A little love for local bloggers

A couple of weeks ago, Maureen Dowd wrote a column for the New York Times about the website Pasadena Now outsourcing their local reporting to India. Then Soccer Mom, of the Walnut Creek metroblog Crazy in Suburbia, wrote a post about her fear that the Contra Costa Times might do the same thing. Then Brittney Gilbert over at CBS5′s Eye on Blogs highlighted the post, and suggested that, as newspapers abandon local reporting, people will start turning more and more to metroblogs for their hometown coverage:

Perhaps this is where hyperlocal metrobloggers can really step it up and stake claim over the local news market. If the gargantuan corporate entities that own most newspapers in this country begin outsourcing the gathering of news at the local, neighborhood level then, let’s face it, they’ve failed. A news organization simply can’t produce the same kind of boots-on-the-ground, clued-in, genuinely newsworthy stories that those living and working and playing in those communities can. It’s impossible.

Then on Monday, CBS5 ran a story about the future of newspapers, in light of the news of the Tribune Co. bankruptcy, and as part of the segment, asked SF Chronicle columnist CW Nevius what he thought about the idea of blogs someday replacing newspapers, and he gave the following snotty and condescending response:

Bloggers do a nice job and that’s fine. But what I see bloggers doing is taking the raw material they get from news organizations like this and riffing off of it. If the bloggers didn’t have us to do the start of the work for them, I don’t know what they’d blog on. So, I’d be interested to see how that happens. They’re talking pretty big now, we’ll see where they go.

Then Brittney Gilbert wrote another post suggesting that maybe CW Nevius should actually read some metroblogs before opining on them, and then metrobloggers like the Mayor of Claycord (who routinely breaks serious news) and Soccer Mom got all upset. Got all that?

I kinda feel like I should be like the Mayor (“I have a message to you, C.W. Nevius, read CLAYCORD.com for a week, then tell me who’s ripping who off!”), all riled up about Nevius insulting bloggers like that – after all, I put an insane amount of time into this site, and I’m really proud of my work. So of course I hate to hear anyone be so dismissive of that. But these days, I find myself caring less and less about the traditional media, to the point where it’s pretty difficult for me to get worked up about anything they say.

It wasn’t always like that. The whole reason I started blogging was because I was so frustrated by the media coverage on Oakland, and I used to bitch all the time about biased, lazy, incomplete, or just plain wrong stories in the newspaper. I don’t really do that anymore. Sure, there’s the occasional story that’s just so wrong or just plain worthless and absurd that I just can’t keep my mouth shut. But for the most part, I now find myself totally uninterested in commenting on what’s in the newspaper.

I think that’s at least partly because I’ve grown more sympathetic to how hard a job it is. When I write stories for Oakbook, I try to assume an audience that relatively little patience and no idea about anything going on at City Hall. Accurately describing policy debates for such an audience is much more difficult and way less fun than writing here, where I can expect a certain base level of knowledge from my readers. Sometimes people ask me if I’d ever want to cover Oakland for the Tribune or something like that, and I always tell them that I think that job sounds like a complete nightmare. First, you always have to assume your readers have no clue about anything when they pick up your story, and on top of that, you have to cover all sorts of random stuff that I just don’t care about at all.

I like writing about whatever happens to be interesting to me, and getting to ignore stuff that, while it may be important, bores me to tears. Mainstream journalists don’t have this luxury, and get stuck having to pull together stories on mind-numbing topics like Community Choice Aggregation or the City’s proposed changes to Sidewalk Repair Liability rules. Yawn!

Where was I? Oh, I guess what I was trying to say is that although I still don’t think the traditional press around here does a very good job covering local issues for the most part, I stopped caring somewhere along the way because our local blogosphere does such an awesome job supplementing newspaper coverage for anyone who’s interested enough in what’s going on to pursue any additional information. And maybe CW Nevius doesn’t get that, but Clint Reilly and Chip Johnson do, so that’s something.

