comment or e-mail from time to time. My family and I kind of live a hermit lifestyle, so I haven’t really met with any of my readers ever, but I know they’re out there. In some ways I’m glad the audience isn’t too big, because if it was I’d start to scrutinize my writing too much, or wonder if I was wasting people’s time with the topics I choose to write about. Or I’d feel guilty about not writing enough, and feel the pressure to bump up the quantity of posts even though I know the quality wouldn’t be there.
I have a few different types of readers that I try to keep in mind when I’m writing. First, I’m obviously writing with other residents in mind, and trying to point out things that they might have missed or upcoming events that I want them to know about. Second, I’m writing for expatriates, like my parents, who lived in Carson City for years and are still interested in what’s going on, but their only link to the town now is through the web. I try to think of changes and new developments in town that they’d like to hear about. And third, I’m writing for Google. I’m writing to give Carson City a presence on the web that people can stumble across, a reference of sorts that anyone from anywhere in the world can find. I try to write articles that are timeless, and that cover a topic that no other website currently does, so that if someone is doing a Google search, they’ll actually find a relevant result for what they’re looking for, and not just unrelated or outdated pages. I know that when I’m looking for information on other cities, I like to look for placeblogs in the Google results, and for locally run travel guides, because I know the best source of information on a town is the people who live there.
Where I see the site going in the future is actually back to the past. When I first started the site I had a lot of ambitious ideas, and I built them out partway, and then I lost touch with them and let them stagnate. You can still see them on the left-hand sidebar, sections like the Dining Guide, where I was going to put up pictures and menus from every restaurant in town. Or the Buildings Database, which was going to be a reference guide to all the historic buildings in town. I also wanted to put up guides to all the parks in the area, and all the places in town you could drop off recyclables, and photo tours of different neighborhoods so you could stroll around the town without ever leaving your desk. None of that ever came to be, but it’s all still on my wish list for what the site would become if I had unlimited time, energy and inspiration. I’d also like to put together audio and video podcasts about the town, kind of like a travelogue type show, but I really lack the skills to make that happen.
I was also hoping for more involvement from the community in adding their own stories to the site. I have a couple of people who add press-release-type posts on upcoming events, and I really appreciate that. And a couple of contributors add some nice photos to the site, both recent and historic. So it’s not just me keeping the site going all by myself, and that’s good because I don’t want it to all be on my shoulders. But I was hoping to get more people writing for the site, like columnists just writing about what it’s like to live in Carson City. Instead of writing on my site, though, the few people who are inclined to write on the web have their own blogs. And that’s great, so I try to link to other sites as much as I can, to build up a sense of online community among all the Carson area bloggers. I guess I just wish there was more activity on that front, but at the moment I’m kind of glad there’s not because I’d never be able to keep up with it all anyway.
Right now with the new baby the site is kind of running on autopilot, with me posting three or four times a week, whenever something strikes me. Hopefully as he grows up and becomes more independent I’ll have more time, and I can get back to some of those mothballed sections of the site. I really wanted the site to be more than just a blog, but I’m happy with the way it is now, and happy that most of the feedback I do get is positive. I must be doing something right.