I’m attending the Northern Voice blogging conference this weekend along with a few of New Westminster’s Twitterati: @ruthseeley, @duckbeaver, @themarina, @somethinglemon (and maybe a few more who I haven’t seen yet). As I mentioned on this blog last month, I’m speaking tomorrow on hyperlocal blogging at 11:30 a.m. My talk is called “Passionately Local” and I’ll be sharing my experience launching and co-authoring Tenth To The Fraser, and describing the community response and personal impact of this site.
I first began blogging in 2003 as “breebop” (though that blog is long since gone) and my experience back then was that it takes a lot of slogging in obscurity before a blogger begins to connect with others online and starts feeling like part of a larger community. This has not been the case for Tenth To The Fraser.
When Will and I first launched Tenth To The Fraser last year, we weren’t sure of the response we would get. Unlike Vancouver, there was no apparent digital community or sense of local solidarity online. The population is small. Demographically, New West seemed unlikely to harbour a large audience of passionately local digerati; it is known as a town of blue-haired ladies and hidebound traditionalists. We did, however, feel passionately about this community of ours, and we wanted to trumpet the presence of the New Westminster that is hidden from the internet. If there really was no digital community, well then, we would have to create one.
We started writing about New West, and sought out other local bloggers via Twitter and Google Blog searches. When we went to civic events, we introduced ourselves and talked about our blog. Will handed our URL to our MLA on a slip of paper, and a few days later he called us and came over for a glass of wine and some good conversation. It didn’t take long before people started to recognize us. We would introduce ourselves and our blog to a local shopkeeper, and an eavesdropping customer would reveal himself to be a reader.
We uncovered a small number of friendly New West folk who are active in web startups, Flickr, Twitter, Facebook, and blogs. The trick is that, until recently, many of them didn’t identify themselves as being from New Westminster. We reached out and connected them, with the vision of acting as a catalyst to connect New Westies online. We started the #NewWest hashtag on Twitter. We helped coordinate New West’s first Tweetup and are making plans for a followup. Coming up on March 24, I’ll be presenting a program at our public library on blogging, in the hope of encouraging more locals to share their views online.
Going into this project, I had thought about how we would help New West, by raising awareness of the city’s excellent quality of life, sharing information that has so far only existed offline on community bulletin boards and in local gossip. I believed I would enjoy the experiment, but I had no idea how fulfilling it would prove to be. I underestimated how fiercely our digital efforts would pull us into the real-world community that thrives in our town.
Through our hyperlocal focus, we have uncovered so many stories and interesting little quirks about our community. It has changed the way we see our town, and revealed to us a more complex portrait of this place and its people.
Recently, Jocelyn blogged here about our role in defining and shaping New Westminster’s identity online, and in response to the post I described our role as locally focused bloggers as a sort of “Greek Chorus” for New West. Our job is to reflect and express the feelings and reactions of the city’s characters to the dramas that unfold. We aspire to provide context and commentary, to explore and hopefully to illuminate the hidden side of New West.
This, then is the challenge I will put forward at Northern Voice: if you love a place, use your talents to make it better. Be the change you want to see.