Sure, there might be blogs out there that consist almost entirely of reprinting copyrighted material, maybe with an inane sentence or two of useless commentary beforehand, but nobody reads them. But we’re very fortunate to have tons of excellent blogs that people (hopefully) do read, or if they don’t, they really should, that are not “riffing” off the work of papers like the Chronicle, but instead, providing stellar original coverage of stuff nobody else is paying attention to or offering insight into local issues from a perspective that you never see represented elsewhere. So today, I’d like to highlight some of my favorites.

Neighborhood specific blogs are a great resource for hyperlocal issues that would almost never merit the attention of a news outlet with a citywide or regional audience. When it comes to neighborhoods other than my own, I’d be completely lost without the work of people like Marcus Johnson on Welcome to the Prescott-Oakland Point Neighborhood, JAMMI Journalist on JAMMI Blog, Harrioakster on The HarriOak News, Shopgirl at The Jack London News, and Debby Richman at Today in Montclair and the Oakland Hills Examiner.

Real estate agents like Farrah Wilder at A Piece of the Pie and Deidre Joyner on the Oakland Berkeley Journal help me understand what the foreclosure crisis means for Oakland and potential Oakland homebuyers like me in a way that no newspaper story ever could. (And as long as we’re talking about real estate blogs, I have to give a shout out to Tracey Taylor at Bay Area Homegirl, for keeping me up to speed on all the drool-worthy houses out there I know I’ll never be able to afford.)

The DTO and Jessica Hilberman’s Oakland Goods keep me current on new shops and restaurants, I can’t imagine anyone keeping such great tabs on all the events going on around the city as Kwan Booth does at O-Scene.

I don’t know how I’d have any clue about what’s going on with OUSD without the insights offered by The Perimeter Primate and Trib reporter Katy Murphy’s awesome blog The Education Report. I love dto510 and Becks for their exceptional coverage all the politics, development, and transit issues I can’t find the time to write about at their blogs Future Oakland and Living in the O. (I’d be completely lost about the new Rockridge Safeway without Becks’s thorough reporting on all those meetings.)

One of the coolest relatively new blogs, City Homestead, mixes restaurant reviews and musings on home remodeling with incredibly thorough explanations of complicated State legislation and what it means for Oakland. I couldn’t care less about Neo-Soul music or spoken word, but the way Coolhand Luke uses the subjects as a springboard to talk about the way Oakland youth celebrate violence or Oakland municipal pride make 38th Notes a must read for me. And how can you not love The Boss for dishing up a point of view that I imagine is shared by at least some percentage of Oakland residents but that you never, ever, ever hear anywhere else besides East Bay Conservative.

Raymond Johnson of Oakland Space Academy does a great job addressing smart growth and development issues from an architecture and design focused angle, while Crimson tackles the same subjects with an eye to greenery and the urban living experience on Oakland Streets. The Walk Oakland Bike Oakland blog keeps me updated on local bike/ped issues, while We Fight Blight uses their online platform to raise awareness and advocate for a cleaner, safer neighborhood. And of course there’s David at Brooklyn Avenue, who doesn’t really have one specific focus, but mixes thoughts on state and national issues with musing on local politics and reflections on walking around his neighborhood.

Then there’s these super specialized blogs that just highlight weird things about Oakland I would never think about otherwise, but have really enhanced my experience of the city. I’m talking about things like Michael Colbruno’s biographies of people buried at Mountain View Cemetery, Andrew Alden’s discussions of our rocks and soil at Oakland Geology, Asiya Wadud’s local fruit harvesting on Forage Oakland, or Novella Carpenter’s adventures in urban agriculture on Ghost Town Farm. And I’d be totally in the dark about Oakland’s totally inadequate community garden system without The Inadvertent Gardener.

And although they aren’t blogs, ORPN and The Oakbook both deserve major props for their commitment to using the online platform to keep people informed about Oakland. The Oakbook’s fabulous team of writers (which includes a number of bloggers I’ve mentioned above) tell all the great stories about Oakland that you aren’t going to find anywhere else, and Charles Pine deserves major credit for his tireless work as a public safety and police staffing watchdog on his website Oakland Residents for Peaceful Neighborhoods.

