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.