With all the great reading material I can find on the sites listed above, I guess I’m just too busy learning about Oakland to get worked up about whether the guy who wrote an entire column about congestion pricing without bothering to learn what it is thinks bloggers just steal stories from his paper or not.

22 thoughts on “A little love for local bloggers

  1. dto510

    V, thank you so much for the compliments and for presenting the best of the blogoaksphere in its proper context: different people with different interests, but all contributing to public discourse. I know that I am both inspired by these bloggers and also relieved that I don’t have to cover some of those issues myself. Put together, we’re covering far more than local newspapers did at their peak, let alone the sorry state of Bay Area’s more-mainstream media today.

    Speaking of which, you said that two issues at Council last night are boring and thus the province of the papers. But I haven’t read anything about them – even the Guardian hasn’t said anything about the push for East Bay public power!

  2. V Smoothe Post author

    Oh yeah. Now that you say that, I guess there haven’t been any newspaper stories about either of those issues. Maybe they weren’t the most apt examples, but they’re both a pretty big deal and get a lot of people really worked up. They should be in the paper.

    Here’s a really brief rundown of both.

    Nancy Nadel wanted to schedule a joint workshop with the Berkeley (PDF) about Community Choice Aggregation (PDF), which is sort of like public power, but isn’t exactly. So we’ve been talking about doing it with Berkeley and Emeryville since 2004, and Emeryville has now decided they don’t want to do it and we can’t do it without them, and also it would be crazy expensive and not actually guarantee cleaner energy. Anyway, Nadel’s request to schedule to joint workshop came up at Council last night and basically everyone agreed that the whole thing is a terrible idea, even though they can’t say that outright, so instead they all just said they need to learn way more about it before making any kind of decisions, so they’re going to schedule a special workshop just for them to talk about it at some indefinite point like a year from now.

    The sidewalk thing, which will be coming to Public Works on Tuesday, would make property owners jointly liable (PDF) with the City “for sidewalk related injuries that occur on sidewalks adjacent to or fronting their properties.” Homeowners say the City is unfairly trying to save money by shifting more costs to the already overburdened citizens and the City says State Law makes property owners responsible anyway. I’m too bored by the whole issue to even learn enough to pick a side.

  3. 94610BizMan

    Thanks for all the hard work on this site and thanks for the links. Without you I would never be able to keep up with Oakland politics.

    BTW sidewalks are a big issue in my neighborhood and many other “lower hill” neighborhoods. The the soil creep and tree roots after 75 to 100 years really messes up most sidewalks and does make then hazardous. These neighborhoods do have significant foot traffic. One of our politically connected neighbors spent over a year ragging on the city which just replaced the sidewalks in front of six homes. Given the size of the crew and equipment it must have cost quite a chunk of change.

    I personally think the responsibility should be on the homeowner.

  4. Soccer Mom

    Hello there,
    I am new to this East Bay blogosphere and heard about your blog through Brittney Gilbert’s post. Wow, it looks great. I’m so impressed, and your list of all the great local blogs is also impressive. I’m still trying to figure out what I’m doing with my site. I’m a former daily newspaper reporter, so I have that desire in me to report and break news. But I also want to write about things I find interesting. And, I have a day job that would make it a challenge to do reporting. But I understand you go to City Council meetings. You’ve inspired me to consider doing that, at the very least.
    I’ll add you t my list of favorites, and check out all the other sites you mention. I’ll look through your site some more and see how I can learn to do a better job with mine. I’m like you. I do still read the Contra Costa Times and find myself tearing my hair out at stories I read that are so superficially reported.

  5. das88

    Wow V. this is a great post.

    Another local blog I quite like is New A’s Ballpark at http://newballpark.blogspot.com/. It sounds like another really niche blog, but the blogger goes into depth on planning and transportation issues related to ballpark siting. Unfortunately, it has become more of a Fremont than an Oakland blog.

  6. Andrew

    I appreciate being part of the constellation of Oakblogs, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to augment what’s available in the older media. But I very much care about the journalists (maybe not so much their editors, the ones who keep a lid on the writers). A bunch of the ANG Newspaper writers are online at ibabuzz.com, writing their hearts out and having their material plugged every day in the Trib and CC Times. I urge all of you to pick a few of your favorites and start following them. In my case it’s Bill Brand’s beer blog and Gary Bogue on wildlife, one of the stellar additions from the CC Times stable. But give them a visit; they’re crying out for comments and they’re pros.

  7. Eric

    The remark that Nevius made is beyond ridiculous, considering that his columns typically involve little thought and even less research. Thanks for compiling such a great list of local blogs, and thanks for all that you do generally.

  8. We Fight Blight

    Thanks V.

    One of the first things I do when I wake up and one of the last things I do when I go to sleep is read your blog. There is no need to pick up the Oakland Tribune, the Chronicle or any other paper for that matter. Almost everything I need to know about Oakland can be found in your posts or in the vast array of links.


  9. OaklandSpaceAcademy

    Thank you V!

    Dang! I thought I was at least aware of most of the Oakland blogosphere, but it turns out I don’t know the half of it. And from your descriptions, there are probably half a dozen new blogs (to me) that I will be checking out regularly.

    But I agree with Andrew, I too appreciate the traditional and print journalists. Not only because I think it is important that we have a few main voices around which to coalesce (which on the web is ABO), but also because those are typically paid journalists, and I think it is important we all value (literally) this type of work.

    Which I guess just means I need to buy you a drink the next time I see you…

  10. Michael

    Thanks for the shout out for my Mountain View Cemetery blog. We walk our dogs there and it started as a place where I could post stuff to remind myself who was who. Now I interact with genealogists, historians, docents, locals and families all over the world. The blogosphere is truly amazing and your blog is certainly amongst the most enjoyable.

  11. Debby Richman

    Thanks for assembling us virtually – and now we really should all meet in person. Maybe this weekend at some coffee shop? It’s supposed to rain anyway, so what else does anyone have to do?!

  12. Andy

    So many blogs, so little time.

    I used to check out SFGate all the time – however, lately, blogs seem to be the place to go. They seem to address the things that are of interest to me.

    I always check out your blog, and have been pointing others this way. Your links to other blogs are great.

    Thanks for this list. I don’t know how you have time to go through all of these blogs.

  13. new to oakland

    Thanks V. I moved to Oakland 6 months ago and have followed you since. You do a fantastic job and one that could never really be matched by traditional media– a huge service and public good. I think your work, and others in the blogosphere, will eventually be viewed as the seeds of real change in Oakland. (I’m an optimist, still.)

    Thank you again and keep up the good work.

  14. Joanna/ShopGirl

    V – thanks for the post and the mention for JLN. Ironically, I’ve been giving serious thought to returning Jack London News to the print world. I remember when I first had JLN online and wanted to go to print, but my partner thought no one would read it. I had been reading articles even 2-3 years ago about how local news would probably survive in print, but not the big papers.

    I was still pretty shocked with the excitement JLN seemed to create, even if I felt people had select reading comprehension skills. People even started asking for it. But after two years of just doing it monthly, I was totally burned out going to every single meeting and trying to keep up with the calendar, etc. Then, when advertisers started not paying, that was pretty crappy and I decided to give it a rest. It’s not like it ever made any money or paid me for my time or Simon’s time.

    One person called it “pretty good for an amateur” and decided to do his own through JLDA after I stopped printing JLN in December 2007.

    Now that the JLDA Call is also coming to an end after a realization of just how much work it really takes to put together a monthly publication and hearding cats, er, I mean advertisers. I keep thinking that I should do JLN again… but Simon reminds me of the complaints; the constant coming in to my business, not to spend money, but to whinge about the neighborhood; the constant effort to get advertisers and decent ads (resolution!); and the financial loss. He would rather I get a real job and do newsletters for someone else.

    When I first started there was a group called the Oakland Newsletter Network, and we even tried using a Yahoo Group to keep in touch. But it wasn’t very successful. It’s hard to get together for meetings (and I was working 6 days a week back then) although we were all frustrated with the lack of LOCAL news in the Tribune. Shiela D’Amico & Toni Locke from the MacArthur Metro, Don Kinkead at the Rockridge News, and Jim Ratliff were BIG HUGE advisors to me, and their help was SO appreciated. They rock. There was another woman that did a paper – I wish I could remember her name because she was also a huge help. It was seeing something so simple as a front/back paper with info that made me realize that I didn’t need to make it as fancy as the Rockridge News or the MacArthur Metro and print on newsprint. Of course, I, being me, had to get more complex each and ultimately I was doing an 8-page color paper. I had current news, history (often antique postcards), and the calendar. Maybe a recipe pertinent to what was going on at the farmers’ market and articles on the local non-profits – who are always looking for publicity and donations.

    In any case, I would love to do it again, but I can’t afford to not get paid any more! Wish I could. I have all sorts of ideas, but just not the resources. Unfortunately, getting advertisers in this economy is all the harder.

    Bloggers are fab, and I still do it on occasion… maybe I’ll just go back to doing that more.


  15. John Oldham

    Great Article. Newspapers have begun using blogs as source material and as a catalyst for story ideas. Media as a whole has begun using MySpace and Facebook as official sources as background on a person. The blogging community will fill more and more of the information space as Traditional media continues to deal with declining ad revenue, shrinking staffs and consolidation.

    If you get a chance take a look at my Alameda Real Estate blog.

  16. Quercki M. Singer

    Wow! Oakland blogs I hadn’t found yet. Thanks!
    The Splashpad News is another not-quite-a-blog that I like. It’s news about the Grand Lake and the Farmer’s Market and related items. I signed up to get it by e-mail.

    I think he would blog but he doesn’t have time to learn how.

    I want to thank each of the bloggers who help keep me informed and connected. Those of us who care will be the ones to make “A Better Oakland.”


  17. Patrick

    Knowledge is power. When I read news about our city (or about most anything for that matter) in mainstream media, I often feel powerless, and disengaged, because there is no information and no active participation. This blog, however, is the proverbial Aladdin’s Cave of factual and researched information and involvement. Every time I log on, I feel invigorated, regardless of whether what I’ve read is hope inspiring or depressing. And, the links to other blogs provide insight into what other inspired minds are thinking.

    I lived in a suburb of Chicago during my high school years. I woke up early every morning to read both the Trib and the Sun-Times. Front page and Op-Ed were mandatory, the rest had to wait until after school. It was sad to read that the Tribune Corp. recently declared bankruptcy. But, today’s newspapers, for the most part, don’t offer anything of substance. You do, V. And I am grateful to be allowed to be a part of it.

  18. Coolhand Luke

    Thank you so much V! I’m honored for the shout out! I know that the Bay Area music and spoken word aspect of my blog caters more to a 20s demographic, but I’m glad you enjoy my commentary on broader Oakland issues. I hope that I can contribute a younger voice to the blogoaksphere and build with those of you who are reporting on other interesting niches.

    Also, pick up the latest OakBook with my homegirl Ruby of iLL-Literacy on the cover http://www.iLL-Literacy.com

    I love Oakland, and I appreciate all of you pushing localism in an age of streamlined press release reporting.

  19. Mike Spencer

    V, Chuck Nevius apparently never read ABO either. His remark comes off as arrogant, from a guy who knows he is on a sinking ship. Your site, Oakbook, even The Express, fill a much needed void. The Trib just doesn’t have the staff to cover its own City as it should–ditto for the Chronicle. The future of journalism is a good blogger, another much needed piece of the puzzle, debate, etc.